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Soy Products a Double-edged Sword for Breast Cancer

an estrogen-responsive tumor, the growth of this tumor will be stimulated, he said.

Today Helferich is most concerned about the use of genistein and other isoflavones in supplements sold as natural alternatives to hormone-replacement therapy. He notes that midlife women who consume these products perceive them as natural and safe. But women aged 50 and older are also most at risk of developing breast cancer.

Helferich is evaluating the biological activity of some of these products, which are available in many forms, do not require a prescription, and in most cases are consumed without the knowledge of their physicians.

Helferich notes that the incidence rate of breast cancer in women aged 50 and over in the U.S. dropped significantly after use of hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) declined in 2002 and 2003.

While purified genistein is not as potent as HRT, Helferich said, it still poses a risk to midlife women because the amount consumed is much higher. The labels of many products that contain this and other isoflavones lack vital information about what is actually in their products, he said, and because these are natural products, the consistency from batch to batch is difficult to control.

Women are participating in an ongoing experiment with an unknown outcome. You cant identify what dose of isoflavones youre getting, he said.

But genistein is only one component of soy, Helferich said, and studying its effects in purified form may lead to misleading conclusions about the health consequences of soy in the diet. In fact, studies have shown that foods like soy flour have a very different effect.

The complex mixture found in soy flour doesnt make the tumor grow, Helferich said.

Whole soy contains a lot of biologically active ingredients, but together they may have multiple effects that can reduce the negative outcomes. When the whole food is consumed you
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