Hopefully everyone had a happy holiday. I wanted to elaborate on an important question I got from a reader the other day:
I was wondering if the soy lecithin in Incredible Greens is fermented. I do not have any soy sensitivities; I am concerned with regularly ingesting unfermented soy products due to prevalence of cancer in my family and I have heard that unfermented soy ingested regularly can increase these risks. I also have anecdotal evidence of a coworker becoming obsessed with (unfermented) soy products, but this persons health actually got worse due to the amount of soy.
Here’s the best answer I can give.
But first let me start with a disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this does not constitute medical advice! I’m merely stating my own opinion based on what I’ve read and am stating my own opinions. I ALWAYS encourage people to seek secondary sources of information and follow their own intuitions when it comes to their bodies.
And with that somewhat “official” statement out of the way, allow me to say something a tad bit more personal.
The qualities of being healthy and being curious are very dear to my heart, and one of the benefits of running Health Kismet is that I get to help people do more of both, and I certainly don’t want to make people do less.
I’m also very aware that you know more about your family’s health history than I do and nothing in my background would allow me to pass as an oncologist. Not in the least. I make a supplement and have a background in nutritional biochemistry. That makes me an expert in some areas, but certainly doesn’t qualify me in most other regards.
So I’m not writing you as an authority figure. Just someone who’s trying to help shed some light on an issue that’s surely important to you. So with that being said…..
Incredible Greens and Soy Lecithin
The lecithin in Incredible Greens is made from soy beans that are not made from genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), and are not fermented. It’s also extracted using a minimally invasive processing technique that involves soaking the beans in water, rather than organic solvents like hexane, which can be toxic, even in small doses. This increases my product cost but allows Incredible Greens to adhere to its ideal of being as untainted as possible.
To be honest the issue of whether to ferment or not to ferment never really came up when I decided to make it. It’s something I might consider when I discuss tweaking the formulation with my manufacturer if it seems like enough of an issue.
Soy, Cancer, and Your Health
With regards to the rest of your question, I’m going to make a few inferences about what you wrote based on common concerns about soy and its effects on your health. Most of the health concerns over soy are concerned with the presence of phytoestrogens, which mildly mimic estrogen within the body, which can be problematic depending on the rest of your diet/environment, and any health conditions you might have (such as certain forms of cancer).
With regards to this issue, I think there are three important points to consider:
1). Phytoestrogens have a fairly proven track record of being healthy and protective, in spite of their estrogen like qualities
2). Phytoestrogens are a very weak compared to real estrogen. The estrogen-like effects contained in soy molecules are 100-1000x weaker than estrogen itself, and the study I linked to found that soy isoflavones may actually inhibit estrogen in a high estrogen environment.
3). The majority of soy’s phytoestrogens are found in its isoflavones and lignans, which are mostly found in soy protein. These compounds exist in trace amounts in the lecithin part of the soybean, which is primarily phosphatidyl choline and other unsaturated fatty acids.
4). Despite some of the concerns about phytoestrogens, nothing much has been found in studies that have confirmed this effect. (And keep in mind there have been lots of studies that have confirmed the opposite).
With regards to cancer in particular, there’s a decent amount of research that suggests soy products and their isoflavones help, particularly with hormonal conditions.
Regarding Incredible Greens, the most pertinent study was one published in Epidemiology, which found that lecithin supplementation significantly decreased risk factors for breast cancer, particularly in postmenopausal women. The reason is unknown, but could possibly be due to the fact that breast cancer cells do not metabolize choline very well. It could also be a fluke.
With regards to soy phytoestrogens and cancer risk, it appears to me that they have a protective effect before and after developing breast cancer, but might be tumor promoting while you have it.
Again, I’m merely presenting the information that I know of, and am very deferential to the fact that I’m writing with limited information, both about you, your family situation, and perhaps other studies and knowledge that I’m ignorant of. So I present this to you with a heavy dose of humility.
The Effect of Fermentation
With regards to the effect of fermentation, I believe it’s generally accepted that fermentation decreases isoflavone content, perhaps by a factor of 3x. However, it also increases the bio-availibility of isoflavones (the primary carriers of phytoestrogens), so the effect is not as big as advertised. You can read a summary of this finding here. And like I said before, lecithin has virtually no phytoestrogens whatsoever.
Soy Might Be A False Enemy
My general opinion about soy and soy skepticism is that it’s unfounded. It is true that in today’s world it’s beginning to resemble fructose with the way it’s transmogrified and stuffed into all sorts of different foods, but there’s just little to no evidence that soy itself is particularly harmful, unless the rest of your diet is terrible, in which case you probably eat about 100 lbs a year of highly processed soy. Practically anything digested in those quantities will be bad for you. But soy on its own only seems to be beneficial, and at the very worst harmless.
We’ve been eating it for thousands of years, and its a staple food of the longest living people on earth. The estrogen-mimicking activity of soy is definitely a concern among people with estrogen-related conditions, but I find the majority of fears being harnessed about soy and soy products to be unscientific.
Addendum: To Raiza, and anyone else who’s curious about this topic, please do click through the links and take a peek. I’m not trying to cherry pick evidence, I really do believe that what I wrote represents the general consensus on this issue. However, I am not an expert in this area. Does anyone else have conflicting evidence on this issue? If so, then please leave something in the comments and it will be reflected in this post. If possible keep it restricted to peer reviewed research so we can all deal with high quality units of information.