Soyfoods have long been recognized as sources of high-quality protein and healthful fat, but over the past 25 years these foods have been rigorously investigated for their role in chronic disease prevention and treatment. There is evidence, for example, that they reduce risk of coronary heart disease and breast and prostate cancer. In addition, soy alleviates hot flashes and may favorably affect renal function, alleviate depressive symptoms and improve skin health. Much of the focus on soyfoods is because they are uniquely-rich sources of isoflavones. Isoflavones are classified as both phytoestrogens and selective estrogen receptor modulators. Despite the many proposed benefits, the presence of isoflavones has led to concerns that soy may exert untoward effects in some individuals. However, these concerns are based primarily on animal studies, whereas the human research supports the safety and benefits of soyfoods. In support of safety is the recent conclusion of the European Food Safety Authority that isoflavones do not adversely affect the breast, thyroid or uterus of postmenopausal women. This review covers each of the major research areas involving soy focusing primarily on the clinical and epidemiologic research. Background information on Asian soy intake, isoflavones, and nutrient content is also provided.
Keywords: cancer; depression; heart disease; hot flashes; isoflavones; nutrient content; renal function; safety; soy; soyfoods.