Health impact of childhood and adolescent soy consumption

Nutr Rev. 2017 Jul 1;75(7):500-515. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nux016.


Soyfoods have been intensely researched, primarily because they provide such abundant amounts of isoflavones. Isoflavones are classified as both plant estrogens and selective estrogen receptor modulators. Evidence suggests that these soybean constituents are protective against a number of chronic diseases, but they are not without controversy. In fact, because soyfoods contain such large amounts of isoflavones, concerns have arisen that these foods may cause untoward effects in some individuals. There is particular interest in understanding the effects of isoflavones in young people. Relatively few studies involving children have been conducted, and many of those that have are small in size. While the data are limited, evidence suggests that soy does not exert adverse hormonal effects in children or affect pubertal development. On the other hand, there is intriguing evidence indicating that when soy is consumed during childhood and/or adolescence, risk of developing breast cancer is markedly reduced. Relatively few children are allergic to soy protein, and most of those who initially are outgrow their soy allergy by 10 years of age. The totality of the available evidence indicates that soyfoods can be healthful additions to the diets of children, but more research is required to allow definitive conclusions to be made.

Keywords: breast cancer; children; development; isoflavones; soyfoods.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Child
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Diet
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Food Hypersensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Food Hypersensitivity / etiology
  • Humans
  • Isoflavones / administration & dosage
  • Isoflavones / analysis
  • Mucocutaneous Lymph Node Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Nutritive Value
  • Prevalence
  • Puberty / drug effects
  • Puberty / metabolism
  • Soy Foods / adverse effects
  • Soy Foods / analysis*
  • Soybeans / adverse effects
  • Soybeans / chemistry*


  • Isoflavones
  • Cholesterol