There is no denying that soybean has many health benefits. These benefits are mainly derived from the quality of the soybean proteins and from the isoflavones, genistein and daidzein. Soybean has been shown to be beneficial in conditions of lactose intolerance, high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis and diabetes.
Soybeans contain a variety of anti-carcinogenic phytochemicals, including lunasin and lectins. Lunasin is a polypeptide that arrests cell division and induces apoptosis in malignant cells. Lectins are glycoproteins that selectively bind carbohydrates; lectins are being used in medicine in a variety of new applications. Medical research has shown that foods rich in soybean protein may be protective against prostate cancer by helping to promote healthier prostate tissues. The components of soybean that may be helping to prevent colon cancer are called isoflavones and saponins. Soybean also contains omega-3 fatty acids that help to provide protective benefits against breast cancer.
Soybean may help to prevent heart disease by reducing total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and preventing plaque build up in the arteries, which may lead to stroke or heart attack. Potential mechanisms by which soybean isoflavones might prevent atherosclerosis include a beneficial effect on plasma lipid concentrations, antioxidant effects, antiproliferative and antimigratory effects on smooth muscle cells, effects on thrombus formation and maintenance of normal vascular reactivity (Anthony et al., 1998). The soybean diet is the most potent dietary tool for hypercholesterolemia.
Soy foods have a low glycemic index and are high in dietary fibre, and thereby help in the management of diabetes. In addition, soy foods can provide additional benefits for controlling heart disease, one of the most prevalent complications of diabetes.
The isoflavone genistein seems to inhibit bone breakdown and may have similar effects to estrogens in maintaining bone tissue. Diets that are high in animal protein cause more calcium to be excreted in the urine. Replacing animal protein with soy protein may help to prevent calcium loss from the bones and reduce osteoporosis risk.
Estrogens play a role in the control of body temperature. Soybean contains phytochemicals such as genistein, daidzein, and other phytoestrogens. These are the botanical equivalents of the human female hormone, but their effect is milder than that of estrogen and progesterone. However, they may ease menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness and perhaps alleviate premenstrual difficulties such as cramping and irritability. Isoflavones in soybean may also offer some relief from the pain, swelling, nausea and bleeding of endometriosis (Lock, 1991; Cassidy et al., 1995).
All soy formulas are lactose-free and are fortified with L-methionine, taurine, carnitine and iron. They are used commonly in the empirical management of acute gastroenteritis and intolerance to cow's milk protein. Furthermore, the use of soy formulas has been found to significantly reduce the prevalence of atopic diseases in the first 6 months of life, as well as in children with infantile atopic dermatitis, recurrent bronchiolitis and bronchial asthma (Quak and Tan, 1998).
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