Soy does little to stop bone loss

soybeans

A recent study calls into question the value of postmenopausal women consuming soy isoflavone tablets to help lessen bone loss and minimize the effect of osteoporosis. “The preponderance of studies that have been published—particularly the longer term, more carefully conducted studies, like our own—have shown little to no biological effects of soy isoflavones on bone mineral density,” she says. (Courtesy: iStockphoto)

IOWA STATE (US)—Consuming modest amounts of soy protein has little effect on bone loss in postmenopausal women, researchers report.

The new findings, based on a three-year study, refute an earlier, shorter study by some of the same researchers that indicated that soy protein, rich in isoflavones, lessened lumbar spine bone loss in midlife, perimenopausal women.

The multicenter clinical trial of more than 200 postmenopausal women—led by D. Lee Alekel, professor of nutrition and interim associate director of the Nutrition and Wellness Research Center (NWRC) at Iowa State University—was the longest ever conducted on the effects of soy isoflavones on bone mineral density (BMD).

Researchers analyzed the effects of either ingesting 80-mg daily or 120-mg soy isoflavone tablets, compared to placebo tablets, on BMD and other health outcomes.

The primary results of their study were published in the January issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“Our six-month preliminary study, published in 2000, indicated that soy protein, rich in isoflavones, exerted the greatest impact in slowing the loss of bone mineral density in the lumbar spine,” Alekel says.

“But we believed that we needed to replicate these results in a study with a greater sample size and longer duration, which is what we did with this three-year intervention.

“In this longer study, we had sufficient power to detect change. We monitored adverse events, had excellent compliance throughout, and accounted for potential confounding factors.”

The researchers ran statistical analyses to determine change in BMD at the lumbar spine, total proximal femur (hip), femoral neck, and whole body. They accounted for treatment, age, whole body fat mass, and bone removal (using a biochemical marker).

While the 120-mg dose soy isoflavones did reveal a small protective effect on femoral neck BMD, researchers found no significant effect of treatment on lumbar spine, total hip, or whole-body BMD.

“This trial used isoflavones extracted from soy protein, compressed into tablet form, consumed over the course of three years, which is very different than either providing soy protein or soy foods,” Alekel says.

“In our recent study, we did not demonstrate an important biological effect on BMD or bone turnover.”

The new study calls into question the value of postmenopausal women consuming soy isoflavone tablets to help lessen bone loss and minimize the effect of osteoporosis.

“The preponderance of studies that have been published—particularly the longer term, more carefully conducted studies, like our own—have shown little to no biological effects of soy isoflavones on BMD,” she says.

“This field of research has attracted ‘believers,’ making it difficult to convince them otherwise. They may continue to believe what they want to believe, rather than what the evidence shows.”

And when it comes to minimizing the consequences of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women, Alekel urges a more holistic approach.

“People in general, would like an easy fix. We would all like soy isoflavones to be that magic pill, but this study has found that they are not,” she concludes.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis, contributed to the study, which was funded by the Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal, and Skin Diseases, one of the research institutes of the National Institutes of Health.

Iowa State University news: www.news.iastate.edu/

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  1. emc2

    I wonder if the soy tablets do not contain the critical ingredients found in soy foods. Another study cited in this website referred to how the anti-inflammatory effects of soy could only be found in soy flour, and then only from soy beans grown in optimal conditions.

  2. D. Lee Alekel

    One must always be careful to distinguish between/among soy foods, soy protein, soy isolate, soy isoflavones, and foods that contain relatively small amounts of these components. These do not contain equivalent amounts of protein or bioactive ingredients. In referring to research studies, it is critical to quote what type of intervention was used. The study quoted above in Am J Clin Nutr by Alekel et al. (2010) used isoflavones extracted from soy protein, which is a very different intervention than soy protein or soy foods. Scientists do not necessarily know for certain which “ingredients” from soybeans are most critical for a given biological effect. Soybeans contain thousands of compounds, making it difficult to pinpoint which bioactive component exerts its effect on which particular tissue. Very complex!

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