Monday, February 1, 2010

Use of soy formula increases risk of fibroids

A new study shows that there may be another danger to artificial feeding your infant, particularly if you have a daughter and are giving her soy formula. A recent study of 20,000 white women found that those who had been fed soy formula rather than breastfed or given cow's milk based formula were 25% more likely to be diagnosed with early-onset fibroids. Although this is the first study of its kind and relies on women (and perhaps their mothers) to remember how they were fed as infants, I think the findings are interesting. We already know that soy can affect the reproductive system because of the level of estrogen found in soy products, so it makes sense that early introduction of soy might cause these benign uterine tumors.

So does this mean soy products are unsafe? Actually, no. Soy is a huge part of Asian diets, which are generally considered to be very healthy. However, as the study notes, in Asian countries, exposure to soy happens in the oppposite way as it does here in the US. Most babies in Asia are breastfed and then go on to consume tofu, soy sauce and other soy products throughout their lifetime. American babies are more likely to be fed soy formula during their first year of life, and only eat small quantities of soy products thereafter.

So why are soy formulas so popular in the US? Some people think soy formula is healthier for babies than milk-based formula, but that's actually untrue. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics only recommends soy formula for a small percentage of babies, including those whose parents are strict vegans, those with a rare disease called congenital galactosemia and another small group with a true lactose intolerance. Many parents switch their baby to soy formula if they appear colicky or gassy, when in reality, many babies who react poorly to cow's milk formula will also have trouble with soy protein. In those cases, a hypoallergenic formula is called for, not soy milk.

The truth of the matter is,  African-American women have higher rates of uterine fibroids than any other ethnic group. This study didn't look at the connection between black women and soy formula, but if you're a black woman and considering using soy formula, you may want to keep your eyes peeled for further studies.

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