• By Jane Hart, MD

Soy May Help Control Cholesterol

A study in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition supports previous evidence that soy protein may be one management option for improving cholesterol levels, ultimately reducing heart disease risk.

Soy is an important source of plant protein and contains other nutrients such as potassium and magnesium

Soy improved lipids

The researchers set out to see which of several interventions would improve cholesterol levels the most. In this study, 352 participants with a total cholesterol level less than 240 mg/dl were randomly assigned to supplement daily, for eight weeks, with 40 grams of either soy protein (providing 84 mg per day of soy isoflavones), milk protein, or complex carbohydrates from wheat.

Results showed that participants who took the soy protein supplement experienced a small but statistically significant 3.97 mg/dl decrease in total cholesterol and a 1.54 mg/dl increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol compared with people who took the milk protein or complex carbohydrates.

“There is increasing evidence that consumption of soy protein in place of animal protein lowers blood cholesterol levels and may provide other cardiovascular benefits,” said author MR Wofford and colleagues from the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, MS.

The scoop on soy

  • Soy is rich in plant chemicals known as isoflavones which include genistein and daidzein. Prior studies have shown that these compounds may have a wide range of health benefits including bone health protection, cancer prevention, menopause relief, and as this study suggests—cholesterol improvement.
  • Soy is an important source of plant protein and contains other nutrients such as potassium and magnesium. Soy is included in many different food products today and can be found as soy milk, tofu, miso, and tempeh and is a common food additive in many other products.
  • In this study, soy was taken as a supplement by people with normal or mildly elevated total cholesterol, and the improvements were small. Dietary options are just one part of an overall plan to improve cholesterol and optimize heart health. Talk with a doctor about the risks and benefits of taking soy supplements, and if you have high total cholesterol talk about the best plan of action which may include dietary change, exercise, and if necessary, medications.

(Eur J Clin Nutr 2011;1–7)

Jane Hart, MD

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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