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Soy isoflavones, classified as phytoestrogens, are found in relatively high concentrations in soybeans. Phytoestrogens are plant-derived non-steroidal substances which exhibit oestrogen-like biological activity. Soy isoflavones possess both weak oestrogenic and weak anti-oestrogenic effects. Their presence in soy foods may offer some explanation as to why people living in countries where soy products are a big part of the diet do not suffer from as many or as frequent hot flushes and other menopausal difficulties. It might also explain why rates of certain hormone-linked cancers are lower in Asia than they are in other parts of the world.

Two types of isoflavones in soy, genistein and daidzein, may also offer both antioxidant and phytoestrogenic properties, which appear to protect against some hormone-related disorders such as breast cancer and endometriosis. They do this by competing for the same place on cells that the body's own oestrogen does. Saponin, a similar substance found in soy, enhances immune function and combines with cholesterol to inhibit its absorption by the body. Phytosterols and other substances in soy have also been reported to be helpful in lowering cholesterol levels and in protecting against heart disease.

Soy isoflavones may aid women and men in maintaining bone mineral density and in preventing osteoporosis. Although the use of soy in the prevention of osteoporosis offers hope, no conclusive human studies have substantiated these effects.

Recommended Dosage

The best way to gain the benefits of soy is by having a diet which incorporates substantial amounts of soy. There is no recommended daily intake of soy. Societies in which large amounts of soy are consumed ingest from 50 and 100 mg daily of soy isoflavones.

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