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Soy and COPD

Topics > COPD

Soy Food for Lung Health

By Dr. Kristie

There may be good news for people who eat soy foods. According to a new Japanese study soy may be beneficial for lung health.

Soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, and miso are popular in Oriental countries such as Japan but have been slower to gain acceptance in this country where the primary protein foods come from animal sources. Now, there may be a new reason to give soy a second look.

The Study

This study, published in the journal Respiratory Research, showed that study participants who consumed the most soy foods not only had better lung function, but were less likely to be diagnosed with COPD, a chronic lung disease that occurs more commonly in smokers.

During the study, the researchers questioned the subjects about their soy intake and interviewed close relatives to verify the participants’ levels of soy consumption.

Each subject also had their lung function measured. It appeared that the risk of getting COPD was causally related to how much soy food the participants ate.  


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Why Might Soy Foods Be Important for Lung Health?

The researchers believe the reduced risk of lung disease seen in the study may stem from the anti-inflammatory effects that soy foods have on the body. The isoflavones found in soy have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties in animals. This anti-inflammatory effect may be important for lung health in humans also.

One question is whether this research will be hold true in other populations or whether this effect is unique to the Japanese. The Japanese, in general, lead a healthier lifestyle than Americans, with a lifestyle characterized by more exercise and an overall healthier diet which are all positives for lung health.

The researchers controlled for these factors in the study, suggesting that the improvements in lung health were primarily related to soy food consumption.



Are There Other Benefits?

Soy foods are believed to have a variety of benefits in addition to their effects on lung health. Soy helps to maintain healthy bones; and a soy rich diet may also lower cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, and possibly reduce the risk of heart disease. Soy foods have also attracted controversy.

Because soy has estrogen-like effects, it is unclear whether large quantities are safe for women who are at high risk of breast cancer.

Soybeans are also goitrogens, meaning they can interfere with the synthesis of thyroid hormone when eaten in large amounts. Their goitrogen activity could decrease thyroid function in susceptible individuals.

The Bottom Line?

It is difficult to tell whether the results of this study are population specific. Hopefully, more studies will be done to confirm whether soy foods are good for lung health in all populations.

If so, they could provide additional lung protection for people at high risk for lung diseases such as COPD or who are ex-smokers.

Until then, soy foods can be a good substitute for animal based protein in those who aren’t at high risk of breast cancer or hypothyroidism.

About the Author

She is a Medical Doctor with concentration in family practice. She has a undergraduate degree in both Biology and Psychology and masters in Clinical Pathology.

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