Soy, Testosterone, Erectile Dysfunction

A new paper has been published on the feminizing effect of soy on men:

Messina M. Soybean isoflavone exposure does not have feminizing effects on men: a critical examination of the clinical evidence. Fertil Steril. 2010 May 1;93(7):2095-104. Epub 2010 Apr 8. Review.

You can read the abstract at the link above, and here is a little more info from the June 2010 issue of Soy & Health.

12 Responses to “Soy, Testosterone, Erectile Dysfunction”

  1. beforewisdom Says:

    Hi Jack;

    This is exciting.

    I like to collect neutral or positive articles from solid sources, it helps since big money is involved in spreading misinformation on both sides.

    In that regard I am careful about adding articles about soy from veg*n groups to my collection as people who are emotionally invested in demonizing soy will be quick to point that out.

    Was this meta study funded in any way by people or organizations with financial interests in the soy industry?

    My apologies in advance if this question is any way persnickety

  2. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Before Wisdom,

    The paper is a review by Mark Messina who is a soy industry consultant. Since he is reviewing a lot of different studies for the paper, I would need to look up those studies to see if they list where they get the funding and that is more work than this issue warrants. If a study comes out that really shows soy to be feminizing, then I would look into it deeper but so far the evidence has been too tenuous.


  3. Redwood Says:

    Thanks Jack, though I have already decided on ample evidence that the idea that soy is “feminizing” is an obvious Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt campaign from certain anti-vegan sources. Western food culture plays a part as well and I’m surprised more people don’t realize that calling soy, tofu and mock meats, nasty or un-natural isn’t so much a slight against vegans (who aren’t required to eat them) but is cultural prejudice against certain Asian cultures who have eaten such foods since before Italians encountered a tomato or an Irishman held a potato.

    “OMG there’s ESTROGEN in soy!” of course neglects to mention that there is phytoestrogen in lots of plant foods and that animals are made of hormones that are much closer to our own than plant PHYTOestrogen. Of course cows’ milk is a hormone delivery system from a large female mammal originally intended to get her baby bovine to grow but now is genetically breed through domestic selection to lactate ridiculously when impregnated; and she is continually made pregnant, a highly hormonal state. Let’s not even mention the hormones added by animal industry to promote growth because even “clean” meat and dairy are hormone packages all by themselves.

    Be sure hormone rich cows’ milk is consumed raw so that you don’t miss out on all those Midi-Chlorians destroyed by heat! That would be funnier except that there’s a branch of alternative vegan nutrition that’s established on the same notion.

    I agree with beyondwisdom, it’s great that Soy & Health and groups like PCRM publish these sorts of studies, but it becomes problematic to cite such sources. I’m the first one to roll my eyes from a Dairy Council sponsored study touting the benefits of milk, and I can’t fault vegan opponents for doing the same for studies that are favorable to veganism but are from known plant-based diest friendly sources. There was another recent nurses’ study associating red meat with heart disease done by Walter Willett, but it’s hardly worth bringing up because he is already associated with such studies.

    I’m not suggesting such sources shouldn’t keep on keep’n on, but it’s more powerful to have strong neutral(ish) sources as well.

    Anyway, along beyondwisdom’s inquiry, Jack, (or anyone who may know,) is there any relation between Mark Messina and Ginny Messina of Probably just a coincidence, but I couldn’t help make the association.

  4. Jack Norris RD Says:


    Ginny and Mark are married.

    I wouldn’t consider Walter Willett biased in any way. He’s no animal rights advocate or even pro-vegan.

  5. Betty Says:

    Redwood, I think you are stretching it to say that the antisoy viewpoint is based on “cultural prejudice against certain Asian cultures”. If this were true, why would Chinese restaurants and sushi joints be so popular? Just about everybody has a bottle of soy sauce in their kitchen.

    Further, what is wrong with people identifying with Western culture if it is in their heritage to do so? I do recall reading an article in a respected publication – it might have been Utne Reader – where he says that, basically, when it comes to your primary daily food, people should eat according to their ethnicity. This doesn’t mean you can’t have soy occasionally, but some vegans and vegetarians make it their main food.

  6. Redwood Says:

    @ Jack
    Doh! I didn’t think I would be right on the Messina connection. Hmm, I don’t know what else to say other than what I’ve already said. It’s kind of cool for some reasons and disappointing for others at the same time.

    [vitriol] Walter Willett is part of the anti-meat-low-fat-Big Pharma conspiracy determined to make us fat and sick! [/vitriol]

    Yeah, I read way too many of those sorts of websites.

    Walter Willet’s research and approach is compatible with veganism and I consider Harvard Medical a reasonable source of health and nutrition information. However, not everyone does, and I think that nutrition science is getting the same questioning of authority as climate science is, even in mainstream circles.

    Fair or not, I think nutritional scientists are going to need to tighten up their game and do some decent PR if they want don’t want to be in similar cultural situation as climate science.

    @ Betty
    Thanks for bringing up these points, I’ll try to clarify.

    I did not meant to suggest that that an anti-soy viewpoint is monolithic. I meant that the cultural prejudice is unintentional, but still important to note because non-vegetarian hold some distain and even outright pejoratives against meat and diary alternatives, but Western vegetarianism didn’t invent them.

    It’s like saying that yoga is stupid because it’s been picked up and popularized in a non-Indian context, without taking into account the long and rich history attached to it. If someone doesn’t like doing yoga, or eating Japanese cuisine, or the taste of tofu, that’s one thing, but wise people these days understand not to approach these various subjects with cultural biases up front.

    Progressive people are a bit more conscious to give cultural artifacts a fair try before condemning them because they know that cultural discrimination isn’t rational and can get ugly quickly. The problem comes up that non-vegetarians equate meat and dairy alternatives with vegetarianism, and reject it outright, not realizing their insensitivity on the cultural front and general irrationality on the subject.

    There’s nothing wrong with people identifying with their own culture, but one has to be cautious not to promote their own culture by unjust vilification of another. One’s culture isn’t superior for the mere fact that they were born into it. Also, this idea that someone or groups of people assimilating bits and pieces of other culture somehow invalidates the practices or makes them fakers, should be rejected.

    I tried searching for the particular article you mentioned (searching food and ethnicity), and found exhibit A of precisely the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt propaganda that I was implicating in my earlier comment:

    The Dark Side of Soy

    If that is the type of “journalism” the Unte Reader has to offer, I wouldn’t really put too much stock in the publication as a whole. It’s a very biased piece quoting “authorities” with agendas that have traceable links to very specific anti-vegetarian groups and no counterbalance of opinion; just a good cop-bad cop charade.

    Aside from that atrocious article that I won’t bother to quote and I think it may be the one you were thinking of, for the sake of discussion I’ll assume the argument to consume ethic food came from a legitimate source. Clearly, I don’t agreed with the assertion because otherwise I would not be eating a plant-based diet that excludes animal products.

    If it’s a matter of health data between native diets and the worse of what modern Western diets have to offer, then that’s a false dichotomy. It may be statistically relevant due to the spread of unhealthful Western foods and eating patterns, but relocating rural Italians to rural Japan and having them eat the local diet won’t necessarily mean a decline in health.

    This idea that we fare better eating our ethnic food is untenable if you look at the migrations of foods across continents and how cultures have assimilated them as their own. The idea is as mistaken as eating for your blood type, same principle really, and the “science” backing it is rubbish. For a person like myself with a pronounced mixed ethnicity it is even more preposterous. Do I alternate ethic meals? Mix them together? One of my parent’s native cuisine is historically a recent fusion, what then, which continent do I eat from? On a social level, ethnic eating as proper eating borders into racial compartmentalization, and I don’t like where that type of thinking tends to lead.

    For better or for worse culture is story-telling but it certainly isn’t some infallible life guide. People should be comfortable to write their own stories taking and rejects bits and pieces as they see fit. Every culture has done this, that’s how culture is works. Those who pursue traditional diets pick and choose anyway, that’s how a Jewish author can write about the importance of food culture while going pig hunting in the same book. No need to mention the picking and choosing going on with prehistoric diets. Vegans pick and choose too in certain degrees too, but the endeavor isn’t a compromise from inception, the large choices work in the big picture.

    Regarding common consumption of soy, if vegans are meeting their nutritional needs and are healthy, what difference does it make?

    Sure, I personally feel that variety in a plant-based diet is desirable from a consumer perspective and vegans would be doing a culinary disservice to themselves to eat soy at every meal but there is no legitimate data suggesting that consuming soy products in such a manner is harmful. I get the feeling that vegans pursuing a “clean” diet (soy free, gluten free, no processed foods ever, only organic, “live” food) that tend have the most trouble and ultimately drop out of a plant-based diet. Allergies are one thing, but irrational health fears are another.

    A few points:

    There’s nothing unique in soybeans that other legumes and vegetables don’t contain in some degree. The “concerns” over whatever nutrient soy is high or low in are way over inflated. If they were so problematic, we’d have to be wary of all sorts of plant foods.

    There’s no strong evidence that a monotonous diet is necessarily an inferior one. Okinawans ate around 70% of their calories from sweet potatoes and it didn’t seem to harm their longevity. Also note that sweet potatoes were a relatively new food introduced to their population, it’s part of their “traditional” diet now, but we know for sure that wasn’t always the case since the sweet potato migrated from South America after the New World was “discovered.”

    The Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda CA are among the longest living population in North America. They consume a good amount of processed soybeans, even the heavily processed food varieties; they formed companies that produced these products after all. Though some data suggests a very slight advantage to soy bead consumption we don’t even need to speculate whether soybeans give them some longevity advantage.

    All we need to say is that it doesn’t seem to particularly impact their health negatively in any significant way as far as we can tell. If the Seventh Day Adventists of predominately European decent have been having a high prevalence of “feminizing of men” or “ethnic food rejection syndrome” or whatever fabricated health issues that scary soy articles claim, you would think it would have been better documented by now and not be the sole scholarship of anti-vegetarian motivations.

  7. Betty Says:

    Well! That was quite a long reply. Yes, you are correct, that is the article I read a while ago from Utne Reader. Thanks for finding it for me. I am not that computer-wise and probably wouldn’t have known where to start.

    Regarding the idea of “eating according to your ethnicity”, yes, you are correct, it is impossible to define ‘traditional’ any more, what with so much migration. I think the only exception might be people who live in some isolated, secluded area where they have been eating the same foods for, who knows, 10,000 years! The rest of us have been slowly introduced to foods from far away and our bodies have slowly become accustomed to them, over time.

    However, it has occurred to me that while eating everything from a culture very different and far away from one’s own ethnicity wouldn’t necessarily be unhealthy, your body might nevertheless detect subtle energies (an eastern idea, anyway) that it’s not familiar with. Who’s to say how you might be affected?

    By avoiding meat, minimizing dairy products and including things like quinoa, mustard greens and black beans – which my parents and ancestors NEVER ate, not even once – I am probably breaking some kind of cosmic biological rules. I don’t much care and I am not losing sleep over it. But when family comes over for holidays and I cook just about everything from our ethnic history (still no meat, though), well, it does cause some sort of resonance for me that I can’t quite explain. A plain ol’ happy feeling that I don’t think I’d get from tofurkey. (I do like tofu, I just don’t think it belongs on Slavic Julian Calendar holy days…)

    You said, “There’s nothing unique in soybeans that other legumes and vegetables don’t contain in some degree. The “concerns” over whatever nutrient soy is high or low in are way over inflated. If they were so problematic, we’d have to be wary of all sorts of plant foods.”

    Yes, absolutely. This is where the Weston Price Foundation folk warn us endlessly about the “necessity” of proper and special preparation of legumes and grains. Yes, I guess it’s a good idea to soak beans for a long time and then cook at low temperature for a long time, not to mention soaking grains in one sort of acidulant or another – and I do these things occasionally. It’s not laborious, it’s just unsupervised work, but still I find it a chore to think ahead 24 hours.

    Thanks for replying to my concerns. And here is a a little treat I thought you might like. It is from the Introduction to my Lenten Vegan/Vegetarian Cookbook published by a women’s group of the Orthodox Church:

    “…Orthodox monastics eat no meat in order to ‘soften’ their hearts with compassion. It takes a hardened heart to kill an animal, and to a lesser degree even to eat meat. Consequently, fasting from meat and animal products at least on Orthodox fasting days has a similar beneficial effect of softening the hearts even of us lay people and clergy in the world.”

  8. inaram Says:

    “This is where the Weston Price Foundation folk warn us endlessly about the “necessity” of proper and special preparation of legumes and grains. Yes, I guess it’s a good idea to soak beans for a long time and then cook at low temperature for a long time, not to mention soaking grains in one sort of acidulant or another – and I do these things occasionally. It’s not laborious, it’s just unsupervised work, but still I find it a chore to think ahead 24 hours.”
    How much is it true?

  9. Jack Norris RD Says:


    I could find no research on soaking beans (or grains). I wouldn’t bother unless you find that you like the effects.

  10. Zak Says:

    Hi Jack –

    I just read this study done comparing soy and whey. They found that testosterone levels decreased when using soy. Have you seen this study? I am interested in your thoughts on it.



  11. Jack Norris RD Says:


    My reading of the abstract isn’t that testosterone went down, but that it didn’t increase as much. I’ll put it on my list of studies to read.

  12. Jack Norris RD Says:


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