ODe to the Panacea Dance 2

By Sarah A LoBisco, ND


In last week’s blog, I discussed how our high speed society has become overly consumed with its pursuit for a “medical panacea”. It’s as though our fast-paced lifestyles do not allow any room to slow down, pause, or reflect, even if our bodies are signaling they need to. This may be a major contributor to why so many people become fearful of any sign of dysfunction in their body or to any twinge of discomfort.

Certainly, the media has mass marketed and effectively sold us on this concept of “the cure-all.” Advertisers promise to help us fulfill our pleasures and check lists, or at least keep us as pain free and moving as fast as possible to pursue them. Conventional medicine has added expertise to these media blasts with their messages to control or stop symptoms through various medications, operations, or procedures. Seeking the ultimate relief promised from any bodily pests, Americans spend millions on healthcare therapies, drugs, potions, and creams from various health experts and celebrities. Yet if we truthful, we are yielding very pathetic results.

We have become a society seeking entertainment and anesthesia, with no time to allow nature to heal or to look within for our own means to cure. People and scientists have become more comfortable with a perceived control over nature and an ability to manipulate the body rather than heal and integrate with it.

Regardless of the fact that they have been around thousands of years prior to the advent of penicillin, we have been told that “natural medicine” and lifestyle modalities are a form of “quackery.” Furthermore, these messages of using control to remove physical symptoms are creating a predominant disconnect and distrust of one to their own body’s innate healing mechanisms.   

Many are hesitant to embrace a natural, “non-scientific” route, due to “lack of evidence.” Thankfully, this is turning around. More and more research is validating that foods, herbs, and nutrients contain phytochemicals which affect our health in positive ways.

The problem behind “proving diet works,” is that the model doesn’t fit. Evidence based medicine has been researching natural medicine and nutrients in a similar fashion as drugs, through biochemical pathways and controlled trials. As stated in one of my previous blogs, this is not an effective method to assess healing or clinical efficacy. This is for a variety of reasons:

Most clinical trials for nutrition don’t take into account if a person is deficient in the nutrient or phytochemicals when they are testing a particular constituent in their study. Therefore, mixed results will occur. If the intervention was applied to people who were deficient and needed the nutrient, the results will likely be positive. If those tested were already above the threshold for the nutrient or compound, the results would be skewed to negative effects.

With drugs you have two very controllable factors; the impact of the actual intervention vs. no intervention. With nutritional interventions, it is not that easy. Why? There are two phases of extreme nutritional intervention factors-complete deficiency and resultant death vs. toxicity from over dosage and resultant death.

Nutrients work in synergism. Meaning, if you take too much of one nutrient, a deficiency in another can ensue. For example, too much zinc depletes copper. Therefore, you take another drug or another supplement to deal with the side effect of the previous drug or previous supplement when basing treatment on symptoms  and isolates verses on a therapeutic protocol and synergism.

Therefore, based on these current research modalities, “science” has set up foods to be panaceas or poisons. This causes various nutrients and vitamins to be the cure-all for a generation and the kill-all for another. As promised last week, I’ll use soy as an example of this.

The Case of Soy:

In pubmed, the online source for  peer-reviewed scientific articles, “soy and health” gets a whopping 1578 hits.  It’s definitely a hot topic with mixed media hype of villain vs. hero status. Even various experts disagree on it. Mark Hyman is more for it, Dr. Mercola won’t go near it. Both are brilliant. What do we do and who do we believe? Such confusion created over one food to either put to our lips or flush into the drain.

In a recent a recent article from Dr. Mercola, soy’s history from superhero to villain is discussed. As you read through this summary, I’d like to propose the following question to be looked at the end of the article: what if we replace soy and soy products in paragraph one with vitamin D? (Uh-oh?)

By Dr. Mercola

In the early 1990’s, soy and soy products exploded onto the supermarket scene with promises of bountiful health benefits. This “new miracle food,” soy, was supposed to lower cholesterol, take the heat out of hot flashes, protect against breast and prostate cancer and offer a filling alternative to earth-loving vegetarians.

The problem with these claims?

Most of them are false.

Sadly, most of what you have been led to believe by the media about soy is simply untrue. The sudden upsurge in the recommendation of soy as a health food has been nothing more than a clever marketing gimmick to further reduce the cost and nutritional content of your food.

For you vegetarians out there staring at the screen in open-mouthed shock, fear not. There are plenty of other healthy vegetarian alternatives, which I will discuss later in this article. What was once considered a minor industrial crop back in 1913 now covers over 72 million acres of farmland. But first, let’s examine the dangers and side effects of soy protein isolate and GMO foods.

So, are you convinced now that Soy should completely be avoided? Not so fast. Let’s take another look. The Agency for HealthCare Research and Quality (AHRQ) wrote an unbiased, scientific, 245 page “summary” entitled, The Effects of Soy on Health Outcomes. Let me save you some time reading. The main summary is that both the benefits and the harms of soy are probably overstated.

The effect of soy on women has been debated heavily. It seems that there exists a complex interaction between soy and estrogen, which may account for its harm or healing effects in different women with different hormonal levels:

Twelve studies reported estradiol levels at the follicular phase in 434 pre-menopausal women. The overall effect of soy on estradiol levels was not consistent. Most of the studies showed a trend for soy to reduce estradiol, although they failed to demonstrate a statistically significant effect. Six randomized trials reported the effect of soy on TSH. No overall effect of soy on TSH and thyroid function is clear.

In its synergism, soy can act as an estrogen mimicker or an antagonist. For women low in estrogen, soy phytoestrogens may be helpful. For women with estrogen dominant patterns, high isoflavones may cause worsening of symptoms.  Furthermore, the health of a women’s gastrointestinal tract will affect if they are capable of producing “equol” from soy constituents, complicating soy’s biochemical effects and confusing brilliant doctor’s recommendations even more.

For children, soy is a definite no-no.

Back to Mercola:

“In 1998, investigators reported that the daily exposure of infants to isoflavones in soy infant formula is 6 to11 times higher on a body-weight basis than the dose that has hormonal effects in adults consuming soy foods. Circulating concentrations of isoflavones in infants fed soy-based formula were 13,000 to 22,000 times higher than plasma estradiol concentrations in infants on cow’s milk formula.”

What does this mean? Feeding your infant soy-based formula can cause a host of health problems including:

  • Behavioral problems
  • Food allergies and digestive distress
  • Early puberty and fertility problems (including the inability to menstruate)
  • Asthma
  • Precocious puberty for girls and gynecomastia (man boobs) for boys
  • Thyroid disease
  • Cancer

Here’s my take on Soy:

I do concur that fermented and non-GMO soy products are the way to go if one consumes soy. Non-organic soy does contain aluminum, GMO, pesticides, and many imbalanced phytohormones from processing. This puts it back into the very educated consumers or practitioners hand of knowing the biochemistry of the individual and how that will match with the constituents of the supplement. Also, one should consider hormesis, or the dose response curve.

Back to the vitamin D-Soy comparison:

By no means, am I suggesting that the geniuses in the vitamin D council don’t have sound, valid research or that Vitamin D isn’t linked to all these health claims that were touted and disputed for by soy in the Mercola excerpt.  I am sure many of us are deficient in Vitamin D, and as with any vitamin, if we take it when we need it, health will ensue.

I am saying unless the underlying deficiency of why someone is low in vitamin D is addressed, we could be adding it in a boat and floating it away with vitamin E and Mr. Soy. This is because across the board recommendations without looking at causes of deficiencies or personal biochemistry can be dangerous. Everyone is different.

What happens 10 years down the road when this fat soluble vitamin accumulates in the blood stream of those with less efficient livers and kidneys? Also, what if we began testing for the other 43 monomers not tested in the typical 25-OH test and realize we’ve been missing something?

Another villain on our hands? It seems that nutrients are considered “bad” when they don’t exert one easy, biochemical effect on every single person who consumes it. And, there’s the issue. Nutrients aren’t drugs.


Leo Galland, MD. Drug-Supplement Interactions: the Good, the Bad and the Uncertain. IFM Symposium: Spotlight on Gut-Brain-Skin Theory. Institute for Functional Medicine. www.functionalmedicine.org

Pubmed. Search terms “soy and health” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=soy%20and%20health

Mercola, J. Doctor Warns: Eat This and You’ll Look 5 Years Older. Posted February 19 2011. Accessed February 19 2011. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/02/19/the-dirty-little-secret-hidden-in-much-of-your-health-food.aspx

Hyman, M. Why Treating Your Symptoms is a Recipe for Disaster. February 19 2011. http://drhyman.com/why-treating-your-symptoms-is-a-recipe-for-disaster-3520/?utm_source=Publicaster&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=drhyman%20newsletter%20issue%20#13&utm_term=Read+more

Balk E, Chung M, Chew P, et al. Effects of Soy on Health Outcomes. Summary, Evidence Report/Technology Assessment: Number 126. AHRQ Publication Number 05-E024-1, August 2005. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/epcsums/soysum.htm