Friday, June 3, 2011


Good Morning Birth Peeps,
We are returning to Change #2, Teaching Parents Prenatal Nutrition. Here is a brief, special announcement. Make sure every woman who is planning to get pregnant, is pregnant, or who may use soy formula, knows about the research regarding soy and the health of our babies.


We typically think of soy products (e.g., tofu, soy milk and cheese, soy-meat, soy-based formula) as “health foods.” Soy is nutritious in small amounts, however it is nearly impossible for us to eat small amounts anymore as 55–70 percent of all processed and packaged food in supermarkets have some soy product in them! And, 79 percent of oil or fat in processed food is soy (in United States).1 Soy in one form or another is in your salad dressings, chips, cookies, crackers, breads, cakes, and chocolate. It’s injected into meat and cereal, gum, and organic food. It’s a main ingredient in power bars. Ironically, people on health food diets eat the most soy.

There is growing concern that a pregnant mothers ingesting excessive amounts of estrogen from the amount of soy in our diet (plus the phytoestrogens present in pesticides which are built into gmo soy and other foods), especially in the first trimester, may be contributing to health problems in the baby:
* low birth weight,
* malformation of the baby’s sex organs,
* thyroid function,
* the timing of the onset of puberty and fertility later in life

Why are soy products a particular problem in pregnancy?
Soy contains isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen found in plants, i.e., plant estrogen. Phytoestrogens mimic estrogen, block human estrogen and luteinizing hormone, and suppress testosterone in the human body.

Estrogen Overload on Fetal Development and Children’s Health
For the developing fetus, excessive estrogen during crucial stages may lower birth weight, affect subtle neurohormonal and behavior changes, sex organ development, and timing of the onset of puberty.

Girls: Before they are three years old, 1% of girls in the United States are growing breasts and pubic hair, by eight years of age, 14.7 percent of white girls and 48.3 percent of African American girls are in premature puberty. It is speculated that these girls are more likely to have been fed soy formula.2

Boys: Where as girls are experiencing premature puberty due to high levels of estrogen, more boys are experiencing delayed puberty, small penis growth, undescended testicles, and some are even growing breasts. Excess estrogen decreases the male hormone testosterone and luteinizing hormone (which signals the testicles to work). Pediatricians see so many boys with these symptoms, they have coined a name for this: “Developmental Estrogenization Syndrome.”3,4

There has been an increase in the incidence of a malformation of the penis called hypospadias where the urethral opening is on the underside of the penis, instead of at the tip. Correcting hypospadias may require up to ten surgeries. A British study (2000) showed vegetarian mothers are five times more likely to give birth to a boy with hypospadias than mothers who ate a varied diet.5

Let's all do our part to protect the next generation. Spread the word.



  1. Hi Pam, i'm very interested in this topic, especially as my son is lactose intolerant and now drinking soy milk. He was also born with hypospadias. I wonder if you could share the references with us please? Thanks, Bec

  2. My son was also born with hypospadias, and I would also be interested in your references. Thanks.

  3. Hi Pam,
    First off, I enjoy and have benefitted from your blog and your book, Birthing From Within. That said, I find this particular blog post a bit under-researched and potentially misleading. Since you usually are quite rigorous with providing references (something I really appreciate), I figure omitting the reference for the 2000 paper you cite was an oversight. It was probably this paper (North K, Golding J. A maternal vegetarian diet in pregnancy is associated with hypospadias. The ALSPAC Study Team. Avon Longitudinal Study of Pregnancy and Childhood. BJU Int. 2000 Jan;85(1):107-13.), right? Two more recent studies (from 2007 & 2008) have also examined the link between maternal vegetarian diet and hypospadias. One found that maternal diet lacking meat or fish was associated with hypospadias (Akre O, Boyd HA, Ahlgren M, Wilbrand K, Westergaard T, Hjalgrim H, Nordenskjold A, Ekbom A, Melbye M. Maternal and gestational risk factors for hypospadias. Environ Health Perspect. 2008 Aug;116(8):1071-6.) The other study didn't find a link between the two (Brouwers MM, Feitz WF, Roelofs LA, Kiemeney LA, de Gier RP, Roeleveld N. Risk factors for hypospadias. Eur J Pediatr. 2007 Jul;166(7):671-8.) As for the link between soy and hypospadias, the 2000 study by North and colleagues did not find a statistically significant link between maternal soy consumption and hypospadias. Furthermore, another 2004 study found no link between the two (Brouwers MM, Feitz WF, Roelofs LA, Kiemeney LA, de Gier RP, Roeleveld N. Risk factors for hypospadias. Eur J Pediatr. 2007 Jul;166(7):671-8. .) There may be a link between vegetarian diet and hypospadias, but we can't automatically conclude that it is due to phytoestrogens in soy. The negative effects of phytoestrogens on the body as described in your post ("mimic estrogen [...] and suppress testosterone in the human body") also seem exaggerated relative to research findings (Mitchell JH, Cawood E, Kinniburgh D, Provan A, Collins AR, Irvine DS (June 2001). "Effect of a phytoestrogen food supplement on reproductive health in normal males". Clin. Sci. 100 (6): 613–8.) I agree that pregnant women and mothers should know the research on soy and its effects. I hope that you will include all the above research in the body of info women should know about.

  4. What is causing the increase of this birth defect in the last 40 or 50 years? Maybe progesterone?

  5. I find your post rather alarmist and under-researched. The problems noted could also be a result of environmental toxins, particularly those that mimic estrogens (like those found in plastics).

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