by Kaayla T. Daniel
Extracted from Nexus Magazine, Volume
11, Number 5
The huge rise in allergic
reactions to soy is in line with the increasing use of
soy products in processed foods during the 1990s, and
should be regarded as a major public health concern.
About the Author
Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, CCN, is the author of The
Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite
Health Food (NewTrends Publishing, 2004). She is a
board-certified clinical nutritionist and a health
educator who teaches classes and workshops on disease
prevention, optimum health and maximum longevity. Dr
Daniel can be reached through her website,
THE RISE IN
Soy is one of the top allergens—substances that cause allergic
reactions. In the 1980s, Stuart Berger, MD, labeled soy one of the
seven top allergens—one of the "sinister seven". At the time, most
experts listed soy around tenth or eleventh—bad enough, but way
behind peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, shellfish, fin fish and
wheat. Today, soy is widely accepted as one of the "big eight" that
cause immediate hypersensitivity reactions.1–4
Allergies are abnormal inflammatory responses of the immune system
to dust, pollen, a food or some other substance. Those that involve
an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE) occur immediately or
within an hour. Reactions may include coughing, sneezing, runny
nose, hives, diarrhea, facial swelling, shortness of breath, a
swollen tongue, difficulty swallowing, lowered blood pressure,
excessive perspiration, fainting, anaphylactic shock or even
Delayed allergic responses to soy are less dramatic, but are even
more common. These are caused by antibodies known as immunoglobulins
A, G or M (IgA, IgG or IgM) and occur anywhere from two hours to
days after the food is eaten. These have been linked to sleep
disturbances, bedwetting, sinus and ear infections, crankiness,
joint pain, chronic fatigue, gastrointestinal woes and other
Food "intolerances", "sensitivities" and "idiosyncrasies" to soy are
commonly called "food allergies", but differ from true allergies in
that they are not caused by immune system reactions but by
little-understood or unknown metabolic mechanisms.7–9
speaking, gas and bloating—common reactions to soy and other
beans—are not true allergic responses.
However, they may serve as
warnings of the possibility of a larger clinical picture involving
allergen-related gastrointestinal damage.
PROFIT vs RISK
The soybean industry knows that some people experience severe
allergic reactions to its products. In a recent petition to the US
Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Protein Technologies
International (PTI) identified "allergenicity" as one of the "most
likely potential adverse effects associated with ingestion of large
amounts of soy products".
Yet PTI somehow concluded that "the data
do not support that they would pose a substantial threat to the
health of the US population".10
This statement is hardly reassuring to the many children and adults
who suffer allergies to soy products. And it ignores a substantial
body of evidence published during the 1990s showing that some of
these people learn for the first time about their soy allergies
after experiencing an unexpectedly severe or even life-threatening
Severe reactions to soy are rare compared to reactions to peanuts,
tree nuts, fish and shellfish, but Swedish researchers recently
"Soy has been underestimated as a cause of food
(Foucard T., Malmheden Yman, I., Allergy 1999,
The Swedes began looking into a possible soybean connection after a
young girl suffered an asthma attack and died after eating a
hamburger that contained only 2.2 per cent soy protein. A team of
researchers collected data on all fatal and life-threatening
reactions caused by food between 1993 and 1996 in Sweden, and found
that the soy-in-the-hamburger case was not a fluke and that soy was
indeed the culprit.
They evaluated 61 cases of severe reactions to
food, of which five were fatal, and found that peanut, soy and tree
nuts caused 45 of the 61 reactions. Of the five deaths, four were
attributed to soy.
The four children who died from soy had known
allergies to peanuts but not to soy. The amount of soy eaten ranged
from one gram to 10 grams—typical of the low levels found when soy
protein is used as a meat-extending additive in ready-made foods
such as hamburgers, meatballs, spaghetti sauces, kebabs and sausages
or as an extender in breads and pastries.
When soy is "hidden" in hamburgers and other "regular" foods, people
often miss the soy connection. And allergic reactions to soy do not
always occur immediately, making cause and effect even harder to
establish. As reported in the Swedish study, no symptoms—or very
mild symptoms—occurred for 30 to 90 minutes after the consumption of
the food containing soy; then the children suffered fatal asthma
attacks. All had been able to eat soy without any adverse reactions
right up until the dinner that caused their deaths.
The Swedish study was not the first to report "fatal events" after
eating soy. Food anaphylaxis is most often associated with reactions
to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and occasionally fish or milk, but
soy has its own rap sheet. Anaphylactic reactions to bread, pizzas
or sausage extended with soy protein date back at least to 1961.
Subsequent studies have confirmed that the risk may be rare but is
The increasing amount of "hidden" soy in the food supply is
undoubtedly responsible for triggering many allergic reactions not
attributed to soy. French researchers who studied the frequency of
anaphylactic shocks caused by foods reported that the food allergen
remained unknown in 25 per cent of cases.
They noted the prevalence
of "hidden" and "masked" food allergens and stated that they saw,
strikingly increased prevalence of food-induced anaphylactic shock
in 1995 compared to a previous study from 1982".21
coincided with a huge increase in the amount of soy protein added to
(In fact, the amount has continued to rise. Per
capita consumption of soy protein increased from 0.78 g/day in 1998
to 2.23 g/day in 2002, according to industry estimates obtained by
the Solae Company which, in March 2004, filed a petition seeking FDA
approval of a health claim for soy protein and cancer reduction.21a)
None of these studies has attracted much media attention. Nor have
health agencies issued alerts.
For example, Ingrid Malmheden Yman,
PhD, of the Sweden National Food Administration and co-author of the
study, wrote to the Ministry of Health in New Zealand at the request
of an allergy sufferer. Two years before the article (first
published in Swedish) came out in English, she informed the agency
that children with severe allergy to peanut should avoid intake of
To be on the safe side, she further advised parents to
make an effort to "avoid sensitization" by limiting consumption of
both peanuts and soybeans during the third trimester of pregnancy
and during breastfeeding, and by avoiding the use of soy formula.22
Controversy has raged since the 1920s as to whether or not babies
could be sensitized to allergens while still in utero. In 1976,
researchers learned that the fetus is capable of producing IgE
antibodies against soy protein during early gestation, and newborns
can be so sensitized through the breast-milk of the mother that they
later react to foods they've "never eaten".23, 24
Families who need
to take these precautions seriously include those with known peanut
and/or soy allergies, vegetarians who would otherwise eat a lot of
soy foods during pregnancy or breastfeeding, and parents considering
the use of soy infant formula.
Because the numbers of children with allergies to peanuts are
increasing, we can expect to see greater numbers of children and
adults reacting severely to soy. Peanuts and soybeans are members of
the same botanical family, the grain–legume type, and scientists
have known for years that people allergic to one are often allergic
to the other.
Other children at risk for an undetected but potentially
life-threatening soy allergy include those with allergies to peas,
lima beans or other beans, a diagnosis of asthma, rhinitis, eczema
or dermatitis, or family members with a history of any of those
Reactions to foods in the same botanical family can be
cumulative, resulting in symptoms far more severe than either
Scientists are not completely certain which components of soy cause
allergic reactions. They have found at least 16 allergenic proteins,
and some researchers pinpoint as many as 25 to 30. Laboratories
report immune system responses to multiple fractions of the soy
protein, with no particular fraction being the most consistently
antigenic, i.e., capable of causing the production of an
Some of the most allergenic fractions appear to be the Kunitz and
Bowman–Birk trypsin inhibitors. Food processors have tried in vain
to deactivate these troublesome proteins completely without
irreparably damaging the remainder of the soy protein (see chapter
12). Having failed to accomplish this, the soy industry has decided
to promote these "antinutrients" as cancer preventers.
To date, its
proof remains slim, although cancer statistics might improve if
enough people died from anaphylactic shock first.
Although extremely rare, death from allergic reaction to trypsin
inhibitor has been a matter of public record since the New England
Journal of Medicine carried a report in 1980.37, 38
trypsin inhibitor has been identified as one of three allergic
components in soy lecithin—a soy product often considered
hypoallergenic (i.e., it has diminished potential for causing an
allergic reaction) because it is not supposed to include any soy
protein, but invariably contains trace amounts.39
Soybean lectin—another antinutrient now promoted as a disease
preventer—has also been identified as an allergen.40 Whenever there
is a damaged intestinal lining or "leaky gut", soy lectins can
easily pass into the bloodstream, triggering allergic reactions (see
chapter 14). Indeed, this is very likely because both soy allergens
and saponins (an antinutrient discussed in chapter 15) can damage
Histamine toxicity can also resemble allergic reactions. In allergic
persons, mast cells release histamine, causing a response that
strongly resembles an allergic reaction to food. In cases of
histamine toxicity, the histamine comes ready-made in the food. This
is most often associated with reactions to cheese and fish, but soy
sauce also contains high levels of histamine.
Researchers who have
calculated the histamine content of foods consumed at a typical
oriental meal report that histamine intake may easily approach toxic
The way that the soybean is grown, harvested, processed, stored and
prepared in the kitchen can affect its allergenicity. Raw soybeans
are the most allergenic, while old-fashioned fermented products (miso,
tempeh, natto, shoyu and tamari) are the least. Modern soy protein
products processed by heat, pressure and chemical solvents lose some
of their allergenicity, but not all. Partially hydrolysed proteins
and soy sprouts, which are quickly or minimally processed, remain
highly allergenic.42, 43
The industry newsletter, The Soy Connection, states that highly
refined oils and lecithin "are safe for the soy-allergic
Unfortunately, many allergic persons who have trusted such
reassurances have ended up in the hospital. Highly susceptible
people cannot use either safely. Adverse reactions to soy oils—taken
either by mouth as food or via tube-feeding—range from the nuisance
of sneezing to the life-threatening danger of anaphylactic
If soy oil and lecithin were 100 per cent free of soy protein, they
would not provoke allergic symptoms. Variable conditions and the
quality control and processing methods used when the vegetable oil
industry separates soybean protein from the oil make the presence of
at least trace amounts of soy protein possible, even likely. Though
healthier in many respects, the cold-pressed soy oils sold in health
food stores can be deadly for the allergic consumer. They may
contain as much as 100 times the amount of trace protein found in
the highly refined soy oils sold in supermarkets.52, 53
Soy protein is likely to appear in margarine. Above and beyond any
stray protein that remains after the processing of the soy oil, soy
protein isolates or concentrates are commonly used by food
manufacturers to improve the texture or spreadability of these
This occurs most often in low-fat or "low trans" products
(see chapter 6).
HIDDEN SOY –
HIDDEN SOY ALLERGIES
If your child is allergic to peanuts, you must eliminate
all soy as well as all peanuts from your child's diet.
Your child's life may depend upon it.
Take care, even if your child has never reacted poorly
to soy in the past. Some sensitive children have
"hidden" soy allergies that manifest for the first time
with a severe—even fatal—reaction to even the low levels
of "hidden" soy commonly found in processed food
products. Those at the highest risk suffer from asthma
as well as peanut allergy.
Other risk factors are other food allergies, a family
history of peanut or soy allergies, a diagnosis of
asthma, rhinitis or eczema, or a family history of these
(Source: Letter from Ingrid Malmheden Yman, PhD, Senior
Chemist, Sweden National Food Administration, to the New
Zealand Ministry of Health, 30 May 1997)
People allergic to soy protein face constant danger. Hidden soy
exists in thousands of everyday foods, cosmetics and industrial
products such as inks, cardboards, paints, cars and mattresses. The
four Swedish fatalities are only the best known of thousands of
reported cases of people who experienced severe allergic reactions
to soy after inadvertently eating foods that contained soybean
Of 659 food products recalled by the FDA in 1999, 236 (36 per cent)
were taken off the market because of undeclared allergens. The three
factors responsible for the undeclared allergens were: omissions and
errors on labels (51 per cent), cross contamination of manufacturing
equipment (40 per cent), and errors made by suppliers of ingredients
(five per cent).
It wasn't inspectors, however, but ticked-off US
consumers who fingered 56 per cent of the undeclared allergens.57
During 2002, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which takes
soy allergies seriously, recalled bagels, doughnuts, rolls, pizza
and other items containing undeclared soy protein.58 Although
agencies in many countries claim to be stepping up efforts to
enforce labeling laws, enforcement is difficult even when officials
make it a priority. The chief problem is that few methods reliably
detect and quantify minute amounts of allergens in foods.59
Even when soy-containing ingredients are accurately listed on food
labels, consumers may easily miss the soy connection. A 2002 study
of 91 parents of children allergic to peanuts, milk, egg, soy,
and/or wheat revealed that most parents failed to identify
allergenic food ingredients correctly, and that milk and soy
presented the most problems. Only 22 per cent of the parents with
soy allergies correctly identified soy protein in seven products.
The researchers concluded,
"These results strongly support the need
for improved labeling with plain-English terminology and allergen
warnings as well as the need for diligent education of patients
Allergies to pollen dust, dander and foods are on the increase
wherever margarine replaces butter. That's the conclusion of Finnish
researchers who found that children who developed allergies ate less
butter and more margarine compared with children who did not develop
allergies. Nearly all commercially marketed margarines are made with
The study showed that children with eczema, dermatitis and other
itchy skin conditions consumed an average of 8 grams of margarine
for every 1,000 calories compared to 6 grams among children without
allergies, and 9 grams of butter compared to 11 grams of butter or
more among the children without the allergies.
Laboratory testing revealed that the allergic children had a higher
ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fat and a lower percentage of
myristic acid (an indicator of saturated fat intake) than children
without allergies. They also showed lower levels of the EPA/DHA
polyunsaturated oils found in fish.
The inescapable conclusion: butter is better.
(Source: Dunder, T., Kuikka L. et al., "Diet, serum fatty acids and
atopic diseases in childhood", Allerg 2001, 56(5):425-428)
Allergic reactions occur not only when soy is eaten but when soybean
flour or dust is inhaled. Among epidemiologists, soybean dust is
known as an "epidemic asthma agent". From 1981 to 1987, soy dust
from grain silo unloading in the harbor of Barcelona, Spain, caused
26 epidemics of asthma, seriously jeopardizing the health of 687
people and leading to 1,155 hospitalizations.
No further epidemics
occurred after filters were installed, but a minor outbreak in 1994
established the need for diligent monitoring of preventive
Reports of the epidemic in Barcelona led epidemiologists in New
Orleans to investigate cases of epidemic asthma that occurred from
1957 to 1968 when more than 200 people sought treatment at Charity
Hospital. Investigations of weather patterns and cargo data from the
New Orleans harbor identified soy dust from ships carrying soybeans
as the probable cause. No association was found between asthma
epidemic days and the presence of wheat or corn on ships in the
The researchers concluded,
"The results of this analysis
provide further evidence that ambient soy dust is very asthmogenic
and that asthma morbidity in a community can be influenced by
exposures in the ambient atmosphere".63
The first report of "occupational asthma" appeared in the
Allergy in 1934. W. W. Duke described six persons whose asthma was
triggered by dust from a nearby soybean mill and predicted that soy
could become a major cause of allergy in the future.64 Today it is
well established that soybean dust is an occupational hazard of
working in bakeries, animal feed factories, food processing plants,
and health food stores and co-ops with bulk bins. Dust explosions
are a safety hazard at soybean processing plants.64–68
Most victims develop their "occupational asthma" over a period of
time. In one well-documented case, a 43-year-old woman spent six
years working at a food processing plant, in which soybean flour was
used as a meat extender, before she developed asthma. Symptoms of
sneezing, coughing and wheezing would begin within minutes of
exposure to soy flour and resolve two hours after the exposure
Rare reactions to soy have also occurred in asthmatic patients using
inhalers with bronchodilators containing soy-derived excipients.
Bronchospasms with laryngospasms and cutaneous rash have occurred
even in patients who were otherwise not affected by soy allergy.70
FORMULA FOR DISASTER:
AROUND THE WORLD WITH SOY
Allergic reactions occur to soy formula in children all
over the world, particularly those affected by other
Victoria, Australia –
Soy milk allergies in 47 per cent of 97 children
with cow's milk allergies;
Berlin, Germany –
Soybean allergies in 16 per cent of children with
Bonn, Germany – Soybean
allergies in 10 per cent of children with suspected
Milan, Italy – Soybean
allergies in 17 per cent of children with food
intolerance; soybean allergies in 21 per cent of 704
Rome, Italy – Soy
allergies found in 22 per cent of 371 children with
Malmö, Sweden – Soybean
allergies in 35 per cent of infants with cow's milk
San Diego, USA – Soybean
allergies found in 25 per cent of infants sensitive
to cow's milk;
Bangkok, Thailand –
Soybean allergies in 17 per cent of children
sensitive to cow's milk;
Thailand – Soy allergies
in 4 per cent of 100 asthmatic children;
New Haven, CT, USA – Soy
and milk allergies found in 62 per cent and soy and
gluten allergies found in 35 per cent of infants and
children with multiple gastrointestinal allergies;
Ohio, USA – Sensitivity
to soy formula found in 5 per cent of 148 children
with respiratory allergies.
(Source: Literature review
on Dr Matthias Besler's website,
full citations, see endnotes 110–121)
STATISTICS ON SOY INFANT FORMULA
For years, the soy industry billed soy formula as "hypoallergenic".
Herman Frederic Meyer, MD, of the Department of Pediatrics,
Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, categorized soy
formulas as "hypoallergic preparations" in his 1961 textbook,
Foods and Feeding Practice, and named Mull Soy, Sobee, Soyalac and
Soyola products as good examples.71
Over the years, the soy industry has promoted this and similar
misinformation in advertising, labels and educational literature by
ignoring relevant studies in favor of largely irrelevant studies
based on guinea pigs.72, 73
As late as 1989, John Erdman, PhD, a researcher honored in 2001 by
the soy industry for his "outstanding contributions to increasing
understanding and awareness of the health benefits of soy foods and
soybean constituents", claimed "hypoallergenicity" for soy in the
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. A subsequent Letter to the
Editor corrected his misinformation.74,75
The soy industry today has shifted from claiming hypoallergenicity
for soy to minimizing its extent. That has been fairly easy, for no
one seems to know quite how many sufferers there are. Estimates are
rough at best because diagnoses of allergy include anything from
parental complaints of spitting, fussiness, colic and vomiting to
laboratory provings using RAST and ELISA tests, to clinical
challenges and elimination diets.
Because the tests are not completely reliable and anecdotal evidence
tends to be taken lightly, many cases are not counted. The figures
cited most often delineate 0.3 to 7.5 per cent of the population as
allergic to cow's milk and 0.5 to 1.1 per cent as allergic to soy.
However, evidence suggests that soy protein is at least as antigenic
as milk protein, especially when gastrointestinal complaints and
delayed hypersensitivity (non-IgE) reactions are taken into
On the soy industry website "Soy and Human Health", Clare Hasler,
PhD, of the University of Illinois Urbana, Champaign, picks the low
0.5 per cent figure and claims that soy protein is rated 11th among
foods in terms of allergenicity.82
This may have been true in the 1970s (her source is dated 1979), but
soy is widely acknowledged as one of the "big eight" today.
Indeed, one prominent researcher puts soy in the "top six" and
another in the "top four" foods causing hypersensitivity reactions
in children.83, 84
Soy formula is a far from optimal solution for bottle-fed infants
who are allergic to dairy formulas. The plant oestrogens in soy
interfere with proper development of the infant's thyroid, brain and
reproductive systems. Soy formula also falls short as a solution to
cow's milk allergy (see chapter 22 and elsewhere in this article).
Symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, vomiting and skin rashes
sometimes go away when infants are switched from dairy formula to
soy, but the relief is usually only temporary. In many infants, the
symptoms return with a vengeance within a week or two.
As Dr Stefano Guandalini, of the Department of Pediatrics,
University of Chicago, writes,
"A significant number of children
with cow's milk protein intolerance develop soy protein intolerance
when soy milk is used in dietary management".85
Interestingly enough, researchers recently detected and identified a
soy protein component that cross-reacts with caseins from cow's
milk.86 Cross reactions occur when foods are chemically related to
Adverse reactions caused by soybean formulas occur in at least 14 to
35 per cent of infants allergic to cow's milk, according to Dr
Matthias Besler of Hamburg, Germany, and the international team of
allergy specialists who help him with the informative website,
Dr Guandalini's helpful website,
http://www.emedicine.com/ped/topic2128.htm, reports the results of an unpublished study of 2,108
infants and toddlers in Italy, of which 53 per cent of the babies
under three months old who had reacted poorly to dairy formula also
reacted to soy formula. Although experts generally attribute this
high level of reactivity to the immature—hence vulnerable—digestive
tract of infants, this study showed that 35 per cent of the children
over one year old who were allergic to cow's milk protein also
developed an allergy to soy protein. In all, 47 per cent had to
discontinue the soy formula.88
Infants who are allergic to dairy formulas are allergic to soy
formulas so often that researchers have begun advising
pediatricians to stop recommending soy and start prescribing
hypoallergenic hydrolyzed casein or whey formulas.
A study of 216 infants at high risk for developing allergies
revealed comparable levels of eczema and asthma whether they were
drinking cow's milk formula or the more "hypoallergenic" soy
Upon conclusion of the study, the message was clear:
breastfeeding or feeding with a partial whey hydrolysate formula is
associated with the lower incidence of atopic disease and food
allergy. This is a cost-effective approach to the prevention of
allergic disease in children".89
No one can make a good argument that soy formula is hypoallergenic,
but many still say that its soy proteins may be less sensitizing
than cow's milk proteins. When babies develop soy intolerance, the
blame tends to go to earlier damage done to the intestines by cow's
This has led some physicians to recommend starting infants off from
birth on soy formula. This does not stop a tendency to develop food
As C.D. May, of the Department of Pediatrics, National
Jewish Hospital and Research Center, Denver, put it,
"Feeding a soy
product from birth for 112 days did not prevent a brisk antibody
response to cow milk introduced subsequently, comparable to or
greater than the antibody response seen when cow milk products were
fed from birth".91
People diagnosed with "allergic colitis" suffer from bloody
diarrhea, ulcerations and tissue damage, particularly to the
sigmoid area of the descending colon. The leading cause in infants
is cow's milk allergy, but 47 to 60 per cent of those infants react
the same way to soy formula. Curiously, inflammatory changes in the
mucus lining of the intestines appear even in infants who seem to be
tolerating soy: no diarrhea, no hives, no blood in the stool or
other obvious allergic signs.
One study showed that clinical
reactions occurred in 16 per cent of the children on soy formula,
but that histological and enzymological intestinal damage occurred
in an additional 38 per cent of the children. This second group
showed damage to the intestinal cells and tissues as viewed under a
microscope and through blood tests, indicating increased levels of
xylose (an indigestible sugar used to diagnose "leaky gut" and other
The researchers also found depleted levels of
sucrose, lactase, maltase and alkaline phosphatase—evidence that the
infants' digestive capacity was compromised, their stress levels
were increased and immune systems challenged.92
Most gastrointestinal problems connected to soy formula involve non-IgE
delayed immune reactions.93 However, local IgE reactions may
contribute to these problems by triggering the formation of immune
complexes that alter the permeability of the gut mucosa.
As C. Carini, the lead author in an
Annals of Allergy study published in
"The resultant delayed onset symptoms could be viewed
as a form of serum sickness with few or many target organs
The baby's small intestine is at special risk. Scanning electron
microscopy and biopsies have revealed severe damage to the small
intestine, including flattening and wasting away of the projections
(known as villi) and cellular overgrowth of the pits (known as
crypts). Allergic reaction may not be the sole cause here, as the
observed destruction dovetails with that caused by soy antinutrients
known as lectins and saponins, with the lectins possibly doing
double duty as allergic proteins (see chapters 14 and 15).
the projections clustered over the entire mucous surface of the
small intestine where nutrient absorption takes place. Flattening
and atrophy of the villi lead to malnutrition and failure to thrive,
with a clinical picture very similar to that found in children and
adults afflicted with celiac disease.95–97
Celiac disease is a serious mal-absorption syndrome most commonly
associated with gluten (a protein fraction found in wheat and some
other grains) and dairy intolerance. Few people know that there is
also a connection with soy. Some adults with celiac disease
experience diarrhea, headache, nausea and flatulence even on a
gluten-free diet when they eat a tiny amount of soy.
And a study of
98 infants and children with multiple gastrointestinal allergies
revealed that 62 per cent had both soy and milk allergies and 35 per
cent both soy and gluten.98, 99
Allergy specialists say that "most" young children "outgrow" their
sensitivities.100 This makes sense—to a point. If infants develop
soy allergies because of immature digestive tracts and immune
systems, the risk of developing a soy allergy would decrease with
age and many children would outgrow their soy allergies. Yet other
studies—even by the same authors—reveal that only a minority of
subjects outgrows them.
One study showed that only 26 per cent of children suffering from
soy, egg, milk, wheat and peanut allergies lost their
hypersensitivity after one year. While peanut—soy's even more
allergenic relative—may have skewed those results, another study
found that only two out of eight infants outgrew soy allergies after
And many children who "successfully" outgrow food allergies develop
respiratory allergies. A study of 322 children showed that only six
per cent still experienced food sensitivity after five years, but 40
per cent of those children "grew into" respiratory allergies. This
was true for milk, egg, chocolate, soy and cereals, in that
Yet this study is often cited as proof that most children
"successfully" outgrow their allergies.
Children are more likely to outgrow allergies to cow's milk or soy
than allergies to peanuts, fish or shrimp, but will continue to
react to them if they eat these foods often enough. And treatment of
these allergies requires total exclusion of the offending food.
Soy-induced enterocolitis, for example, will resolve after six
months to two years of strictly avoiding soy.105
As families of
allergic youngsters know, keeping soy off the dinner table and out
of the meals and snacks provided at daycare centers and schools can
be challenging. Even in non-vegetarian families, soy is ubiquitous
in the processed food supply.
As a result, sensitization to soy has
increased, is not necessarily outgrown, and can either re-emerge or
develop later in life.
Soy allergies may also be on the rise because of genetically
modified (GM) soybeans. The York Nutritional Laboratories in the UK,
one of Europe's leading laboratories specializing in food
sensitivity, found a 50 per cent increase in soy allergies in 1998,
the very year in which genetically engineered beans were introduced
to the world market. York's researchers noted that one of the 16
proteins in soybeans most likely to cause allergic reactions was
found in concentrations higher by 30 per cent or more in Monsanto's
The York researchers sent their findings to
Health Secretary Frank Dobson, urging the government to act on the
information and impose an instant ban on GM food, pending further
safety tests being conducted.
Dr Michael Antonion, a molecular
pathologist at Guy's Hospital in central London, observed:
a very interesting if slightly worrying development. It points to
the fact that far more work is needed to assess their safety. At the
moment, no allergy tests are carried out before GM foods are
marketed and that also needs to be looked at."106, 107
People allergic to GM soybeans may not even be allergic to soy. The
culprit can be foreign proteins introduced into the soybean. People
allergic to Brazil nuts but not to soy have shown allergies to GM
soybeans in which Brazil nut proteins were inserted to increase the
level of methionine and improve the overall amino acid profile of
Scientists say that such problems can be prevented by doing IgE-binding
studies, by accounting for physicochemical characteristics of
proteins and referring to known allergen databases.
That might have
identified the Brazil nut problem, but there is no way to assess the
risk of de novo sensitization, which happens when experiments
generate new allergens.109
READER'S SURVIVAL GUIDE:
KICKING SOY OUT OF YOUR LIFE
Those who are allergic to soy must exclude all soy from their diets.
This can be a challenge. Soy lurks in nearly everything these days,
even in products where we would not reasonably expect it.
USA, it's in:
Bumblebee canned tuna
Chef Boyardee Ravioli
many of the Baskin Robbins 31
other fast-food burgers
some Pizza Hut pizzas
many luncheon meats
and tens of thousands of other popular products....
If you absolutely must keep soy out of your life or that of your
children, memorize the following:
Soy goes by many aliases. Food
processors are less likely to list the three-letter word
"soy" than a technical term such as:
"textured plant protein"
vegetable protein (HVP)"
"vegetable protein concentrate"
"vegetable oil" or "MSG (monosodium glutamate)"
lists also include words such as:
...that do not necessarily, but are likely
to, come from soy.
Food labels and ingredient lists
change. Check them every single time. Manufacturers can
switch the ingredients used in food products without
warning. Allergic consumers need to check the labels every
time they make a purchase and ask about ingredients every
time they eat at a restaurant or purchase food at a deli. To
make things easier, many allergic people carry cards listing
foods on their "no" lists.
Products may be mislabeled or
contain undeclared soy. The only solution here is to hope
and pray, and make your own food from scratch using known
Improperly cleaned pans, plates, utensils and cutting boards
at restaurant or delis, bins at health food stores or vats
at the factory can contaminate food with traces of soy. All
it takes is a bit of old soy oil or soy protein residue to
trigger severe reactions in people who are highly
Soy may be in the package as
well as its contents. Soy protein isolate used in the
manufacture of paperboard boxes can flake off and migrate
into food. In the future, some foods may be shrink-wrapped
in an edible soy-based plastic.
Soy can be breathed in as well
as eaten. Expect soy dust in some bakeries and shipyards,
and in the bulk bin aisle of your health food store.
Soy may be in your pills.
Vitamins, over-the-counter drugs and prescriptions may
contain an unwanted dose of soy. Beware of pills with soy
oil bases, vitamin E derived from soy oil, and soy
components such as isoflavones. The inhaler Atrovent is just
one of many pharmaceutical products containing unexpected
Soy is the latest thing in just
about everything. Soy inks, paints, plastics, carpets,
mattresses, cars, etc. are just a few of the industrial
products that may be green for the environment but deadly
for highly allergic persons.
Kiss with care.
who is exquisitely sensitive to soy could die from contact
with the lips of someone who has just eaten soy. Unlikely as
this might seem, it has happened with peanuts, soy's even
more allergenic relative.
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