Diet and Nutrition

Paul L. Reller L.Ac. / Last Updated: August 03, 2017


Diet has always been an important part of medical treatment protocol in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Complementary and Integrative Medicine (CIM/TCM) - combining centuries of public health traditions with modern scientific research yields results in standard TCM care

There is no doubt that dietary habits can prevent and treat disease effectively. Simple protocols, such as the Mediterranean Diet, characterized by a plant-based diet of fresh organically grown vegetables and fruits, whole grains and legumes, healthy oils and fats, and small portions of fish with a only a few small portions of red meat each week, have been shown to prevent recurrence of breast cancer perhaps better than any pharmaceutical drug, as well as reduce cardiovascular risk dramatically. A study of 108 women divided randomly into their normal diet or this Mediterranean Diet, allowing a drink of alcohol per day, and followed for 3 years after treatment for early stage breast cancer, showed that none of the women following this health plant-based diet had a recurrence of breast cancer, while 11 of those on their normal diet did. This trial at an Italian hospital was presented to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting in 2016 at the same time that the pharmaceutical industry again presented evidence that extending aromatase inhibiting drugs, which induce menopausal-like hormonal imbalance and increase risk of uterine and cervical cancers, is shown to slightly reduce the risk of recurrence over the present guidelines of 5 years. Obviously, a healthy protocol of diet, herbal and nutrient medicine, and simple lifestyle habits would produce better outcomes with the only side effect being better overall health. There is no doubt which of these will be more heavily promoted, with no individualization.

Unlike standard allopathic medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Complementary and Integrative Medicine (CIM) has always emphasized the importance of healthy dietary measures and restoration of essential nutrients to prevent and treat disease in a holistic fashion. China was the first country in history to officially create public health guidelines for dietary protocol, and the first to recognize that nutrient depletion is a cause of disease. Medicinal herbs help restore these nutritional depletions, and many Chinese herbs contain linolenic and linoleic acids, and other common essential nutrients that many be depleted and causative of your health problem. Certain plants develop high concentrations of these nutrients, which make them ideal medicines to quickly restore health. Nutrient cofactors also evolve in these medicinal plants, making them much more efficient than simple supplements in correcting nutrient imbalances. Daoism, or the science of universal patterns in Nature, has long recognized that plant and animal chemistry and balance is similar, and thus plant foods and herbs create chemicals that prevent and cure disease and optimize our biological function. There is no laboratory like Mother Nature's in human civilization.

Daoist TCM physicians developed systems of food and herb classification and protochemistry that were brilliant, and still useful today. For instance, herbs and foods were classified according to tastes, with these tastes signifying medicinal characteristics and uses, and later in history we found that tastes are created by predominance of beneficial and essential chemicals. These Daoist TCM physicians noted that when an animal needed more of a particular chemical, that they naturally developed a taste, or craving, for it to supply the need. For instance, sour foods supply acetic acid, which yields hydrogen ions in polar solutions such as water, to form salts. Sweet foods provide carbon compounds and esters, the basis for organic life. Salty foods supply mineral ions, with a positive bioelectrical potential charge, replacing hydrogen ions in acidic solution. Acrid or pungent foods and herbs supply aromatic and cyclic carbon rings and compounds and negatively charged chlorides, essential to many functions in the body, especially in maintaining healthy membranes and immune protection, dissolving via catabolism, and aiding circulation of fluids. Bitter foods and herbs are high in sulphur, or sulfur, an essential element for all life, and widely used in biochemical processes, such as metabolism, energy production, anaerobic respiration, glutathione cellular detoxification, antioxidant processes, metabolism of essential amino acids and proteins, especially cysteine and methionine, and the protein keratin, which keeps our skin, and hair healthy and strong. These tastes and corresponding predominance of essential chemical building blocks conformed to a 5 element or 5 frequency pattern in nature, as well as a fluid balance of complementary opposites, or yin and yang. Our modern civilization has tended to artificially create a craving for a predominance of sweet, salty and sour foods, dramatically reducing the taste for bitter and acrid or pungent foods, and eliminating these from growing and food production. Obviously, this imbalance in the natural patterns of life has resulted in enormous problems in public health. In some cases, supplementation with these ignored chemicals in the diet provides dramatic improvement in health, such as the high sulphur vitamins biotin (B7) and thiamine (B1), which were named for their life-giving sulfur-containing characteristics. In China, we still see the public acceptance of a diet balanced in these 5 tastes, a basic Daoist concept, and it has been confirmed in modern studies that when mothers eat various types of food during pregnancy, and eat those foods during the child's infancy, that this child will continue to desire these types of food later in life.

Today, TCM practitioners, or Licensed Acupuncturists and Herbalists, utilize professional herbal medicines that combine herbal formula with specialized nutrient supplements that help restore your nutrient balance and health based on sound scientific research. In addition, TCM physicians receive much dietary and nutrient training in medical schools, and often continue to educate themselves in clinical practice to better serve their patients. The history of Traditional Chinese Medicine has always been closely entwined with dietary and nutritional medicine, and in fact, many TCM doctors in China treat patients with diet and nutrition, sometimes exclusively using diet and nutrient medicine in curing and maintaining health in individual patients. In contrast, Medical Doctors get almost no nutritional education in standard medical schools. Taking advantage of real expertise in dietary medicine with individualized dietary protocols and advice to achieve healthcare goals, rather than one-size-fits-all information found on the internet, often parroted by the Medical Doctor, provides a real health advantage. We often see the same valuable chemicals in foods and herbs, with herbal extracts providing more concentrated doses to help achieve healthcare goals. Thousands of years of clinical experience in TCM provide us with a complex set of guidlines to better utilize this dietay and nutritional medicine within the holistic context of the specialty of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The Importance of Food Spices in the Diet

A 2015 multicenter study of food spices and health, led by experts at the School of Public Health of Peking University, in Beijing, China, with the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. and the University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom, concluded from the study of 10 diverse populations in China between 2004 and 2008 that "the habitual consumption of spicy foods was inversely associated with total and certain cause specific mortality, independent of other risk factors of death ". The study concluded that as much as a 14 percent reduction in risk of death from all causes was evident. This study was conducted because of the mounting array of scientific studies confirming the benefits of food spices. Prior studies cited in this study documented the decreased risk of cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal conditions, neurogenic bladder pathology, and skin disease. In addition, these public health experts cited studies that confirmed beneficial effects on the gut Microbiome, indirectly reducing risk of liver disease and diabetes. The summary of this large cohort study is available in the section of this article entitled Additional Information and Links to Scientific Studies . In the summary, we see evidence that for all sexes and subtypes of the population that the level of consumption of food spices was correlated with a like decrease in the risk of mortality in cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease. These experts noted that more studies should explore the specific chemicals and groups of chemicals that define the cause and effect of food spice consumption and health benefits. What should be kept in mind is that dietary habits, including the regular consumption of food spices, of which there are many, are proven to be invaluable in disease prevention and health maintenance, but that the dosages of these many valuable chemicals seen in food spices, totaling in the hundreds if not thousands, are very low, and the same chemicals, found in like herbs and herbal medicines, are much higher, and thus afford a stronger effect when needed. This study confirms that plant chemistry is indeed our greatest source of preventive medicine, and the unfortunate elimination of the traditional variety of species of all types, and the variety of natural spices and herbs (not synthesized versions of these spice tastes) from our modern American diet, is due to greed and profit, not public health concerns.

The public health sciences have researched and promoted food spices for medical benefit for thousands of years, and Asian civilizations, especially China and India, have provided their populations with sound guidelines for the public diet in a consistent manner that is impressive when studied with modern scientific tools. The scientific study of food and herbal chemistry has yielded enormous benefits for our pharmacological research, yet is consistently downplayed in standard medicine. Studies have shown, though, that of the at least 877 small molecule drugs introduced worldwide between 1981 and 2002, that the origins of more than 60 percent of these pharmaceuticals can be traced to the study of natural chemistry in food and herbs (Newman and Cragg 2007). These natural chemicals have few adverse effects in the human organism as we have evolved a symbiotic relationship with them over time, whereas newer synthesized chemicals come with growing lists of adverse health effects, which we dismiss by calling them "side effects", and in fact design our studies and clinical trials to in effect ignore these effects as side issues not directly important to the assessment of the primary functions of the drugs. Chemistry naturally evolved in foods and herbs has also been shown to have evolved sets, or fields, of symbiotic chemicals that mollify any adverse effects in the organism, as well as work synergistically to achieve essential health goals. For these reasons dietary and herbal chemistry can and does supply us with invaluable aids to our health that are now largely dismissed in our modern civilization. This dietary and herbal chemistry has also evolved in a holistic manner to afford us the benefits without high dosage of the chemicals, which is important, because all chemicals have a degree of toxicity related to the concentration and amount of the chemical, in modern times called the LD50, a standard measurement of acute toxicity described in milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Often, synthetic pharmaceuticals push the dosage to a level that is close to the LD50 toxic level to achieve stronger effects, and more often overlooks the fact that there is much individual variance in the way we metabolize, store and eliminate these chemicals, resulting in LD50 levels of accumulation with chronic use for many patients. With dietary and herbal chemistry, the very low dosages seen in the elaborate combinations of chemicals assure that this LD50 toxicity is never achieved in any individual.

Some food spices are finally becoming well known in the United States, and marketed as supplements, such as turmeric. Turmeric, or Curcuma longa, is just one of many plant species in the curcumin family, which has been hybrid and developed for over 4000 years in India, where today nearly all of the crop is grown, more than 80 percent of the spice is consumed by the public. Studies in the last decades have shown the amazing health benefits of this public dietary consumption, fostered by a traditional and elaborate set of processing methods that are still used today in India. This herbal spice is so old that over 53 names for the plant and processed spice are seen in the Sanskit language, and it was a valuable export commodity to China as early as 700 AD. As many as 133 species of Curcuma have been identified worldwide, and the common TCM Materia Medica utilizes 3 of these species in common herbal practice. More than 100 active chemicals have been isolated from turmeric, including volatile oils such as borneol, cinol, zingiberene, tumerone, and a host of sesquiterpenes, and lipid-based chemicals such as the phytosterols stigmasterol and beta-sitosterol. Of these chemicals, the curcuminoids are the most studied and appear to be the most valuable in terms of anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activity. This by no means suggests that turmeric and the array of Curcuma herbal species are limited to anti-inflammatory benefits, though. Our stubborn insistence on dumbing down such information to more easily advertise and sell the product does not benefit the public when trying to understand dietary and herbal medicine, though, and the study of such chemistry in specialized medical schools, such as TCM colleges and Naturopathic colleges, is complex and intense. Unfortunately, the public is now led to believe that they can be just as smart as the professional physicians in these specialties just by searching on Google. This is clearly not the case.

Besides turmeric, the most well known food spices include cayenne and other chili peppers, which supply capsaicin, a much studied and highly beneficial food chemical, ginger species, coriander, cumin, mustard seed, garlic and fenugreek seed, but the varieties of black and white pepper seeds are also beneficial. When we read about the cayenne and chili peppers, though, we must realize that like turmeric, there are a large number of species, and a large number of active beneficial chemicals in these spicy peppers. For instance, in the one type of spicy pepper, cayenne, or Capsicum frutescens, we find cineole, alpha-carotene, alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-6), alpha-terpineol, benzaldehyde, betaine, caffeic acid, campesterol, camphor, hesperidin, kaempferol, limonene, myrcene, p-courmaric acid, quercetin, scopoletin, valeric acid, and zeaxanthin. Some of these chemicals are now standardized and sold as specific medicines, such as quercetin, yet most of the public is still unaware that quercetin is found in quantity in many foods and herbs. To utilize these chemicals for better outcomes, we take herbal extracts with much higher concentrations, where a needed dosage of quercetin, for example, is provided, along with a number of synergistic chemicals found in the specific herb or food, or food spice, that achieve the desired medical goals. In other words, food spices and dietary chemistry is very important to the health, but does not substitute for the complex effects of herbal medicines. No matter how much we try to simplify this subject to sell products, or confuse the public and discourage professional medical use and advice in herbal and nutrient medicine, the fact is that it is a complex science, and professional physicians that study and research this subject are a valuable resource.

Ginger too is becoming a highly publicized food spice that incurs a large benefit to public health. Ginger is not a specific chemical that can be standardized and synthesized, though, with more than 115 chemical constituents found in the wide variety of ginger (Zingbera) species that are in common use. The chemistry of various ginger powders and extracts varies considerably from the common fresh ginger we buy in the store, and in fact, the various hybrid species consumed over the thousands of years that ginger has been recognized for its health benefits also contain differing varieties of chemicals. Ginger is commonly used in pickling and preserving foods, and the oil, which should be harvested from older ginger roots, grown for at least 9 months, is also valuable and differs from the fresh or dried ginger in chemistry. Ginger alcohol and glycerite tincture has been used for thousands of years as well, and different chemicals are seen in alcohol extract and water extract. Some of the many valuable chemicals in ginger include gingerols, curcumins, 1,8-cineole, alpha-linolenic acid, alpha-pinene, alpha-terpineol, caffeic acid, camphor, capsaicin, chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, geraniol, kaempferol, limonene, myricetin, p-courmaric acid, quercetin, vainillic acid, and of course the zingiberenes. We see that ginger supplies many of the important medicinal chemicals that turmeric does. Such study as the one cited above just confirms what we have known for thousands of years, and have discounted in modern medical science, until now, that traditional foods, spices and herbal medicines are an integral part of our healthcare and maintenance. Hopefully, the public will again realize this fact and start utilizing these valuable health resources again.

Phytosterols or Plant Stanols, now proven beneficial to reduce cardiovascular, neurodegenerative and cancer risk, as well as proven very effective in reducing high cholesterol and achieving lipid balance

Phytosterols, or plant hormones, commonly referred to as plant stanols, are a broad class of nutrient molecules, found in both foods and herbs, that have been heavily researched and appear to play important roles in regulation of human hormone receptor functions. Phytosterols are similar to the most abundant human hormone cholesterol, and were abundant in the human diet prior to the introduction of the modern diet of processed foods and limited types of lipid-based foods. By 2013, abundant evidence emerged that showed significant benefits for various phytosterols, the source for most of the statin-based drugs used to lower cholesterol.

Such esteemed University medical sources of information as the Cleveland Clinic and the Linus Pauling Institute now state that phyosterols are proven to inhibit excess absorption of cholesterol (FDA approved), lower LDL cholesterol, decrease various cancer risks (prostate, uterine, breast, cervical, and colon), improve symptoms of prostate hypertrophy, and reduce cholesterol risk. The Cleveland Clinic advises that when high cholesterol is consistently noted on blood tests, that phytosterols and healthy changes in diet and lifestyle should be utilized before starting medication in most cases. Research at Saarland University in Homburg, Germany, in 2013, coordinated with research at Bonn, Finland and the The Netherlands, headed by Dr. Marcus Grimm, and published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that key phytosterols may prevent the onset of Alzheimer's Disease, by reducing the formation of beta-amyloid plagues in the brain. One phytosterol in particular, stigmasterol, was found to significantly reduce beta-amyloid lipoproteins by a combined effect of lowering key enzyme activity, inhibiting beta-amyloid protein expression, and modulating the lipoprotein cell membranes in a health manner.

A number of key phytosterols are found in the soy bean, and while these key plant hormones, sometimes mistakenly (or purposefully) called phytoestrogens, have been heavily touted in the past, as this article explains, the soy bean evolved with chemical protections that make it difficult for human digestion unless processed properly, with fermentation and elaborate techniques used to create real tofu, tempeh, and other traditional soy products. The same valuable phytosterols in soy are also found in mung bean, yard long bean, gram bean, pea bean, and other traditional Asian beans rarely seen in the Western diet, as well as buckwheat groats, and some traditional foods that seem strange to the American palate, such as Annona cherimola, a type of wood apple popular in many South and Central American cultures, as well as the Philippines, Caribbean countries, and even Hawaii. Various herbs also contain these key phytosterols, such as American ginseng, Reishi mushroom (Ling zhi), Saw palmetto fruit, Ashwaghanda, sage, Gotu kola, Gou qi zi berries, Schizandra berries (wu wei zi), sea-buckthorn berries, and a variety of common Chinese herbs. Since the chemicals are lipid-based, proper extraction methods, such as use of alcohol or glycerite tinctures, infusion into oils, and use of these oil extracts in topical creams, are the best way to utilize them. For this reason, a standardized (USP) lipid-based extract of soy phytosterols has been developed as progesterone cream, although the pioneering Dr. John Lee, who created the standard plant hormone cream formulas we use today, showed that these soy phytosterols are more identical to other progestins than actual progesterone. Key plant hormones that exert bio-identical hormone effects in humans are now widely used, stimulating increased estriol, progesterone and pregnenolone in the human body. The most studied and effective of these phytosterols are stigmasterol, sitosterol, campesterol and ergosterol, though, and scientific study shows that each of these phytosterols exert an array of different effects in the body.

These valuable phytosterols were fairly abundant in staple grains and fruits eaten in the past across the planet, but now have been largely phased out of food production, despite the enormous research and development utilized by our food producing corporations. In fact, one of these important staple grains, the rapeseed, commonly called canola (CANadian Oilseed Low Acid hybrid), was developed in the 1970s as a nutritious cooking oil providing phytosterols, but then the oil was subjected to a type of commercial processing that effectively destroyed the phytosterols and other valuable nutrients, leaving us with canola oil touted as healthy, but instead turned into a less than healthy canola cooking oil. The question of why the food industry keeps taking healthy food sources, such as palm and coconut oils, rapeseed, and soy, and instead of enhancing their nutrient chemistry, actually destroys the most valuable nutrient chemicals in processing, when we learn that this processing is often unnecessary, and actually adds to the cost of the food, which is passed on to the consumer, is still not raised. Obviously, with the enormous resources and scientific knowledge available, these food corporations could have provided us with common foods that actually improved our health rather than destroy it. It should make us think and wonder and question the motives of our corporate food industry.

Key phytosterols, or stanols, such as stigmasterol, found in the wood apple Annona cherimola, American ginseng root, various beans (mung, yard long, gram, and pea bean, for example), Gotu kola, and sage, as well as the Chinese herbs Rhemannia (Shu di and Sheng di huang), Schizandra berry (Wu wei zi), Phellodendron root (Huang bai), Mai men dong, and others, was found to significantly inhibit the development of beta-amyloid and other tau protein plaques in the brain linked to Alzheimer's disease. This 2013 study at Saarland University and other European University medical schools, headed by Dr. Marcus Grimm, proved that certain phytosterols inhibit these problems in the brain via a number of important mechanisms. Since these chemicals have no side effects, are easily taken by eating the right foods and taking the right herbs, and have other significant health benefits, such as reduction of high cholesterol, atherosclerotic plaques, cardiovascular disease, prostate disease, and a variety of the most common cancers, it would be hard to understand why more people aren't increasing the ingestion or topical use of these valuable phytosterols, especially as the U.S. FDA has approved use as safe and effective, and the most esteemed Medical Schools and Clinics in the country now promote them in their guidelines.

The Chinese and their history with the soybean

One example of how public health experts in China have long maintained valuable public health nutritional guidelines that were important concerns the soybean. While the growing of soybeans came to this country from Asia, it was not initially a food product. Long ago, China and Japan planted soy beans for the sole purpose of returning nitrogen to depleted soil, since growing rice was nitrogen depleting. Public health experts in these countries knew that dried soybeans were hard to digest and caused gas and bloating. Eventually, though, these countries found that this hard to digest bean could be eaten when processed properly with fermentation. Miso paste, tempeh, soy sauce and natto were created and added to the national diet. In Japan, an elaborate way to make tofu, utilizing a Chinese herb, also made this product digestible and nutritious. In the United States, soy eventually was grown and used in commercial production, making early plastics for Henry Ford, and Dr. John Harvey Kellogg promoted soy as a healthy alternative to meat. Even in Europe soy flours and foods were promoted when World War II created food shortages and a demand for cheap sources of protein. Soy was also heavily grown as an animal feed protein, as cows have multiple stomachs and elaborate fermentation as part of their anatomy and physiology, whereas humans do not. There were many health negatives to the unfermented dried soybean, but also many important health benefits for humans, when the right processing was used. The soybean presents not only beneficial proteins and other nutrients, such as isoflavones, but contains a number of potentially unhealthy chemicals, most of which are eliminated with fermentation processes. In Asia, a rich history of sensible public health convinced the public to adopt healthy soy processing, while in the United States, there was no public health mandate or education, but a complete reliance on commercial food producers to do right by the public.

Eventually, though, soy fell out of favor due to health negatives in the early half of the century. The food industry, though, just waited until the public no longer remembered these health negatives. In the 1970s, soy was again touted as a very healthy source of plant protein, and in the 1980s was touted as a potential supplier of key nutrients that helped correct hormonal imbalance in menopause. The problems with potentially harmful chemicals in unfermented soy was largely overlooked by all but devoted "health nuts". The potential problems with soy chemistry were not publicized, or taken seriously, in the West, until a surplus of soy prompted American companies to use it in baby formula that was heavily promoted in Africa. In 1985, Syntex was ordered to pay a $27 million settlement for infant death related to a baby formula called Neo-mull-soy. Neo-mull-soy had already been implicated in numerous infant health problems in the United States related to alkalosis and had been voluntarily removed from the market in 1979. Alkalosis occurred due to chemicals in the soy that were not properly processed in this soy formula, causing hypochloridia and hypokalemia, and leading to metabolic alkalosis. The CDC investigation concluded that infants that were switched to other soy based infant formulas did not have further health problems (a controversial decision). The introduction of Neo-mull-soy into a heavily subsidized infant food program in Africa, though, was highly unethical. When this occurred, and injury to many African infants resulted, researchers once again publicized the potential problems with soy foods that were not processed properly. The negative implications of improperly processed, or unfermented, soy foods, though, were diverted in the press by articles discussing potentially harmful chemicals in soy that could alter the hormonal balance. Confusing the public was once again a useful tactic to preserve profits, and unfermented soy food products again emerged as a big seller on the American market.

In the 1990s, publicity surrounding the various chemicals in soy beans that make it difficult to digest and cause potential health problems again occurred, but were again overshadowed by questions regarding the phytohormone isoflavones. The chemicals in soybean that inhibited digestion were once again overlooked in the press, and in public health. These difficult to digest chemicals in soy were theoretically created by the plant to afford protection against destruction of the soy seed in the guts of animals that ate the plant, and included phytates, oxalates, protease inhibitors, and saponins. Phytates evolved in the soy seeds to keep them from sprouting too early and when heavily consumed pass through the digestive tract undigested and bind tightly to calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc, potentially leading to, or contributing to, a number of chronic diseases, including osteoporosis, anemia, prostate cancer, and immune deficiency. Phytates can also chelate (remove from tissues and cells) niacin, contributing to niacin deficiency when heavily consumed. Niacin deficiency may cause or contribute to chronic pigmented skin rashes, inflammatory bowel disease, and many neurological problems, such as dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinsonism. When all three of these are seen together, the disease is called Pellagra, a disease of niacin deficiency. American food companies heavily marketed such foods as soy milk that were not fermented and when a large enough amount was consumed, could cause health problems from phytates. Fermented soy products, as are traditionally consumed in Asia, provide the beneficial chemistry of soy, such as isoflavones and lignans, without potentially causing health problems. Soy extracts in topical progesterone stimulating creams also deliver healthy soy isoflavones and lignans without causing problems. Efforts by the industry to confuse the public with alarming reports of the negative health effects of soy usually did not specify that these effects were produced by the food industry and their stubborn and perhaps malicious use of improperly processed soy food products.

Negative effects of unfermented soy food products will differ from individual to individual depending on the health of the Biota, or intestinal health and function, and maintaining a healthy gut Biome is very important to digestion and nutrition, as these thousands of types of symbiotic bacteria actually produce much of our essential nutrient molecules, and do it as needed, with a bacterial intelligence tied directly to the human genetic data. This is incredible, and only realized by our scientists in the last decade or two.

Now, in most people with a healthy intestinal flora and fauna, probiotic lactobacilli, and other beneficial symbiotic microbes, create the enzyme phytase in response to large amounts of phytate from soy, which breaks down the phytate quicker, and releases the bound metal ions and other cations, in some cases actually improving the intestinal absorption of these nutrients. In other people, a lack of healthy gut flora and fauna allowed nutritional malabsorption to occur with heavy unfermented soy food ingestion. Women that thought that some of the isoflavones in soy would relieve menopausal symptoms were disappointed to find that the heavy soy milk consumption, and even improperly prepared tofu, and soy protein powder, were causing some of the problems that they were trying to prevent, such as osteoporosis. The whole picture, though, must be analyzed in each individual case, while sensational news articles present a limited number of facts, and confuse the issues. Consequently, there was much expert argument and controversy over soy isoflavones, and most of the U.S. public still does not know what to believe. Fermentation of the soy, though, acts in the same way as probiotic bacteria, protecting the human from the harmful chemicals. Phytate, a salt, may also be transformed into a beneficial chemical in the body called phytic acid (inositol hexacotinate, or IP6). Phytic acid is created when enzymes speed the catabolism of phytate, and phytic acid, or IP6 is a beneficial nutrient chemical that is taken in low dose to help decrease neovascularization, or angiogenesis, in a number of tissue diseases, including cancer. Once again, taking unfermented soy foods when one has a less than optimal intestinal flora and fauna is even more problematic, but consuming fermented soy products is potentially very beneficial to the health.

Other chemicals in the soy that make it hard to digest also may contribute to digestive health problems when the soybean is not fermented. Saponins are soap-like chemicals in the soy that may contribute to damage of the intestinal mucosa, and make the soy protein hard to digest. Oxalates are well known to bind to calcium and potentially create kidney stones. Protease inhibitor in soy interfere with pancreatic digestive enzymes, and oligosaccharides raffinose and stachyose are hard to digest and create gas. The enzyme in the product Beano works by helping speed that breakdown of these oligosaccharides to reduce flatulence. When these health problems were publicized in the U.S., the manufacturers did not change their production practices, yet did such things as add calcium and zinc to soy milk, which they knew would not help since the phytates in unfermented soy would bind these tightly and make them undigestable for patients without a healthy probiotic intestinal microbial colony. A true public health authority would not let commercial interests determine public health issues, and would educate the public properly so that advertising and media would not control public knowledge.

Now, the experts in the United States responded to all of this information about soy not by recommending that the public consume only fermented soy products, or properly prepared tofu, as in traditional Asia, but by diverting public attention to the supposed dangers of the soy isoflavones, which act as weak phytoestrogens. Many sensational stories were run due to a few industry funded studies claiming potential harm from soy phytoestrogen isoflavones. These hormone-like bioidentical isoflavones, though, do not act like estradiol, but do stimulate an estriol effect by competing at hormonal receptors, potentially stimulating increased estriol production, which is an abundant human estogen that does not have the harmful impact of excess estradiol. More importantly, the soy phytohormonal isoflavones stimulate and modulate progesterone production as well, as well as acting as significant signaling chemicals and antioxidants in the body. Calling these isoflavones phytoestrogens is simply less than honest, but this term persisted in research and journals for decades. The phytohormonal isoflavones in soy act in a complex modulating manner, and easy explanation of the effects of these chemicals is not possible. Once again, the whole picture must be analyzed and considered in this analysis to judge the potential benefit and harm in each individual, and the amount consumed must be considered. The tendency in the United States, though, is to simplify, make issues superficial, fool the public, and make all issues binary, either good or bad, without nuance. This is not the way that the intelligent patient approaches nutritional medicine and diet, though, and is a formula for failure with this subject. Soy nutrition is an excellent example of what happens when oversimplification of a public health issue occurs, and the market is allowed to make public health decisions.