Q. Is it safe for children to drink soy
A. Soy and soy milk do contain
molecules that interact with estrogen receptors and therefore
have weak, estrogen-like effects. However, because these effects
are weak, the molecules may actually act like anti-estrogens by
competing with the body's natural estrogens when estrogen levels
are high. For this reason, soy products have been hypothesized to
reduce the risk of breast cancer. The evidence isn't conclusive,
but there's some suggestion that soy consumption during childhood
may reduce risk of breast cancer later in life. Soy milk or other
soy products may also reduce risk of prostate cancer, but again
nothing conclusive — and we don't know about the effects of
consumption during childhood on prostate cancer risk.
Regular cow's milk contains many hormones, including estrogens,
and we really don't understand their long-term effects.
So there's a lot to be learned. But there's also the reality that
for centuries in some civilizations, people have been consuming
large amounts of soy products regularly throughout life without
apparent adverse effects. I don't think children need to avoid
soy milk. Still, where there's uncertainty, moderation is a good
policy, so limiting children to drinking one or two glasses of
soy milk a day makes sense.
— Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H.
Harvard School of Public Health
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