The FDA is expected to issue a statement that soy protein may reduce the risk of heart disease. The expected announcement is the result of a petition by Protein Technologies International to allow health claims for soy. The FDA is expected to state that “consuming 25 grams of soy protein a day as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.” Actually, a diet high in soy protein reduces heart attack risk regardless of diet. This has been proven since at least the 1940s when studies on types of protein and how they relate to heart disease began in earnest. Casein (animal protein) consistently produces heart disease, whereas soy (vegetable) does not. In studies on monkeys, lesions in the arteries typical of heart attacks were 90% less in animals fed soy protein compared to animal protein. The phytoestrogen part of soy is important, though not critical, for the heart-saving effect of the protein. Phytoestrogens work like calcium channel blockers. In addition, they act as antioxidants and keep platelets from sticking together.

Bill Stewart, CEO of Naturade, a manufacturer of soy products, calls the FDA’s announcement the “Great Soy Protein Awakening”. It took awhile for the FDA to wake up–soy’s heart benefits have been proven for at least 10 years. And although the agency is only allowing low fat/low sodium products containing 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving to make the heart claim, tofu, soy milk and other soy products are also good for the heart.

Anthony MS, et al. 1997. Soy protein versus soy phytoestrogens in the prevention of diet-induced coronary artery atheroslerosis of male cynomolgus monkeys. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 17:2524-31.

Williams JK, et al. 1998. Dietary soy isoflavones inhibit in-vivo constrictor responses of coronary arteries to collagen-induced platelet activation. Coron Artery Dis 9:759- 64.

Chiang CE, et al. 1996. Genistein directly inhibits L-type calcium currents but potentiates cAMP-dependent chloride currents in cardiomyocytes. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 223:598-603.