Phytoestrogens in soy-based formulas are known to carry greater risks than benefits for infants. Babies fed soy-based formula had 13,000 to 22,000 times more isoflavones in their blood than babies fed milk-based formula.
New data published in PLoS One shows that consumption of soy formula may also be associated with a higher rate of seizures in children.
True cancer of the prostate, carcinoma, is seldom seen in infants and children, but other forms of malignant tumors may develop and more cases are appearing in developed nations where the link appears to center around soy infant formula.
While many claims have been made about the health benefits of these estrogen-like compounds, animal studies indicate that soy (both conventional and organic) contain powerful endocrine disrupters that alter growth patterns and cause sterility. Toxicologists estimate that an infant exclusively fed soy formula receives the estrogenic equivalent of at least five birth control pills per day. By contrast, almost no phytoestrogens have been detected in dairy-based infant formula or in human milk, even when the mother consumes soy products. Scientists have known for years that isoflavones in soy products can depress thyroid function, causing autoimmune thyroid disease and even cancer of the thyroid.
Led by Cara Westmark from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, the team explained that the investigation was sparked by mouse studies of a drug that, it was hoped, would inhibit seizures by blocking signals that excite nerve cells.
"It was pure serendipity that we happened to look at soy," Westmark noted.
Findings from an initial study on mice led the team to investigate the links between soy and seizures in a group of nearly 2,000 infants fed either dairy or soy based formula.
The findings showed that children with autism who were fed soy formula had 2.6 times as many febrile seizures as the children fed non-soy formula in the database. That means 4.2% of the soy group had a seizure associated with a fever, compared to 1.6% of the dairy group, said the team.
"Soy is a widespread ingredient in many food products and 25 percent of infant formulas are soy based, so this is something that needs to be studied," commented Westmark - who noted that the results of the study do not mean that autistic children who eat soy-based formula are going to develop seizures, and that the vast majority of infants in both dietary groups did not have seizures.
Pediatricians are noticing greater numbers of boys whose physical maturation is delayed, or does not occur at all, including lack of development of the sexual organs. Learning disabilities, especially in male children, have reached epidemic proportions. Soy infant feeding-which floods the bloodstream with female hormones that could inhibit the effects of male hormones-cannot be ignored as a possible cause for these tragic developments.
Other problems that have been anecdotally associated with children of both sexes who were fed soy-based formula include extreme emotional behavior, asthma, immune system problems, pituitary insufficiency, thyroid disorders and irritable bowel syndrome.
Two studies by University of Illinois food science and human nutrition professor Sharon Donovan show that the soy isoflavone genistein, in amounts present in commercial soy infant formulas, may inhibit intestinal cell growth in babies.
Donovan said it's an important question to ask because almost 25 percent of formula-fed babies in the United States consume soy formula. Although babies on soy formula appear to grow normally, these formulas contain very high concentrations of genistein, from 32 to 45 milligrams, which is higher than the amount found to affect menstrual cycles in women, she said.
"I'm struck by the fact that these babies are receiving isoflavones at such high concentrations," Donovan said. "Formula is the sole source of nutrition for these infants for the first four to six months of life, when so many important organ systems are developing."
From Mice To Humans
The team's interest in soy and seizures came after they tried to simplify the initial mouse study by replacing the standard lab chow, which had a variable composition, with a diet containing purified ingredients. Unexpectedly, that diet reduced the rate of seizures by 50% compared to standard chow, said Westmark.
"We were intrigued that a dietary alteration was as effective as many medicines in reducing seizure incidence and wanted to pursue that finding," she explained. "We found that the main difference between the diets was the protein source. The standard diet was soy-based, while the purified diet was casein, or dairy, based."
Westmark then began to look for the effect in people, and decided to focus on infants who may consume nothing but formula. Knowing that people with autism have a higher rate of seizures, Westmark turned to a database from the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI).
Using the SFARI database, the team analysed data from 1,949 children fed either soy-based of dairy-based formula.
"There was a 2.6-fold higher rate of febrile seizures, a 2.1-fold higher rate of epilepsy comorbidity and a 4-fold higher rate of simple partial seizures in the autistic children fed soy-based formula," revealed the team.
"No statistically significant associations were found with other outcomes including: IQ, age of seizure onset, infantile spasms and atonic, generalized tonic clonic, absence and complex partial seizures," they added.
The team also noted that the soy-seizure link reached borderline significance among boys, who comprised 87% of the children described in the database.
Westmark added that while the study has shown an association, there must be further clinical work to be sure of causation.
"We can say that we have a potential association between the use of soy-based formula and seizures in autistic children; we can't say that this is cause and effect," said Westmark.
"We were fortunate to be granted access to the SFARI database, but it was not set up to answer the questions we were asking."
Dr. Marianna Pochelli is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine specializing in the treatment of disease through superfoods and herbal strategies. She actively promotes detoxification, colon cleansing, and a vegetarian lifestyle using living foods as a platform to health.