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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 11, 2008

Questions About Soy Formula

By Worker Bee
47 Comments

Several weeks ago Mark offered the piece Scrutinizing Soy that mentioned he was unequivocally against soy formula. At the time he suggested the topic was a whole post in itself. Of course, we couldn’t just leave the topic hanging, now could we?

Let’s first get this point on the table: we support the opinion of the American Pediatric Association, the World Health Organization and every other major medical organization in saying that breast milk is definitively the best food for infants. Hands down. Absolutely, positively. (Regardless of what we thought of the pro-breastfeeding ad campaign a couple of years ago featuring pregnant women on a mechanical bull…)

That said, if and when parents choose or must offer formula as a supplement or full-time food source, the research suggests that traditional cow’s milk-based formula is a safer option than soy formula.

For a variety of reasons, many formula-feeding parents see soy as the preferred option. Many choose soy because they assume it would be less allergenic or will curb reflux issues or fussiness in colicky babies. Some base their choice on concerns about hormones and antibiotics fed to cattle. Others feel that, all other things being apparently equal, that soy projects more of a “natural” character that might be in keeping with their own dietary priorities.

But medical advice regarding formula has been going through an overhaul in the last few years, particularly as hypoallergenic formulas have become more common. For a very small number of formula-fed infants who are genuinely allergic to cow’s milk and for whom even hypoallergenic formulas don’t work, soy formula is (undoubtedly) the next step. The catch: a large percentage of infants who have allergic reactions to cow’s milk formula also exhibit allergic response to soy. For children who can tolerate traditional or hypoallergenic cow’s milk formula, soy is not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP’s Committee on Nutrition also recommends that soy formula not be used for preterm or small-for-date babies.

So why all the concern? And are current “recommendations” against soy formula strong enough? We did some digging.

Much of the concern regarding soy formula (and soy in general) has revolved around the issue of soy’s estrogenic effects. Research has linked soy formula consumption with “more prevalent breast tissue” in the second year of life. The study did not follow the female infants through early childhood, but there’s a concern that soy consumption might be a contributing factor in the increasingly early onset of puberty in American girls. Another well known study (often referred to as the Strom study) did assess effects later in the children’s teenage years. The research found that soy formula consumption was associated with longer duration of menstrual bleeding and more painful menstrual periods during teenage years.

And there is continuing concern about very high levels of aluminum in soy formula based on a 1998 study. Prominent pediatricians in the U.S. have voiced ongoing concern over these levels, and this apprehension carries over into other countries. In Australia, the Royal College of Australian Physicians put out a very strong warning against soy formula in 2006, citing the aluminum levels as well as other health concerns.

There are also questions regarding soy as a nutritional equivalent to traditional cow’s milk formula, particularly with regard to the absorption of minerals, the importance of lactose in colonizing intestines with good bacteria, and the essential intake of the complete family of amino acids.

Finally, researchers and the medical community are looking at the impact of soy formula’s extremely high levels of manganese, a nutrient that is critical but neurologically harmful at high doses. Studies with rats showed significant cognitive impact in response to high manganese intake that many see as a suggestive link between ADD and soy formula consumption. Soy formula, the researchers noted, has 80 times the amount of manganese as human breast milk.

There is currently little evidence to support soy formula’s connection with serious or severe effects like reproductive impairment, immune system weakening, thyroid damage, neurological damage, and female reproductive disease in later years. Yet concerns over these serious effects remain and are particularly fueled by the formula industry’s funding or partial funding for much of the research, including the Strom study.

Long-term studies that can follow a population through adolescence and beyond are assuredly difficult and expensive to undertake especially when they seek to measure effects on several areas of biological functioning that may not be clear for decades.

However, what we do know about soy formula is, frankly, already enough to give us pause. We, admittedly, have our reservations about soy in general. But, here particularly, the case seems pretty clear to us. If it’s absolutely the last resort, well, then it’s the last resort. For those parents who don’t have to make that choice, why go that route when hypoallergenic and even organic formulas are now available?

And, it’s worth saying again (yeah, yeah, yeah) that a human mother’s milk is the unquestionable ideal, the evolutionarily formulated, naturally intended, perfect food for human babies. A soybean’s “milk” is, well, not for seedlings.

Got comments? (We couldn’t resist.) Send them our way!

Alessandro Perilli, maury.m, mc559, all in green Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Sounding the Alarm on Children and Food Allergies

Pregnancy Diet Tips for the Inquiring Mind

My Escape from Vegan Island

That’s Fit: Tempeh vs. Tofu – A Soy Slamdown

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47 Comments on "Questions About Soy Formula"

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Richard
8 years 6 months ago
Our daughter (like myself) was allergic to milk at birth. So soy was our only option at the time and luckily she didn’t have an allergic reaction to that. Today she is a happy healthy (nearly) 6 year old with seasonal allergies and no outstanding milk issues. I credit large amounts of yogurt supplementing her diet from about 1.5 to 3 at which time she came off soy milk and can now consume regular dairy as long at its not gross amounts (more than 3 glasses of milk wont make her tummy happy). As for ADD or anything of that… Read more »
Andrew
Andrew
6 years 3 months ago

@Richard: Not everyonw who smokes gets cancer, but that doesn’t mean smoking isn’t unhealthy. Just b/c your kid is okay today doesn’t mean soy formula is healthy for everyone.

Amanda
Amanda
8 years 6 months ago
I have fallen victim to soy before. I don’t think soy is some evil thing or anything, but I know now that it isn’t the best food out there for you and yet “SOY” has been marketed as “natural” and “healthy” so often that it just seems better. How many ideas like this are floating through the minds of a countless number of people that are there not due to critical thinking, reading the latest research or even listening to the evening news, but instead because some corporation with certain interests has marketed the hell out of a point they… Read more »
Judy
Judy
8 years 6 months ago
Gotta love the picture of the “nursing room” with the baby bottle. @@ And we wonder why so many women have trouble breastfeeding and stop so early, or don’t even try. My first child was mostly formula fed. Her dad was very anti-breastfeeding and I was young and got HORRIBLE advice at the hospital. (Yes, I still feel guilty about it, 12+ years later) She was a spitter. Didn’t matter what we did, she spat up A LOT. So we were advised to try soy formula. I don’t know that it helped, but I didn’t want to switch any more,… Read more »
Migraineur
8 years 6 months ago
Slightly off topic here, but only slightly – when the heck did soy become a health food anyway? When I was a kid in the 70s, I remember that you could buy boxes of frozen pre-made hamburger patties supplemented with soy protein in the grocery store. Only poor people bought them – they were considered inferior food, adulterated somehow. And when the school lunch programs started using them to cut costs, all the parents were up in arms. Now (these are Boston area prices, which will look high to those of you in the Midwest), people pay $4 for a… Read more »
sarena
8 years 6 months ago
I hear the whole argument and know that BREAST is best. But some must stop or cant start for whatever reasons they have (legit or not!). Now my grandbaby (4months now) started life as a breastfed baby but his Mom HAD to stop and was reluctant to give formula as both she and my son and many of both their siblings were horribly allergic to dairy. She chose, based upon advice from her conventional pediatrician, to switch to soy! Fastforward a bit and now the baby is quite congested and they are being told to change his formula again as… Read more »
Crystal
Crystal
8 years 6 months ago

Well, it’s no suprise to me that there are not many studies done on the endocrine system and soy. There simply isn’t much interest in studying the endocrine system, period, let alone the soy connection. There are many things that disrupt the endocrine system and soy may or may not be a big factor, but I choose not to eat it and would never make it a regular part of my kids diet.

Jen
Jen
8 years 6 months ago
Serena, The hypoallergenic formula is the best choice for your grandchild, given the circumstances. The medical community is united on that front. I would talk to the doctor about adding a probiotic powder supplement twice daily to assist with building good intestinal flora and minimizing the added risk of intestinal illnesses that formula fed babies have. I would also avoid feeding any solids until 6+ months and skip the whole “cereal” stage. Pureed fruits and veggies as well as finely ground meats are better choices. (My daughter’s first food was avocado, and she loved it. We thinned it with water… Read more »
charlotte
8 years 6 months ago
I was a soy-formula baby. Fast forward 16 years to puberty (yeah, I was a later bloomer. Ahem.) and my periods hit hard & heavy. So much so that every month I was literally out of school for a couple of days dealing with it. (TMI? Tough) The specialist that I finally saw about it told me and my mother that he sees this problem a lot… in girls who were fed soy formula as babies. He didn’t have any proof at the time but since then several studies (like the one you cited) have also found that same link.… Read more »
Nancy S
8 years 6 months ago
I breastfed all my kids, even my food allergic guy. He has allergies to dairy, soy, wheat, egg, and malt (which seems to encompass barley). He also does not tolerate spelt. Anyway, he had reflux and projectile vomit as a newborn and that progressed to eczema and bloody stools. The drs were of little help and it was suggested that I might try formula. Not an option for me, instead I went totally dairy free based on information I found on line. I switched all *my* dairy to soy and I truly believe that this sensitized him to soy. But… Read more »
Nancy S
8 years 6 months ago

Forgot to say, my “little” guy is 7 now.

Ruth
8 years 6 months ago

My son also had multiple food allergies, cow milk among them. I nursed him for more than one and a half year, although towards the end, used Nutramigen, too (pretty expensive stuff). When he started solids, we also had to make sure it was milk free (the selection wasn’t that big), and had good experience with Nestle Sinlac. My son is now five, and although he has outgrown his milk allergies, he now drinks calcium-fortified rice milk. We’ve been staying away from soy products for exactly the same reasons you’ve cited.

riverbender
8 years 6 months ago
Yeah and aspartame causes cancer, the best way to lose weight is high carb/low fat, high protein/no carb, and do 8 gazzilion hours at 65% on the treadmill, blah blah yadda yadda. My daughter was born in 1989. She couldn’t keep milk down, so, soy it was. She still isn’t a milk drinker, unless it’s loaded with chocolate syrup. She experienced none of the issues mentioned and is better than good. The study didn’t follow girls long enough to determine the effects of soy on early onset puberty. This doesn’t surprise me as probably impossible to filter out the effects… Read more »
Randy S
Randy S
8 years 6 months ago

@Nancy S:

You mention your little guy’s sensitivity to wheat, malt and spelt. If you haven’t already, have him tested for Celiac disease (it’s a simple blood test). Celiacs lack the enzyme required to digest the gluten protein in wheat (including spelt), rye, and barley. It’s very common (around 1% of the population have it), but underdiagnosed (only 1 in 10 are ever diagnosed).

Dianna
Dianna
8 years 5 months ago
I have had 3 children, all fed soy formula. All 3 remain uniquely different in mostly every way. Two are boys, with completely different personalities, and I would not attempt to point an accusing finger at a soy-formula manufacturer during a bout of hyperactivity. (My daughter is 7 months old and is perfectly happy and beautiful.) This is because studies show that ADD is physically caused by neurotransmitters that are not properly functioning in the brain. I would be more likely to blame the bluetooth one may wear all day, or radio waves, or even your common microwave for neurotransmission… Read more »
Migraineur
8 years 5 months ago

Dianna, I see your point about the uncertainty of science, but I’m not sure why you think radiation from cell phones or microwaves could influence neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals, not waves, so it’s not like there could be interference from other kinds of waves. It seems much more plausible to me that foods, which are also made of chemicals, could interfere with neurotransmitters than that waves could.

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[…] Questions About Soy Formula […]

cindy
cindy
8 years 28 days ago

two children, now teenagers, both soy formula fed. Both completed puberty. Both very short in comparison to parents. Anyone else with similar experience?

Vonda
Vonda
7 years 7 months ago
I fed my son soy formula. My son is now 13 years old and suffers with eczema and asthma. He was 9 lbs. at birth and a very good eater. He had no skin or health problems, he was perfect and beautiful. I breastfed for 2 months then put him on regular formula. He loved the taste but would stop eating and cry and act like his tummy hurt. He wasn’t getting enough to eat so I called the doctor, they said to put him on Soy formula. What a big mistake! Immediately after that he broke out with eczema… Read more »
cilla
cilla
7 years 6 months ago

I have met a bunch of people – kids and older adults – who were fed soy formula as babies and they have not experienced any of these issues. I keep reading abotu the worry of soy but have never met anyone who had any problem with it. Keeping my fingers crossed b/c that’s what I HAVE to feed my son, but these problems being attributed to soy have not been studied enough and there is no “proof”.

cilla
cilla
7 years 6 months ago

check this out if you are worried:

http://www.infantformula.org/newsroom_20060314_2.html

Dianna
Dianna
7 years 5 months ago

My point exactly….

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[…] Questions About Soy Formula […]

Barbara R
Barbara R
7 years 1 month ago
I just came across this, and even though it’s late, I have to respond: What a joke! Commercially raised livestock are routinely given xenoestrogens to fatten them up and cause them to retain water. In the 1970s and 1980s there was an epidemic in Puerto Rico of early puberty in girls as young as a year old and even young boys who developed breasts caused by meat and dairy products containing high levels of estrogen. In the United States, the use of estrogen compounds is now slightly better regulated, but it is still very much used and abused. Dairy consumption… Read more »
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[…] Soy Formula […]

Andrew
Andrew
6 years 3 months ago

How many thousands of years did humans exist without any option of formula? But we run to it now when it gets uncomfortable to breast feed. I wonder what the moms did a couple hundred years ago…just stop feeding their kids and call it a day? Geez…(wo)man up and just do your job as a mom and feed your kids, and stop trusting it to some chemical company…

V
V
3 years 11 months ago
As your name is Andrew I will hazard a guess that you do not possess a set of milk-producing mammary glands and therefore you are ill-equipped to pass judgement on any woman who is unable or chooses not to breastfeed. I attempted to breastfeed for a month and after two particularly nasty infections which left me bed bound (caused by my babies poor latch from a tongue tie) I gave up and pumped milk for him instead. To answer your question, yes women would have given up or their supply would have dried up and their baby would and very… Read more »
cilla
cilla
6 years 3 months ago

andrew – what could you possibly know about breast feeding or about the problems that some women have in trying to do it? some people are NOT ABLE to breast feed. a couple hundred year ago they had a nursing maid (or another mother who was able to nurse) breast feed the child for them. Before you criticize maybe you should condider the fact that some women are not able to produce milk. Geez…

ditta
ditta
6 years 2 months ago
Dear Andrew, considering that you are a man, you don`t know what a woman faces throughout pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding. You should leave a sharp comment like this whenever you go trough the same things as mothers…by the time you might change your mind. There are many issues can make breastfeeding impossible or an everyday battle causing a miserable time for both moms and babies. See my example: I had inverted nipples and had to use nipple shields or pump before trying to breastfeed, my son on the other hand was unable to latch on or suck properly from the… Read more »
Daniel
Daniel
5 years 4 months ago

Hi I would love an Organic Natural baby Formula.

I would like to know of a formula that contains NO SOY, NO CORN, NO PALM OIL and NO RAPESEED(CANOLA)as these products are usually Genetically engineered and are carcinogenic to humans. Dose a such formula exist?

Please email me if you can help

bodkin10@hotmail.com

Patti
Patti
5 years 23 days ago
I have 5 children, all of whom I breastfed for as long as possible, but my milk supply ALWAYS dried up somewhere between 3-6 months. My 4th child, a boy, is the only one who had problems with regular formula so he was put on soy formula. He started it at about 6 months of age. I find it interesting that he is my ONLY child who has ADD issues. Hmmmm… Sure wish I’d have known what I know now about nutrition when I was raising my kids. It is really hard to change their eating habits when they’re all… Read more »
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[…] 4 concerns with soy based formula (The information below comes from Mark Sisson’s site here.) […]

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[…] Whatever you do, don’t turn to soy formula. If you need to wean for some reason or to supplement with formula, there are formulas in which the […]

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[…] 4 concerns with soy based formula (The information below comes from Mark Sisson’s site here.) […]

peppercorn
peppercorn
3 years 9 months ago

Well… while my Mother nursed me… she then found I “had a reaction (a rash?)” to regular formula when she gave it to me at age 6 months. While, I have always been VERY healthy, 6 months postpartum with my own son, I developed hypothyroidism. Great. No one else in my family has it, there is no other reason for me to have it other than that!

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[…] infants to isoflavones by feeding them soy-based infant formula can have harmful […]

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[…] infants to isoflavones by feeding them soy-based infant formula can have harmful […]

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[…] infants to isoflavones by feeding them soy-based infant formula can have harmful […]

Tonq
Tonq
1 year 4 months ago

thanks!!!!!!!!!

Jude
Jude
1 year 4 months ago

Hi everyone, my 5 YO daughter is facing constipation issue right now. She never poo for few days already and complaint to me that his stomach was quite painful sometimes. So, I need suggestion on those proper remedies that able to prevent constipation issue.

Ashley Goh
Ashley Goh
1 year 4 months ago

Trying giving them more water and eat more prunes or fibre, this will help them to prevent constipation! hope it will help ur child.

maryjanewong
maryjanewong
1 year 4 months ago

My DS went to hospital last month bcos my MIL was so smart to let him try those traditional herbs! So better don’t simply try try all and seek proper medical advise first la..

MichelleLee48
MichelleLee48
1 year 4 months ago

My son no more constipation problem, after taking Mamil. Also, no sugar and high DHA, this helps the child away from diabetes and hyperactive! But, the pre-biotic in Mamil help to solve constipation problem! Try to take it for a week.

Jenny
Jenny
1 year 4 months ago

Hey, I would suggest you to use “Friso” baby formula as my daughter is drinking it now and my daughter doesn’t face constipation. As what I know, “Friso” is less heaty than Mamil but is sweeter than Mamil.

Dominic
Dominic
1 year 4 months ago

Previously when my daughter faced constipation, my friend who work as a doctor recommended me to try Mamil. Once I switched to Mamil, my daughter doesn’t complain and suffer with constipation.

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[…] detí izoflavónom tým, že ich budeme k?mi? detskými výživami na sójovom základe, môže ma? škodlivé ú?inky. V jednej štúdii mali doj?atá – […]

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[…] Soy. I realize this sounds totally, batshit crazy, but stick with me here. Mark Sisson lays out some of the compelling evidence surrounding the adverse endocrinological effects of soy consumption, especially by babies: […]

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