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|Mon, 08-25-2003 - 10:20am|
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition has met recently to draw up guidelines for the Department of Health on the use of Soya Infant Formula. Also involved in this process are the Committee of Toxicology, and the Food Standards Association. The area they are examining is that of phyto-estrogens in soya and their possible effect on the sexual development of human beings. Phyto-estrogens are present in a wide range of foods - potatoes, apples, wheat, barley, pomegranates, rice etc. The human species has consumed foods rich in phyto-estrogens throughout its history. The mass consumption of cow's milk and infant formulas by human babies is a very recent development.
Soya formula is used by between 1 and 2 percent of UK mothers. In America there is a sixty-year history of the use of Soya milk formula. The market for soya based infant formula is approximately 25% amongst Americans.
Although the Guardian reported that the committee would probably be advising that Soya formula be available on prescription only it would appear that the reporter was exaggerating somewhat for the sake of the story. (This is how food scares get blown up out of proportion). The committee, which published its report 11th 2nd 2003, advised that Soya Infant Formula can be used - though they recommend seeking the advice of a health professional. Technically this is what they advise for cow's milk formula, which we must remember is a substitute for nature's own human milk in the first place. There is a valid argument that all infant milk formulas should be on prescription only, (as they are in some European countries with high rates of breast-feeding) regardless of whether these formulas are based on soya or cow's milk. This is at the moment impossible, since big business and societal pressures have done a great deal to make women feel inadequate to the task of nursing their own young with the milk nature intended - human milk. Many women in the UK now bottle-feed and would feel stigmatised by such a move.
Epidemiological studies from all over the world indicate that Soya milk formula is a safe alternative to cow's milk formula, since adults who were fed on Soya formula as infants have comparable health status with those who were fed cow's milk infant formula in later life. Their endocrine systems - that is to say their immune and reproductive systems - function equally as well as those who were fed cow's milk formula. There are slight indications that adult women who were fed Soya formula as infants suffer more from menstrual cramp, but this evidence is inconclusive. On the other hand infants on cow's milk formula seem more prone to developing intestinal problems in later life - malabsorption of nutrients, irritable bowel syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis and Chronn's disease. Both soya infant formula and cow's milk formula, while being safe for infant consumption, are not as good a food for infants as human milk, which should always be the food of choice.
The evidence that phyto-estrogens in soya can damage human health is based on animal studies. Phyto-estrogens react differently in subjects depending on factors such as species, age, gender, diet, and which organ is being observed. Animal tests cannot be used to extrapolate from one animal species to another, or even between the sexes of the same species - for example, immature rats (three weeks old) retain the phyto-estrogen "equol" in their estrogen receptors while adult female sheep retain different estrogens - "genistein and daidzein" their uterus. Where does the ram store his? This lack of certainty underlines the fact that it is impossible to extrapolate data from animal studies to the human condition. Which result would mirror our reaction, if any? Would we be like the rat, or the sheep, or like some untested species? The most accurate evidence would appear to be that collected from the human population, i.e. epidemiological evidence. This indicates that Soya Infant Formula is no more a risk factor than cow's milk formula. Cow's milk contains real estrogens, plus the synthetic hormones used to boost "milk yield" in the cow, plus whatever phyto-estrogens the cow has ingested in her life through consumption of animal feed (heavily soya based). Although human milk contains hormones too these are not as intense as those in cows. The long-term effect of these hormones in cow's milk needs to be assessed. People have been eating phyto-oestrogens for thousands of years (particularly in Asia and the Far East.) Phyto-estrogens are several thousand times less chemically active than the estrogens in human milk, which no one supposes to be harmful to the human child. The Soya alternative does not increase your risks of developing bowel problems and diabetes in adult life.
Human milk is, however, the best food for a human child. A bottle-fed baby (whatever formula they are on) contains bacteriods - which would not be in the infant's gut if the child did not have to fight off bacteria. There are fewer bacteroids in the breast fed infant's gut than his or her formula fed peer. Even without looking at the scientific evidence anyone who has ever changed the nappy of a breast fed baby, and then compared the smell to that of a bottle fed baby's nappy will know there is a major difference. This is likely to predispose a child to gut problems in later life. Women in the West are undermined, and made to feel that their bodies are incapable of providing food for their babies. More should be done to reassure us that nature has equipped us to nurture our own children, without the intervention of baby milk businesses.>>>>>>>>
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Edited 8/25/2003 10:30:32 AM ET by tired_mom_of_4