Q&A: Is soy safe for boys or will it create a hormonal imbalance?
I’ve heard recently that feeding soy (formula, tofu, etc.) to baby boys can create a hormonal imbalance? Is this true?
Soy formula has been a popular feeding alternative for nearly 40 years. The concerns you are hearing about are related to components of soy formula, which include phytoestrogens and isoflavones, protective plant-derived materials that act as estrogen in the body.
There has been concern raised that long-term exposure to phytoestrogens and isoflavones may accelerate puberty and cause developmental or reproductive disorders later in life.
In September 2002, Thomas M. Badger, ACNC, at the University of Arkansas College of Medicine, began a six-year study of the effects of the use of soy-based formula. Previous short-term studies done by this group did not uncover any untoward effects with the use of soy-based formulas.
What Doctors Advise
An important position that is included in a policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states:
“In term infants whose nutritional needs are not being met from maternal breast milk or cows’ milk-based formulas, isolated soy-based formulas are safe and effective alternatives to provide appropriate nutrition for normal growth and development.”
There has been some thought that calcium and other minerals may not be absorbed as easily from a soy-based formula. Most soy-based infant formulas have additional calcium added to offset this hypothesis.
Who Should Use Soy Formula?
The AAP has set up guidelines to help you decide when it is appropriate to use soy formula in lieu of breastfeeding or cows’ milk-based infant formulas. They recommend soy for:
- Babies who have a true diagnosed lactose intolerance
- Babies who will be raised vegetarian
- Babies with an allergy to cow milk protein
- Babies with galactosemia, a rare genetic metabolic disorder that inhibits the breakdown of sugars
Breastfeeding should always be considered as the first and best choice for feeding your baby. If you are having problems, consult with a lactation consultant, who may be able to help resolve issues that may prevent you from breastfeeding. If you choose not to breastfeed or need to use an infant formula, consult with your baby’s doctor. When making any decision regarding your baby’s health and nutrition you should always consult your child’s pediatrician.