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Is Soy Bad for the Boy?

This week, we found out that soy has been linked to male infertility, particularly in certain classes of men. Researchers at Harvard University found that half a serving of soy food per day may lower sperm counts. While the exact cause hasn't been determined, there's a suspicion that soy somehow affects estrogen activity. One clue supporting the theory came from overweight and obese test subjects, who naturally seem to produce more estrogen. Their results were worse than those of mid-weight of skinnier guys.

Soy is a bedrock of the wellness business, and is one of the the true break-out categories of the whole health universe. Vegetarians use tofu as an alternative protein; lactose intolerant consumers get to have breakfast by pouring soy milk over their cereal; and health-minded individuals try to incorporate at least a little soy into their diets because it's known to lower cholesterol.

The last reason has been largely responsible for soy's success. In 1999, the Food and Drug Administration concurred with research showing that soy protein lowers total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. The resulting health claim, sanctioned by the agency, caught the public's attention and today there's everything from soy burgers to soy ice cream.

Now the wave of support seems to receding. Besides the Harvard study, the soy industry has to deal with other threats. The FDA is currently re-evaluating the Soy Protein and Coronary Heart Disease Health Claim, following a 2006 analysis of 22 clinical trials by researchers at the American Heart Association which found soy's benefits to be much less effective than believed when the original FDA claim is was issued.

No matter what happens, soy has a place in the American diet, and on store shelves. Supermarkets are about options. Those who like soy, believe in its health properties or need it as an alternative to animal foods aren't going anywhere.