The Soy Controversy

Filed Under Huffington Post ·

By Katherine Nichols and Jay Williams, Ph.D.

The ongoing controversy linking cancer to soy — the healthy, protein-rich alternative to meat and dairy products –is alarming. While there is some element of truth in these assertions, they are profoundly misleading.

Here’s what you need to know: Not one scientific study refutes the fact that soy — in its pure forms, such as tempeh, tofu, or whole soybeans — is a healthy food that may actually help prevent cancer and other diseases.

The controversy lies with soy isolate, proteins artificially extracted from the soybean. It’s nothing more than another refined, processed food that you should avoid (this includes soy baby formulas).

A proper explanation involves a heavy round of organic chemistry, but the simple message is this: Just like high fructose corn syrup does not grow organically in your back yard, soy isolate doesn’t vaguely resemble what blossomed in the field. Instead, food manufacturers took a perfectly good plant and added fillers, flavoring and preservatives. Why, you ask? It’s the same processed food story. Additives make the product cheaper and tastier, and they give it a longer shelf life. It’s about business, not health.

Dr. Joseph Mercola, a featured contributor to Huffington Post, acknowledges that soy isolate is the problem, not tempeh, tofu, or whole soybeans, which he notes are safe. So does Dr. Dean Ornish, whose number one food group includes soy. Ornish is well known for his diet that reverses heart disease and cancer.

Unfortunately, many scientific studies linking soy to negative health effects are conducted on soy isolate. Too often the separation of these two elements goes unmentioned, allowing a processed extraction to give the pure plant an undeserved bad name. In studies conducted on monkeys and rats, soy protein isolate has been linked to allergic reactions, brain damage, and thyroid problems. However, none of these results has been seen in human studies.

In addition, population studies have failed to show a relationship between soy consumption and increased risk of breast cancer. The biggest concern related to soy revolved around women with hormone receptor positive forms of breast cancer. But it turns out that soy helps because it contains isoflavones.


Isoflavones are a type of phytoestrogen, which is a dietary form of estrogen that occurs naturally in the soybean plant. The isoflavones in soy have a mild estrogenic effect. In other words, when consumed they hop onto receptors in the human body, block our own excess production of estrogen, and essentially halt the process that could cause cancer.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center explored this in detail because they were concerned about the estrogen-like effect of soy on breast cancer survivors. They also wanted to examine soy’s potential interaction with the breast cancer treatment tamoxifen, which works against estrogen receptors in breast tissue. So they studied soy consumption among 5,000 Chinese women treated successfully for breast cancer.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and supported by grants from the Breast Cancer Research Program in the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Cancer Institute, found that women who ate the most soy protein — and therefore consumed the greatest amount of isoflavones – were about one-third less likely to suffer a recurrence of breast cancer or die during the four years of follow-up. The scientists also noted that high soy consumption benefited everyone, including women with either estrogen-positive (cancer cells that need estrogen to grow) or estrogen-negative (cancer cells that don’t need estrogen to grow) illnesses.

In a separate study, The National Cancer Institute found that soy consumption early in life conferred protection against breast cancer later. The women interviewed were of Chinese, Japanese and Filipino ancestry, and lived in California or Hawaii. The findings revealed that those who had consumed the largest amounts of soy foods as children (between ages five and 11) lowered their risk for breast cancer by 60 percent as adults. The amount of soy recommended for women to help protect against breast cancer is25 to 35 grams per day.

The soybean is the only vegetable that contains more protein than carbohydrates. Protein is made from building blocks called amino acids. They are linked together in a chain. Of the 20 amino acids found in the body, eight are considered essential because the body can’t make them, so they must be consumed. Soy protein contains all of them. Therefore, it’s a perfect source of protein for humans.


Soy’s popularity has grown in the last five to seven years as Americans gravitated toward plant-based diets, and away from dairy and animal products that clog arteries and cause heart disease with added fat and hormones fed to animals to make them grow faster — again, an economic rather than a health benefit. Fresh and modern as it may seem, it’s a long way from a new idea. People in Asia have eaten soy for generations, and their incidence of cancer is remarkably low.

To avoid confusion about soy in the future, investigate the details of research findings before dismissing this important dietary staple.

Written with Jay Williams, Ph.D.


Diminishing Returns

Filed Under Newspaper Articles ·

Published in the New York Times Magazine

During the two years leading up to his diagnosis, my husband, a highly respected physician, struggled to communicate and complete work, left me in doubt about his truthfulness, accumulated debt I was unaware of and wrote a series of notes that I found bizarre and degrading. Yet he often seemed so loving and well. I wondered if the insanity began with me.

brainDoctors finally explained the degenerative brain disorder in 2005, when he was 59. I’d never heard of primary progressive aphasia, a type of frontotemporal dementia that can devastate language skills and incite behavior mistaken for psychiatric disorders. Symptoms can sometimes be confused with those of Alzheimer’s, but in the early stages memory remains relatively preserved. Over time, however, the illness can seriously impair not only language but also insight, judgment and personality, usually in people under 65.

Despite the diagnosis, we kept our long-held plans for a family vacation. But at the last moment my husband said he wanted to stay home to clean the garage, insisting the kids (two, from my first marriage) and I travel anyway. Reluctantly, we acquiesced. During the trip he called daily and e-mailed to gush that he missed me “soooo much.”

Back home, one step in the entry hall changed everything.

“By the way,” he said without prelude, “I filed for divorce.”

“What? What?” These were gasps, not words.

“I filed for divorce!”

During our absence he had also moved into an apartment and sought a court order to keep me from talking publicly about his illness. All while professing his devotion.

The next morning, as I was still reeling, he stopped by the house to ask me on a “date.” And so began a cycle in which, each week, he courted me and then left me feeling damaged and discarded. Knowing the illness caused his behavior and yet somehow believing I could change it, I accepted every invitation. Six weeks later, for our anniversary, he invited me to dinner and gave me the book “Married for Life: Inspirations from Those Married 50 Years or More.” Minutes later he yelled, “You need to get a divorce!” Repeatedly, he accused my children and me of stealing belongings he had actually misplaced. His only explanation: “No answer necessary.”

Still, I begged and battled to save the marriage, exploring legal options as well. But halting the divorce required proving that he was incompetent in court — shaming him into accepting my care. Was that the right way to help? Then what? How would I protect the children? And so I let him go. But he stayed.

Following the divorce, seven months after he moved out, I received flowers and an invitation to New York City. I kept pursuing these glimpses of my husband with undeterred passion. A sparkle in his eye, the lilting laugh, dinner conversation not taken for granted but savored. In those moments, I reconnected with the man I fell in love with — only to lose him over and over again, because he wasn’t really there.

He declared our remarriage imminent. But certain things can’t be undone. Our family was irretrievably broken. Without a word, he had left two children he adored and nurtured for years. Now his kindness always led to what felt like indifference or cruelty, and the kids finally understood that they could not alter or endure it. They decided they wanted to say goodbye, so I arranged a meeting in the neighborhood park.

By this time, Chris was a 13-year-old lurching into manhood. Courageously, he stepped forward. “Thank you for being such a great stepfather,” he said. “You were a really important person in my life, and I’m glad I knew you.” They hugged; both started to cry. Alison, 11, took a tentative step. “Thank you.” She squeezed his waist, and he returned the gesture. My fingers stroked his silver hairline. “I love you,” I said.

Eventually we waved and eased away. “I’m lonely!” he cried. We hurried to embrace him. He sobbed uncontrollably. When his breathing found a rhythm, I whispered: “You’re part of our family. We’ll always be here for you.” He nodded and talked about going running before departing too slowly, an air of fragility around the former competitive athlete and intellectual powerhouse.

Two years later he maintains (barely, in my view) a solo existence a half-mile from me. In a life clouded with loss, acceptance does not include “getting over it,” because I’ll always miss the man I married. Our connection — despite the whims of a relentless disease — endures. But the continual yearning, rejoicing and mourning, a destructive pattern worse than death, demands emotional distance. Otherwise the illness will take two people. And he wouldn’t want that.

Katherine Nichols, who speaks in public about dementia, is completing a memoir.

Interview with “Lost” star Michael Emerson

Filed Under Newspaper Articles ·

Star Bulletin, November 27, 2006

A genuine smile is something viewers rarely see on the face of “Lost” character Benjamin Linus. But the actor who plays the intriguing part, Michael Emerson, is naturally gracious and friendly. A veteran stage actor, he admits to being a bit baffled by all the attention the TV role has generated.
Always a gentleman
Michael Emerson reflects on his new fame, fortune and future on “Lost”

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Garrison Keillor behind the scenes: Genius at work

Filed Under Newspaper Articles ·

Star Bulletin, November 12, 2006

The humorist is composing calmly right up to show time

THREE HOURS before “A Prairie Home Companion” begins at the Blaisdell Concert Hall, Garrison Keillor starts to contemplate the 20-minute monologue he will deliver without notes on live radio to an audience of millions. Something about missionaries, he decides.
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A little girl with cancer and her Beads of Courage

Filed Under Newspaper Articles ·

Star Bulletin, September 18, 2006

Alyssa Miller’s Beads of Courage, awarded after each procedure or accomplishment in her cancer treatment, are threaded on a strand nearly 30 feet long. Alyssa’s parents, Marv and Maude, say her beads are precious to her. 


Little bits of bravery
“Beads of Courage” recognize the painful battles fought by the youngest cancer patients

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On the set with comedian Rob Schneider

Filed Under Newspaper Articles ·

The “Saturday Night Live” star turns Punaluu into a nudist colony for a faux trailer on

Star Bulletin, March 24, 2009

An assistant offers strips of tape to comedian Rob Schneider, who removes his pants to secure the flesh-colored stocking that amounts to less than a rudimentary loincloth. Tape anchored, he crab-walks with a pinched face, muttering “Ow!” and a few unprintable words as the extras take their places. Donning a whistle and a goofy captain’s hat, Schneider responds to the director’s call for “Action!”

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On the set with comedian Rob Schneider

Filed Under Newspaper Articles ·

Star Bulletin, March 24, 2009

A shout from the director sparks a flurry of activity on the set: “We need the running team, the soldiers and the nudists again!”

Affable and quiet off camera, comedic actor Rob Schneider glances out the window at a group of men running around screaming in the Punaluu yard with nothing but socks or pieces of stocking covering them, and shakes his head. “That’s ridiculous.”
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Maui Film Festival

Filed Under Newspaper Articles ·

Star Bulletin, June 17, 2008

Maui Film Festival
Stars come out on Maui

Nothing appears to bother Pierce Brosnan. Then again, he’s the former James Bond, with talent enough to sing and dance alongside Meryl Streep in the musical comedy “Mamma Mia,” slated to open next month. And it’s obvious that he’s venturing into his 50s with the rugged grace one would expect from a leading man.
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Interview with Richard Dreyfuss

Filed Under Newspaper Articles ·

Hawaii Theatre lures Academy Award-winning star 

Star Bulletin, August 13, 2007


Richard Dreyfuss in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) 


That’s Rich
Dreyfuss is bringing weighty star power to Hawaii Theatre

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On the set of ABC’s “Lost”

Filed Under Newspaper Articles ·

Star Bulletin, April 22, 2008

Mysterious freighter guy Miles Straume (Ken Leung, formerly of “The Sopranos”), left, makes camp with Sawyer (Josh Holloway) in what looks like a prelude to trouble.
The dirt on ‘Lost’
Cast and crew endure rain, mud and aggressive insects to create the compelling ABC drama in the jungles of Oahu

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