We hear a lot about the purported benefits of soy. Soy foods such as tofu, miso and soymilk are said to carry certain health benefits when eaten as part of a regular diet.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health has found that a micronutrient in soy may be the key to unlocking why people who eat soy foods derive a heart-protective benefit.
This micronutrient is called equol. It’s a substance made by “good” gut bacteria when they metabolize isoflavones (micronutrients found in dietary soy).
The researchers found that Japanese men were able to produce more equol. These Japanese men have lower levels of a risk factor for heart disease than their counterparts who cannot produce it.
The results were published in the British Journal of Nutrition.
Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque in arteries. Isoflavones have been known to protect against atherosclerosis and lower rates of heart disease in people in Asian countries.
Equol can be produced in 50 to 60 percent of people in Asian countries. Only 25 to 30 percent of people in Western countries can produce equol.
In the study, 272 Japanese men from ages 40 to 49 had their blood analyzed to see if they were producing equol. After adjusting for other heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking and obesity, the researchers found that the men who produced equol, had 90-percent lower odds of coronary artery calcification, a predictor of heart disease, than the equol non-producers.
People in Japan and China get most of their isoflavones from traditional soy foods such as soy milk, tofu and miso. Their total daily dietary intake of isoflavones is about 25 to 50 milligrams.
Hold Up on the Equol Supplements
Equol is available as supplements also. However, you may want to hold up on getting some. There have not been any clinical trials performed to determine a safe dosage for its heart protective effects, or if it even does provide such protection.
The researchers do not recommend taking these supplements yet until more studies are done.
As for now, you can just enjoy some delicious tofu, miso or soy milk. They taste great and also is great for your heart.
Vasudha Ahuja, Katsuyuki Miura, Abhishek Vishnu, Akira Fujiyoshi, Rhobert Evans, Maryam Zaid, Naoko Miyagawa, Takashi Hisamatsu, Aya Kadota, Tomonori Okamura, Hirotsugu Ueshima and Akira Sekikawa. Significant inverse association of equol-producer status with coronary artery calcification but not dietary isoflavones in healthy Japanese men. British Journal of Nutrition. Volume 117, Issue 2. January 2017. https://doi.org/10.1017/S000711451600458X