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Research News

May 17, 2002

U of G research reducing the risk of prostate cancer

Soy healthy?: Alison Duncan is studying how soy isoflavones affect the hormones associated with prostate cancer in a new study involving 36 healthy men, including participant Andrey Caric.
Photo: Olivia Brown

Incorporating soy into a balanced diet is increasingly being seen as a positive step towards better health, and experts now suspect the little bean can also make a big difference in preventing prostate cancer, Canada's most common form of cancer in men.

In the first Canadian soy research initiative of its kind, Prof. Alison Duncan, Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences, is conducting a study to determine how soy isoflavones affect specific hormones in the blood.

Prostate cancer is a hormone-dependent disease, says Duncan. She hopes soy isoflavones may be able to reduce hormones in the blood that are thought to play a role in the development of prostate cancer.

"There have not been many studies done to assess if soy consumption can reduce prostate cancer risk, especially in younger men, when preventive strategies are of greatest value," she says.

Isoflavones are non-nutritive, naturally occurring plant chemicals found in high concentration in soy. While similar studies have made the connection between soy and prostate cancer prevention before, this will be the first project specifically targeting soy isoflavones.

The research was born out of statistics revealing that prostate cancer is significantly lower in Asia than in North America. Researchers suggest that diet is one major cause for the discrepancy - Asian men regularly consume more soy than their Western counterparts.

With one in nine Canadian men being diagnosed with prostate cancer, and approximately 4,000 Canadians dying of the disease each year, Duncan wants to know exactly how soy isoflavones can affect serum hormones related to prostate cancer.

The 32-week study began this month, involving 36 healthy men between 20 and 40 years of age. Each subject is consuming three different study products - including a high soy isoflavone protein, a low soy isoflavone protein, and a milk protein for eight weeks each, separated by four-week breaks. The study products will be in the form of chocolate- or vanilla-flavoured protein powders that can be mixed with water.

During the product testing, the researchers will collect blood, urine and semen samples, measure body weight and composition, and periodically monitor food intake through subject diet records. From urine samples the researchers will be able to monitor the isoflavone level present in the body. They predict that as urinary isoflavones increase, serum hormones will decrease. Serum hormones, Duncan adds, are the primary focus of the study as their concentrations have been related to risk of prostate cancer.

This research is funded by the American Institute for Cancer Research.

by Lisa Caines - Guelph, April 30, 2002

Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge -SPARK- is a student-based research communication initiative. It has been offering first-hand experience to students interested in journalism and research writing at the University of Guelph since 1988. Guelph's SPARK model has been adopted by 18 other universities across Canada, through the help of Canada's largest scientific-granting agency, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

As one of its many activities, SPARK contributes a bylined, weekly column, "SPARKplugs," to the Guelph daily paper, the Guelph Mercury, which then distributes it nationally over the Canadian Press wire service.

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