New research reveals disease-fighting potential of soy

Prof. Yoshi Mine holds soy beans

Soybeans as natural anti-inflammatories

By Alexandra Sawatzky

Ontario consumers may have a new reason to incorporate soybeans into their diets. Besides being rich in both macro- and micronutrients, increasing attention is being directed towards its powerful disease-fighting potential. Of particular interest is the role of soy proteins in reducing chronic gut inflammation.

Working to improve the understanding of soy’s anti-inflammatory properties is Prof. Yoshinori Mine, Dept. of Food Sciences at the University of Guelph. Currently, he’s working to develop dietary supplements from Ontario-grown soybeans that may help mitigate the harmful repercussions of inflammation.

“Our project evaluated the efficacy of soy proteins in controlling inflammation,” says Mine, “by determining the mechanism of action of certain segments of these proteins, called peptides, we can learn how to effectively reduce the body’s inflammatory response through dietary interventions.”

An overactive inflammatory response impedes both the innate and adaptive immune systems and limits the body’s ability to repair damaged tissues. When this response is prolonged, it can lead to chronic conditions such as colitis – inflammation in the colon – and Crohn’s disease.

Currently, anti-inflammatory drugs are often prescribed to decrease inflammation, but these can be expensive and pose many negative side effects.

Soy peptides, comprised of short chains of amino acids, are a promising, natural solution. They can be made relatively inexpensively and are easily incorporated into supplemental form, or nutraceuticals. Further, following consumption they have little to no side effects or after taste – making it more attractive to consumers as alternative or complementary therapies.

Using mice and pigs as animal models, Mine chemically induced inflammation and tested the efficacy of supplemented soy peptides. Results showed significant reduction of gut inflammation within a few days.

Interestingly, recent discoveries indicate that the soy peptides can also suppress the growth of fat cells, helpful for weight management and the mitigation of diabetes and other inflammatory-related diseases.

Mine hopes to use these results to improve consumer awareness about the benefits of soy consumption, and the positive role a healthy diet can play in managing both chronic inflammation and consequent disease risks. Preventative approaches such as this will in turn help reduce provincial and national healthcare expenditures.

“Now that we understand the mechanisms of gut inflammation and the effects of soy peptides as functional foods, we can focus our efforts on preventing chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, where these supplements are showing lots of promise,” says Mine.

In addition, results from this project will capitalize on Ontario’s rapidly growing soy industry – the production of value-added soy nutraceuticals presents opportunities for further expansion of the agri-food sector, generating widespread economic benefits for the province.

While working closely with industry partners in Canada and Japan, Mine’s collaborators at the University of Guelph include Prof. Ming Fan, Dept. of Animal and Poultry Science; research associate Jennifer Kovacs-Nolan; and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Denise Young.

This project was funded by OMAFRA and AFMNet.