Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The great tofu debate

Mark Morford has a funny column about Jim Rutz's tofu articles on WorldNetDaily. Rutz's articles, which claim among other things that too much consumption of soy products makes kids gay, continue to this day. In the follow ups to the December article, he cites articles and reports which he claims prove his point. Most of these are citations of print articles which Rutz surely knows his readers are not about to look up for themselves. I decided to take a look at one of the few online links that he provides, a European study, titled An overview of endocrine disruption projects financed by the European Commission under the 4th and 5th framework programmes. In that 124 page report, the EU outlines a variety of studies that they are funding that deal with environmental pollutants such as PCBs. What does estrogen have to do with it? Estrogen molecules are one of several types which can bind to PCBs in the bloodstream thereby providing a method for which PCBs to build up in the body and do greater damage. But, that's not why Rutz states the study in his 5th article. Instead, he reports the following:
A British study in 2000 showed that vegetarian moms (who typically eat more soy, of course) have five times the risk of birthing a boy with hypospadias,[3] or about one chance in 25. The European Commission takes this matter so seriously that it's investigating.[4] Yet here in the US of A , health- conscious vegetarian moms-to-be are swigging tall, cool glasses of soymilk. Tragically, these moms also risk giving birth to babies that are more likely to get leukemia.[5-8] That disease, too, is on the rise, with only a few people sounding warnings that soy during pregnancy could be part of the problem. It's high time pregnant moms heard warnings. Hey, I've tasted soymilk and veggie burgers, and no way are they worth that kind of risk.
Note the technique used in this paragraph. First, he brings up a print study reference to hypospadias (a birth defect where the urethra opens at the base of the penis rather than the tip). That study also found that iron supplements had an association with hypospadias. In fact, if you read the study, the association with iron supplements and a vegetarian diet with hypospadias was about equal with those vegetarians taking iron supplements being the greatest association. However, other researchers dispute the conclusions about either iron supplements or vegetarian diets, pointing to conflicting studies which show negligible to no effects of either diets. The conclusion reached by the authors is that the cause is vegetarianism, even while they acknowledge iron supplements having a similarly "significant" effect. So, Rutz has scored twice on this point: he equates vegetarianism with a birth defect and equates the birth defect with emasculation of the human species. (In fact, Japanese babies have much more exposure to soy during pregnancy than American babies yet their rate of hypospadias is actually one tenth the rate of Western nations).

In the next sentence, Ritz makes his reference to the European study I wrote about above. That study has no connection to the previous one. In fact, it details a completely different topic altogether. Also, out of this paragraph, it is the only study which has an online link. At 124 pages, however, most people aren't likely to look through the link. If they do, then they'll find titles of studies that seem to relate to Rutz's topic, but if one looks at the actually study proposals, one sees that they are investigating environmental pollution, including that released into the human populations through growth hormones and antibiotics injected into animals and not estrogen (let alone the Isoflavones that are the focus of the first study).

The next set of references (footnotes 5 through 8) deal with a possible link to soy milk infant supplements and leukemia. We're not referring to soy passing through breast milk, but the feeding of milk supplements to children. Once again, this is a very different and unrelated issue from the first 2 citings. In the first citing, soy was introduced to the child from the mother. In the second citing, environmental pollution was introduced to people and attached to estrogen molecules. In this citing soy milk feeding formula is introduced to children when every medical article indicates that breast milk is the ideal diet. In fact, even if the mother ingests an unusual amount of soy products per day, breast milk contains very little of the estrogen associated with soy products. Still, that doesn't stop Rutz from sounding the alarm about that disease being "on the rise". Of course, none of the studies suggest that soy is the sole cause of that rise nor do they suggest that the rise, while statistically significant, is a huge problem. Like hypospadias, in fact, childhood leukemia is rare.

Rutz then ends the paragraph with a shot at a tired old joke about soymilk and veggie burgers tasting terrible. If "pregnant moms" get anything from Rutz it should be to follow a sensible diet, consult their physicians, and breast feed their babies. Yet Rutz attempts to link by weird association several unrelated studies that focus on several different items some of which have nothing to do with the ingestion of soy products and others which are widely disputed. Yet he never cites the disputes and only makes these associations and hopes that his paranoid claims stick. He is the type of propagandist that could teach Rove a few tricks.

Rutz closes his 5th article in this series (one more yet promised) with the following paragraph. Normally, people would see this as a joke, but Rutz's intended audience (cut, no doubt, from the same cloth as members of the former John Birch Society, with a special mixture of paranoia, government and corporate conspiracy theories, and bigotry - I'll cite this article as further proof in which they attack very conservative Michael Medved as being blind to the government conspiracy to erase the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada) is by this point overwhelmed with his citations and probably sees some common sense truth in his words:
If God had wanted us to eat skinless, boneless chicken breasts, He'd have made chickens that were all breast with no fat, no skin and not a leg to stand on! If He'd wanted us to drink pasteurized fat-free milk, then fat-free milk would come boiling hot out of a cow's udder! And if He'd wanted us to eat soy protein and soy oil, the little bean would easily separate into its parts and not require a billion dollar processing plant that uses chemical solvents, extreme pressure, and hellfire temperatures. Nor would God's chosen food require tons of sugar and flavorings to make it taste halfway decent.
I'm used to seeing such crap in publications like the Weekly World News (see old Ed Anger columns). Most people don't take that paper seriously. Most people won't take Rutz seriously. But there will be a significant number who do and we should know what these people are thinking and where their sources come from. Know they enemy and all...

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