Tofu-Rich Diet May Benefit Women With Lung Cancer

Exposure to asbestos (any type of asbestos) increases the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma, as well as nonmalignant lung and pleural disorders including asbestosis, pleural plaques, pleural thickening, and pleural effusions. Although most people with asbestos-related diseases worked in environments where they breathed asbestos, it is still possible to encounter asbestos in other ways.

Family members of men that worked around asbestos may come in contact with asbestos particles by handling or being near their loved ones clothes, tools, and even the body. If drywall, insulation or another component of a home or building contains asbestos, and that asbestos is disturbed, exposure may occur. Although women account for just a small percentage of mesothelioma cases, they do exist and their treatment plans may differ in some ways from a male patient. Certain drugs, alternative therapies, and even certain diets may have a different effect on women than they do on men. One example is a tofu-rich diet.

Most people are familiar with the current health benefits of tofu, which is just one type of soy product. According to a variety of studies, tofu can help lower cholesterol, alleviate symptoms associated with menopause, and minimize bone loss in women. Tofu is low in fat and protein rich, and it contains phytoestrogens, calcium, manganese, iron, protein, omega-3 fats, selenium, and magnesium. The nutrients found in tofu and other soy products are essential for overall health in women, but now tofu may play a role in the progression of lung cancer in women diagnosed with the disease.

A study published in the March 25 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology links high tofu and other soy foods consumption, before a lung cancer diagnosis, with longer survival. According to a Health Magazine report on the study:

The study participants were part of a larger observational study called the Shanghai Women’s Health Study, which tracked the incidence of cancer in about 75,000 women. Diet information was collected, including how much soy food — such as soy milk, tofu, fresh and dry soybeans, and soy sprouts — women ate.

The authors reported that about {444} women were diagnosed with lung cancer during the study. They were divided into three groups according to the amount of soy food they had eaten before their lung cancer diagnosis. The highest intake levels of tofu were equal to about 4 ounces a day, while the lowest soy consumers ate less than 2 ounces daily.

During the study, more than 300 of the lung cancer patients died, Yang said. Sixty percent of the women in the highest soy-eating group and 50 percent in the low soy consumer group were alive twelve months after diagnosis. A patient’s risk of death decreased with increasing soy intake, but leveled off at 4 ounces of daily tofu consumption. “Patients with the highest soy food intake had better overall survival compared with those with the lowest intake,” said Yang, who described the association as “linear.”

Tofu and other soy products contain isoflavones. Isoflavones are a class of phytoestrogens that can act like selective estrogen modulators (SERMS), which are similar to the breast-cancer-fighting drug tamoxifen, according to Dr. Jyoti Patel, an associate professor of medicine at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago. Patel states that “These SERMS may have a protective effect in lung cancer because we know that estrogen receptors are present in lung cancer and are important in lung development.”

Although the study revealed that eating tofu or other soy products in small amounts in the years preceding a lung cancer diagnosis didn’t seem to pose a benefit, the conclusion of the study was as follows:

Conclusion: This study suggests, to the best of our knowledge for the first time, that, among women with lung cancer, prediagnosis intake of soy food is associated with better overall survival.

Elisabetta Politi, nutrition director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, N.C., said the study is promising, although she still thinks it’s too early to recommend boosting soy intake, specifically for lung cancer survival reasons. However, Politi encourages people to try adding it to their diets. Although tofu is considered healthy and has a myriad of benefits for women, before adding tofu or other soy products to your diet, talk to your doctor.