Can soy really help women get pregnant faster?

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It seems hard to believe: according to research by Harvard University, the humble soy bean could help women become pregnant in less time. But what is the science behind it? We try to find out the truth about soy.

When it comes to the consumption of soy, nutrition experts are divided. Some claim that soy is without a doubt a healthy choice for human consumption. Tofu and other soy products have been recommended for many years. Indeed, the shelves of health-food stores are lined with products made with soy. More recently, however, specialists have begun to think that soy products aren’t actually healthy at all, and might do more harm than good as they are said to contain cancer-causing compounds called phytochemicals. And yet there’s still no consensus on soy. The debate continues.

Can soy help women to get pregnant faster? The Harvard research

In a study from 2016, researchers found that soy could help women conceive faster. Sorry, come again? How exactly does that work? Well, something like this: soy neutralizes the harmful effects of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), commonly found in composite packaging, microwavable dishes, milk cartons, bottles and food and beverage containers as well as can coatings. Even nail varnish, tooth seals and sunglasses can contain BPA. During the study, Harvard found that women attempting to conceive via artificial insemination were up to 50% less successful if their urine BPA levels were high. But that was only the case for women whose diets did not include soy products. For women who did eat soy products two to three times per week, the results were somewhat different: it was found that high BPA levels did not reduce their chances of conception.

Based on the results, the authors of the study recommended that women planning to have a child should include more soy products in their diets, and emphasized in particular the importance of soy to women undergoing artificial insemination. But just how much soy should a woman eat? According to the authors, a portion of soy every two to three days is enough to make conception quicker. However, it’s not only women who can benefit from eating more soy. The results of the study suggest that soy can also have a positive influence on male potency. This is because soy contains the amino acid arginine (also found in cereal products), which is important for many processes in the testes and the penis and has a positive influence on sperm dynamics.

Soy during pregnancy? Experts say: no!

While soy might be beneficial before pregnancy, apparently it isn’t during. Experts now advise pregnant women against regularly eating soy products. It’s certainly a controversial topic. So far there have been no human trials, and only animal studies and computer models have been used to investigate the effects of soy on pregnancy. The problem is that soy contains phytic acid (phytate). Phytic acid is known to inhibit the absorption of essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc – all of which are important for the health of an unborn child. Furthermore, soy or soy milk contains a large number of plant estrogens called isoflavonoids. It’s a fact that excess estrogen during pregnancy can lead to malformations of the fetus and even fertility disorders during the period of lactation. Whether plant estrogens pose the same danger to pregnant women is still unknown.

For consumers, then, there are still no clear recommendations. The case for and against soy remains open. But the solution may just lie somewhere in the middle. And what’s true for most things in life might ring true for soy: eating it every now and then is healthy. But excessive consumption of soy should be avoided.

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