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HEALTH REPORT - Molecule in Soy May Reduce Risk of Colon Cancer

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Foods made from soybeans are increasingly popular, and not just because of the taste. Studies has found that soy can be good for the health in different ways. Now, research in the United States shows that a molecule in soy may help prevent colon cancer. The Journal of Nutrition published the study by researchers at Georgia Tech, Emory University and the Karmanos Cancer Institute.

Al Merrill of Georgia Tech says that soy is known to suppress cancer. He says that some of this effect may be from a group of molecules. These are called sphingolipids (se-FIN-go-LIP-ids). Plants and animals have many different kinds.

Earlier research led by Professor Merill showed that such molecules in milk can suppress the formation of growths. But he says this is the first study to show that similar molecules in plants can also suppress cancer.

The study found that a molecule known as soy GlcCer (glick-SEER) reduced the formation and growth of tumor cells in mice. Some of the mice were born with a gene that leads to colon cancer. Others were given a chemical that causes the disease.

The soy GlcCer passed through the stomach and intestines. But Professor Merrill says it stayed strong enough to suppress cancerous cells in the colon, part of the large intestine. The next step is to see if the molecule works the same way in humans.

Interest in soy has led to many more food and health products that contain it. These are especially popular with older women. Their bodies no longer produce the female hormone estrogen. So they worry about their risk of breast cancer.

Soy contains two substances that are similar to estrogen. However, experts say one of these might increase the risk of breast cancer in some women. They say more research is needed on the different chemicals in soy and the safety of taking them in large amounts.

Earlier this year, scientists reported that soy may help men prevent prostate cancer. But some men apparently are concerned about the estrogen-like effect of soy. So, in a different study, scientists had men eat much larger amounts of soy than they would normally get in food.

There were a few side effects reported, including breast enlargement. But researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said none of these effects were serious.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.

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