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Diet and Myeloma: The Joy of Soy?

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Diet and Myeloma: The Joy of Soy?

Tomorrow I will start previewing the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meetings which start Friday in Chicago.  But before I get too caught-up with everything ASCO, I wanted to run Danny Parker’s latest nutritional column:

Diet and Myeloma:  The Joy of Soy?


It’s a word that’s at once evocative of hippy meals, 60s health food stores and less-than- satisfying meat substitutes. And yet, this firm, cake-like product made from fermented soybeans—popular in China and Japan–  may be an useful food in our effort to continue life with myeloma. And why is that?  Another word:


This isoflavone has been found to stunt the growth of various cancer cells both in the laboratory and in vivo—in the body. What’s more, the most potent source of genistein is from soybean products which are not only not-toxic; they are also part of a healthy protein-rich diet.

How can this be true? Turns out that Genistein suppresses the NF-kappaB activation pathway that myeloma  cells depend on for proliferation. There are two relevant studies.

In the first, Chinese researchers in 2008,tested two different myeloma cell lines that characteristically over expressed NF-kappaB. The cells were treated with varying amounts of genistein and doxorubicin—the latter a common conventional adjunct drug used to treat myeloma (trade name: Adriamycin). Researchers discovered that even a small quantity of genistein reduced the activation of NF-kappaB. Moreover, genistein worked in concert with doxorubicin, leading to greater antitumor activity in vitro than either two agents separately. Moreover, genistein, is thoroughly non-toxic.

The other study is even more recent, in 2011, and completed at Division of Hematology and Oncology at Texas Tech University Medical Center in Lubbock:

Same conclusions. They found that genistein can actually destroy myeloma cells in a dose and time-dependent manner. Other possible benefits were discovered against Lymphoblastic Leukemia and Lymphoma.  Like doxorubicin, genistein is a topoisomerase inhibitor and also has anti-angiogenic properties which we have discussed earlier. It is suspected that genistein inhibits the malignancy-related Notch-1 protein pathway which spells curtains for myeloma cells. What the heck is that? Sorry to get a bit technical, but how do we know that suppression of the arcane Notch-1 pathway is a good idea in battling myeloma?

Two investigations:

Any downsides?  Not many, as hundreds of tons of soy products are eaten safely by humans each day.  As for genistein, it is only contraindicated for those who are being treated for breast cancer as some research has shown that it can reduce the effectiveness of tamoxifen or letrozole.

While soy is not the only source of genistein (fava beans and split peas have a good amount too), it remains an excellent source of protein and a protein rich diet is important in our diet to achieve a stable blood glucose levels in our Dex-addled bodies.  Food sources:

While some may turn their nose at Soy milk or tofu, keep in mind that the above would seem to indicate these products might be helpful.

And for those from Missouri: “So, if eating soybean products might be so great for us, then why do people in China and Japan still get myeloma?”

Well, they don’t— as much. While people all over the world suffer from myeloma, it turns out that the incidence of myeloma in Japan and China is much lower than in the United States or Europe.

In the U.S. the rate at which age-standardized males are diagnosed with myeloma amounts to 4.7 cases per year per 100,000 men. In Great Britain it is similar at 4.5.  However, in Japan the rate at which men are struck with myeloma is 2.1 by the same metric. And the annual incidence among males is only 1.1 in China, among the very lowest rates in evidence.*

*Dr. James R. Berenson (ed.), The Biology and Management of Multiple Myeloma, Brian G.M. Durie, Table l, “Incidence of Multiple Myeloma by Country,” Humana Press, 2004, p. 12.

Does the fact that people come down with myeloma with less frequency in China and Japan indicate causality—that it is soybeans and genistein making the difference?

Of course not. Still, the available evidence does suggest that genistein might be a possible ally in our effort to stick around longer.

In particular, given the earlier hints that sweet dairy products may be unhelpful to us, soy milk may provide a beneficial substitute.  And there are some tasty tofu recipes. Believe me.

This one claims it is friendly, even to the tofu-phobic.

As I always suggest, give it a try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.


Thanks, Danny!  By almost any standard, soy and tofu are nutritionally excellent foods.   I drink a lot of soy milk as a low carb substitute for dairy.  But I didn’t know that drinking it might help slow down multiple myeloma!

I used to eat a lot of roasted soy nuts as a snack.  I have since started eating raw nuts almost exclusively–and I eat a lot of them.  High in fiber, omega 3’s and protein.  And eating them raw is so much better for you!

But soy “nuts” aren’t really nuts at all, are they?  And Danny didn’t mention any downside with cooking soy…

Time to start eating soy nuts again.  And I think I’ll wash them down–along with a couple of curcumin capsules–with a big glass of soy milk!

Feel good and keep smiling!  Pat