Soybean Oil is Changing our Brains, Scientists Warn

Chances are, you’ve eaten something with soybean oil in it today. It’s America’s most widely-consumed edible oil, making billions of dollars each year. In recent years, as soybean oil rose in popularity, so too did obesity, diabetes and insulin resistance. Today, scientists are researching the possibility that soybean oil is responsible for genetic changes to our brains.

This is particularly alarming because soybean oil is everywhere—not just in your food. You can find soy in everything from the feed industrial farm animals eat to biodiesel. Deciding to live your life without consuming soy could be a difficult goal to undertake, but if research is to be believed, it might just be for the best.

Soybeans are the cash crop of the modern age

America is the world’s leading producer of soybeans, both for animal feed and vegetable oil. In fact, 90% of America’s oilseed crop is comprised of soybeans. In 2016, the soybean industry was worth nearly $41 billion. It’s not only used for the protein in animal feed and for human consumption, but also industrial lubricants, plastics, biodiesel and even pharmaceuticals. Avoiding soy is becoming more difficult than ever: it’s cheap, easy to grow and has a variety of applications.

Soy’s impact on our brain chemistry

In a recent study at UC Riverside, scientists studied the effects of soybean oil on male mice. Originally, researchers thought the culprit might be linoleic acid, so they tested a soybean oil that was modified to contain less of the chemical. It didn’t seem to make a difference. The mice who were fed modified and unmodified soybean oil still induced insulin resistance and obesity, as opposed to the mice who were fed coconut oil instead.

This led scientists to study the effects of soybean oil on the hypothalamus, which is responsible for regulating metabolism among many other important processes. The mice who were fed soybean oil suffered from malfunctioning genes. In fact, soybean oil consumption appears to affect about 100 genes total.

Interestingly, soybean oil consumption hampers the gene responsible for producing oxytocin—you might know it as the “love hormone,” which is often released when people bond socially through sex, cuddling, childbirth and even playing with your pet. Oxytocin is linked to obesity and regulating metabolism. The implication is that this could be one reason you’re having a hard time losing weight. Your brain function may have changed thanks to soybean oil!

Don’t panic yet!

The research isn’t complete. First, scientific results in mice do not always translate to the same outcome in humans. Second, the mice used in the study were all male, and because oxytocin plays such a huge role in childbirth and mothering, further studies need to be completed on female mice. Finally, researchers need to determine exactly which chemical in soybean oil is related to the genetic changes.

Yes, you should cut down on your soy consumption, especially if obesity, diabetes and insulin resistance are already a problem for you or your family—but there are plenty of healthier cooking oils available, including coconut oil.

It’s getting harder to avoid soy

Although you might be tempted to throw out all of your soy products, from milk to tofu, that’s not necessary—many foods like tofu only contain a small amount of the oil as opposed to healthy fatty acids and proteins. However, the authors of the study caution you to reduce your soybean oil consumption as much as possible. That means avoiding pre-processed and packaged food as well as margarine, ready-made salad dressings, and most restaurant fried food.

While it’s not realistic for most people to avoid all these products all of the time, unless you want to spend most of your free time cooking, it’s a good idea to reduce your consumption.

How can you avoid the brain drain?

One of the best ways to avoid soybean oil is to read the labels on every food item you buy, and be aware that it’s not always obvious which ones contain soy. This will take a little additional research and time on your part. The other major way to avoid soybean oil is to start making your food from scratch. Again, this takes extra time, but the payoff is worth it: not only will you avoid a harmful food, but everything will taste so much better.

If you’re looking for good soybean oil substitutes, corn, canola, safflower and peanut oil are all good places to start—but remember to check the label to make sure they weren’t cut with soybean oil.

It might be a bit of a pain, but reducing your soybean oil consumption could save your brain chemistry.

Evan DeMarco

Evan DeMarco is a leading sports medicine and nutrition expert, published author, public speaker and frequent guest on television, radio, and digital platforms.

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