There are two types of soy – fermented and unfermented. Rumor has it that unfermented soy might be linked to a number of conditions such as hormonal imbalances, kidney stones, thyroid disorders and food allergies, but this is yet to be confirmed by extensive research as no conclusive evidence has been found to this day.
However, there are some valid doubts regarding unfermented soy and its impact on health. Unfermented soy contains phytic acid, which is able to bind to minerals and protein due to its chemical structure, preventing them from being absorbed by your digestive system. It is thought that unfermented soy also blocks the absorption of iodine, which may cause the thyroid gland to become under-active. This could in fact benefit hair, BUT any artificial changes to hormonal balance may have negative knock-on effects on health.
Fermented soy – is it beneficial?
Phytic acid is neutralized through fermentation (soaking soy or whole grains for 72 hours before cooking is more than enough for the process to take place). Therefore, consuming fermented soy products like organic tempeh, miso or soy sauce is highly advisable and brings a number of health benefits, including:
- Healthy gut flora
- More effective assimilation of nutrients and minerals
What are isoflavones and how can they prevent hair loss?
Soy beans naturally contain isoflavones, organic compounds that act like phytoestrogens in the human body – as suggested by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Phytoestrogens are dietary estrogens, which are not produced by your endocrine system, but broken down and assimilated from the foods you eat – e.g. soy products. However, both types of estrogen are similar in structure, and phytoestrogens are also capable to produce estrogenic effects, despite not being synthesised within your endocrine system.
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is synthesised from testosterone mainly in the testes and hair follicles, in the presence of an enzyme known as 5-alpha reductase. Excessive DHT builds up within the hair follicle, making it impossible for nutrients to reach hair roots through the blood stream. As a consequence, follicles shrink, which leads to hair thinning and alopecia.
It has been speculated that isoflavones with a weak estrogen activity can even out the testosterone imbalance that often leads to DHT overproduction. Estrogen and testosterone “compete” for binding to testosterone receptors. Therefore, in the presence of estrogen, the number of receptors “claimed” by testosterone will decrease significantly, which may improve or even reverse hair loss in time.
Should you try it?
You are strongly advised to see your doctor before you include soy in your diet – please be mindful of any potential allergies you may not know you have. Moreover, it has been suggested that one glass of soy milk a day for a month is enough to alter a woman’s menstrual cycle due to the high amounts of phytoestrogen it contains, so do keep in mind its effects on hormones.
Some people claim eating more soy has helped reverse alopecia, while others state the contrary. It is very important to avoid unrealistic expectations and be prepared for potential disappointment, despite the fact that eating more soy products to promote hair growth shouldn’t harm anyone.