Many in the growing organic and natural health movement have sounded the alarm about dangerous levels of toxins in soy-based infant formulas, and now one study has linked such formulas to an increased rate of seizures in autistic children.
University of Wisconsin-Madison research Cara Westmark, a senior scientist in the school’s Department of Neurology, recently discovered that autistic children consuming infant formula with soy protein rather than milk protein suffered a rate of febrile seizures that was 2.6 times the rate of those who did not consume soy-based formulas.
Altogether the group consuming the soy-based formula had a 4.2% rate of seizures compared to 1.6% of those consuming the milk-based formula. These results were found among a sample size of 1,949 children.
In summation, most children did not suffer seizures, but the soy-based rates are still concerning.
The research was published in the journal PLOS ONE. Westmark did note that she believes the soy-seizure link is worrisome and in need further research, however.
“The prevalence of autism is increasing and currently affects one American child in 88. Soy is a widespread ingredient in many food products and 25 percent of infant formulas are soy based, so this is something that needs to be studied. If the child is lactose intolerant, there are alternatives that a pediatrician can recommend.”
Seizures occur more often in sufferers of neurological diseases, the study noted.
Westmark said her research was sparked by mouse studies of a drug that was made with the hopes of inhibiting seizures by blocking signals that excite nerve cells. Westmark simplified the mouse study and replaced the standard “lab chow” diet of lab animals, which contained soy, to a diet with more purified ingredients an found that the rate of seizures dropped by 50 percent.
She believes that high levels of estrogenic compounds in soy as a possible cause of the seizures.
“We were intrigued that a dietary alteration was as effective as many medicines in reducing seizure incidence and wanted to pursue that finding,” she says. “We found that the main difference between the diets was the protein source. The standard diet was soy-based, while the purified diet was casein, or dairy, based.”
In the U.S., about a quarter of all infant formula sold is based on soy protein, which many in the organic and natural food movement believe is unsafe for additional reasons. Campaigns to make top manufacturers remove the soy or at least to use organic soy or substitutes have been created on various websites.
Over 90% of the soy in the U.S. is genetically modified to resist large sprayings of the likely carcinogenic Roundup from Monsanto herbicide as well, and much of the non-organic soy in the U.S. is also oftentimes produced using a process involving the neurotoxin hexane, though some formula companies have said they stopped using this process (you can check with the manufacturer to find out). Several European agencies of nutrition have also issued warnings that soy formulas can adversely affect the brains, reproductive systems, and thyroids of growing babies and children.
Westmark stressed her trial was not the kind of randomized one that can prove causation, but told the university’s website that it does show a potential association that should be further studied.
The study, Westmark says, was not the kind of randomized clinical trial that can prove causation. “We can say that we have a potential association between the use of soy-based formula and seizures in autistic children; we can’t say that this is cause and effect. We were fortunate to be granted access to the SFARI database, but it was not set up to answer the questions we were asking.
“This needs to be studied more thoroughly,” Westmark says. “If soy formula is lowering the threshold for seizures or increasing the incidence of seizures, we need to know that.”
Thanks for reading! P.S. You can also find out a healthier alternative to another soy product, soy sauce, by clicking on this article.