Media Monkeys and Sexy Tofu?

Everyday, as I run through my news feed, I come across pieces of information where I think I’d love to write about it.  Alas, I don’t get paid to be a blog writer, and with an insatiable coffee, cocaine coconut, and Icebreaker habit to feed, my writing time needs to be prioritised.  But what follows is an example of something that was just too good an opportunity to pass up – an opportunity to show just how careful you need to be when getting your nutrition information from the popular media.

Now one would hope that most people with an IQ over their shoe size would realise that newspaper reports are often not always as they seem, and are therefore not the best places to be getting your health information from.  However, one of the questions I often ask when presenting nutrition information to our corporate groups, is just where do they get their nutrition knowledge from.  Shockingly, advertisements, marketing material, and common media sources, such as TV and newspaper reports, feature high up on the list of seemingly reliable sources of information for people to base their food and health-related decisions on.  Marketing works, clearly.  Why else would companies spend millions doing it.

The following report provides a great example of just why you SHOULDN’T be basing your health choices on what is presented in the media, unless you can back yourself to do a bit of fact checking first.  I chased a Twitter link to this report last night – one which I am sure will be rapidly circulated around all the veg*n blog sites and one which the soy marketing gurus will be all over like white on tofu…

Why tofu could be the new viagra

IT sounds unlikely, but the world’s least sexy food – that vegan favourite tofu – could actually pep up your love life. Tofu, also called bean curd, is made by coagulating soya milk. While widely regarded as soggy, tasteless and a poor substitute for a steak, scientists believe it may be a surprising aphrodisiac. So say researchers at the University of California, who trailed a group of red colobus monkeys in Uganda for almost a year. They found that those that eat the leaves of the tropical Millettia dura tree had higher than usual levels of the hormone oestrogen. The oestrogenic compounds in the tree – a close relative of the soy plant – led to a rise in sexual activity and more frequent mating.The scientists now plan to extend their research to the soy plant to see if tofu could be just the thing to get your pulse racing.

Might this be the ultimate reason to turn vegan?

Er… No.  No it is not.  Not even close.

It took me all of two-minutes to Google-fu “University of California” and “Red Colobus Monkeys” to find the ACTUAL media release from the University of California, Berkeley, which, upon reading, paints a slightly different picture of what might happen to primates consuming large amounts of plant oestrogens.  Have a read of the full report, but I have quoted the most salient points below.

Eating estrogenic plants alters hormones in monkeys, may increase aggression and sex

Eating certain veggies not only supplies key nutrients, it may also influence hormone levels and behaviors such as aggression and sexual activity, says a new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, that could shed light on the role of diet in human evolution. The research is the first to observe the connection between plant-based estrogenic compounds, or phytoestrogens, and behavior in wild primates — in this case, a group of red colobus monkeys in Uganda. The more the male red colobus monkeys dined on the leaves of Millettia dura, a tropical tree containing estrogen-like compounds, the higher their levels of estradiol and cortisol.  They also found that with the altered hormone levels came more acts of aggression and sex, and less time spent grooming — an important behavior for social bonding in primates.

From the ACTUAL abstract of the ACTUAL study;

Red colobus fed more heavily on estrogenic Millettia dura young leaves during weeks of higher rainfall, and the consumption of this estrogenic item was positively correlated to both their fecal estradiol and cortisol levels. Social behaviors were related to estradiol and cortisol levels, as well as the consumption of estrogenic plants and rainfall. The more the red colobus consumed estrogenic plants the higher their rates of aggression and copulation and the lower their time spent grooming. Our results suggest that the consumption of estrogenic plants has important implications for primate health and fitness through interactions with the endocrine system and changes in hormone levels and social behaviors.

So, no mention of tofu putting a bit of extra lead in the pencils of horny little monkeys then.  In fact, no mention of tofu at all.  Just an interest from the researchers to understand, further, the impact of these plant oestrogens on primate physiology and behaviour.  What the study abstract above, and the further explanation from the university media release, below, do clearly indicate, is that these distant cousins of ours, when the rainy season dictates they are stuck up a tree and have to subsist on the oestrogenic Millettia dura leaves, become stressed out, antisocial, and more likely to engage in aggressive sexual behaviour…

Phytoestrogens are also found in human foods, especially soy and soy-based products. Millettia dura, the tropical tree that was most important to red colobus monkey hormone levels and social behaviors, is a close relative of soy.

“With all of the concern today about phytoestrogen intake by humans through soy products, it is very useful to find out more about the exposure to such compounds in living primates and, by analogy, human ancestors,” said study co-author Katharine Milton, professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and an expert on the dietary ecology of primates.

“This is particularly true when determining the influence of phytoestrogens on reproductive behavior, which is the whole keystone of natural selection.”

The study authors cautioned against overinterpreting the power of phytoestrogens in altering behavior, however. They emphasized that estrogenic plant consumption is just one of multiple factors influencing primate hormone levels and behavior. Notably, the primates’ own endogenous hormone levels were the stronger predictor of certain behaviors, while phytoestrogens played a secondary role.

The researchers noted that the tendency for certain behaviors to occur can be affected by complex interactions between endogenous hormones and phytoestrogens, in addition to factors such as the quality and quantity of food, competition for resources and mates and predation. Nonetheless, previous research in laboratory and agricultural settings found that eating estrogenic plants could disrupt fertility and affect behavior in animals such as rodents, monkeys and sheep. Effects of phytoestrogen consumption in other studies have included more aggression, less body contact, more isolation, higher anxiety and impaired reproduction.

Very sexy… I’ve found that angst-ridden and aggressive sex has always gone over well with the ladies.

Unfortunately there was no author link to the article on the news.com.au piece of shoddy journalism, so I can’t name and shame the writer – though I have my suspicions about their dietary leanings, especially given this link to other foods which supposedly boost your libido – not a shred of animal protein or fat in sight.

Want to keep things steamy in the bedroom?? My advice – pass on the tofu (and any other soy product for that matter), and stick with lamb chops. Just sayin’.

7 thoughts on “Media Monkeys and Sexy Tofu?

  1. I appreciate you illustrating the importance of going to and analyzing the original source as well as demonstrating how to do it.

  2. Isn’t it annoying and frankly condescending to the readers for mainstream news outlets not to link to the actual studies when they are available? I’ve noticed more outlets are doing this now, the BBC, for example, now links to studies in their health articles.

  3. Steamy lamb chops in the bedroom? Now, you’re talking. ;-)

    At first blush, this anonymous journalist seems to providing a solution to a complex problem. How does one go about untangling all the variables, I asked? A rise in sexual activity. Good. More frequent matings. Good. However, how about them manboobs side effects? How’s that going to go down with the ladies? Then I wonder how a man, gynecomastia et al, goes about cashing in on that promise of increased libido and more sex. Can’t make it work, though. I guess it might makes sense from a vegan’s perspective. Maybe it’s a solo thing–partners optional sex. Who knows?

    Thanks for doing the legwork on this one. Cheers.

  4. Jamie,
    Totally unrelated question for you apart from your mention of lamb chops.
    I eat a lot of offal, especially lamb’s liver and hearts. Lamb is my meat of choice because they eat grass and you can be fairly confident that they’ve not been fed grains and other shite.
    I worked in the Middle East years ago and really enjoyed lamb’s brains fried with ginger. I can’t buy brains here in England unfortunately.
    Can and do you eat them yourself? Chock full of nutrients.
    Just asking. I would appreciate your opinion.

    1. Bill, being a Kiwi with an English mother, I grew up on lamb – roasts, kidneys, fry, hearts. I liked hearts, but I didn’t care much for kidneys and liver. As an adult, I can eat kidneys, but they aren’t overly appealing. Liver – I am yet to try. Something about a deep red lump of rubber coated in flour keeps flashing up in my memory and putting me off. I had sheep brains in Los Angeles a year or so back at the Ancestral Health Conference there. Loved them.

  5. All three studied compounds are solvent extracts of root bark or seed powder of Millettia thonningii (leguminosae), a plant molluscicide and cercaricide used in Franco West Africa as medication against various diseases. The compounds’ toxicities to brine shrimp have been determined.

    Good reason to turn vegan? No wonder the monkeys were stressed.

    Also see Traditional Uses of the African Millettia species (Fabaceae)

    http://scialert.net/fulltext/?doi=ijb.2008.406.420

    Fishing or hunting poisons (5%, ex: M. dura, M. ferruginea subsp. darassana, M. versicolor, M. barteri, M. taolanaroensis)

    Love the lamb’s brains, boiled then fried with mince and sage…

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