Acute soy isoflavone consumption does not impact visual-spatial or verbal memory among healthy young adults.
Soybean products (Nutritional aspects)
Soybean products (Health aspects)
Soybean products (Research)
Soybean products (Analysis)
Isoflavones (Research)
Isoflavones (Structure)
Isoflavones (Analysis)
Vanata, David F.
Metzger, Mitchell M.
Pub Date:
Name: North American Journal of Psychology Publisher: North American Journal of Psychology Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2007 North American Journal of Psychology ISSN: 1527-7143
Date: June, 2007 Source Volume: 9 Source Issue: 2
Event Code: 310 Science & research

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Past research has shown that long-term dietary consumption of soy products, containing isoflavones, has beneficial effects on cardiovascular health, bone mineral density, and risks for certain cancers. In addition, there is evidence that long-term dietary soy consumption improves cognitive performance. However, no such studies have examined the impact of acute doses of soy isoflavones on cognition. Therefore, this experiment was designed to evaluate whether acute doses of soy isoflavones would enhance memory in young adults who were not regular consumers of soy products. The results indicate that individuals consuming soy isoflavones, compared to control participants, did not show enhanced memory on visual-spatial or verbal tasks. These results suggest that the cognitive benefits derived from isoflavone consumption may be primarily due to long-term dietary soy intake and not acute consumption.

Health benefits associated with consumption of soy-based food products have previously been identified, including reducing the risk of coronary heart disease (Clarkson, Anthony, & Hughes, 1995) and some forms of cancer (Aldercreutz, Honjo, Higashi, Fotsis, Hamalainen, Hasegawa, & Okada, 1991), positively impacting bone density (Ho, Chan, Yi, Wong, & Leung, 2001), and improving cognitive function (File, Jarrett, Fluck, Duffy, Casey, & Wiseman, 2001; Kritz-Silverstein, Von Muhlen, Barrett-Connor, & Bressel, 2003). While some epidemiological and clinical data have suggested a relationship between dietary soy consumption and health, the evidence related to improvements on cognitive function are less conclusive (White, Petrovitch, Ross, Masaki, Hardman, Nelson, Davis, & Markesbery, 2000). The soy and postmenopausal health in aging study (SOPHIA) evaluated the impact of 110 mg of soy isoflavones on cognition

in a 6-month trial and showed significant improvements in cognitive function assessments among their participants and concluded that soy supplements may help prevent or delay the decline in verbal memory observed with aging (Kritz-Silverstein et al., 2003). Research conducted by File et al. (2001) assessed the impact of a high-soy diet (100 mg isoflavones) administered for a 10-week period and observed improvements in both short and long-term memories among healthy young adults. Improvements in cognitive functions were also observed among a sample of postmenopausal women receiving 60 mg of soy isoflavones for a 12-week trial (Duffy, Wiseman, & File, 2003). However, additional investigations involving soy isoflavones (99 mg) and postmenopausal women indicated no improvements in cognitive functions among their samples after a one-year period (Kreijkamp-Kaspers, Kok, Grobbee, de Haan, Aleman, Lampe, & van der Schouw, 2004).

Many of the proposed health benefits obtained from dietary intake of soy have been attributed to its isoflavone content, primarily the aglycones genistein and diadzein (Wagner, Anthony, & Cline, 2001), and the neurological impact of isoflavones may be due to their phytoestrogenic effects on brain function (Lepart, West, Weber, Rhees, Setchell, Adlercreutz, & Lund, 2002). Although the exact biological mechanisms of soy's impact on memory have not been completely identified, soy isoflavones have been shown to affect the synthesis of acetylcholine, and neurotrophic factors including nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF; Pan, Anthony, & Clarkson, 1999). In addition, soy isoflavones impact tyrosine kinase in the hippocampus, a brain region which is vital to memory and learning (Akiyama, Ishida, Nakagawa, Ogawara, Watanabe, Itoh et al., 1987; O'Dell, Kandel, & Grant, 1991). Investigations examining soy's effect on cognition have mostly focused on longitudinal consumption (>8 weeks) among adults, specifically, pre- or post-menopausal women (Kritz-Silverstein et al., 2003). No studies have assessed the effect of an acute dose of soy isoflavones on cognitive function. There is precedent that acute administration of certain substances can impact memory performance in both animals and humans. Studies have demonstrated that acute administration of compounds such as glucose, epinephrine, caffeine, and ACTH has a positive impact on memory (Gold, 1986; Haskell, Kennedy, Wesnes, & Scholey, 2005; Metzger, 2000; Richardson, Riccio, & Ress, 1988; Stone, Rudd, & Gold, 1990). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to assess the effects of an acute administration of soy isoflavones on memory among a sample of healthy young adults.



Fifty college students (37 females and 13 males with a mean age of 20.1 [+ or -] 2.89 years) served as participants. Their mean weight, height, and body mass index (BMI) were 75.2 [+ or -] 24.2kg, 160.1 [+ or -] 40.3cm, and 24.7 [+ or -] 4.82, respectively. Participants completed a family medical history questionnaire prior to the experiment, and indicated no soy allergies or other health-related problems that would prevent them from participating. In addition, participants were not regular consumers of soy products (e.g., soy milk, tofu, soy cheese or soy nuts). This study was approved by the Ashland University Human Subject Review Board; all participants gave written informed consent.


The experimental group consumed fifty grams of soy protein isolate powder, containing 54 mg of total isoflavones, which was diluted in 400 ml of tap water. The control group consumed fifty grams of whey protein, containing no isoflavones, which was also diluted in 400 ml of tap water. The soy protein isolate was obtained from Cargill Health and Food Technologies (Wayzata, Minnesota) and the whey protein was obtained from Clofine Dairy Products (Linwood, New Jersey). To increase the palatability and visual appeal of the protein drinks, three packets of Equal[R] (Merisant, Chicago, Illinois) and three drops of red food coloring were added to each shake.

The stimulus lists for the word recall and recognition tests were constructed using normed words that were similar in concreteness, imagery, and meaningfulness (Pavio, Yuille, & Madigan, 1968). Photographs of common objects (hammer, coffee mug, basket, etc.) for the visual-spatial memory (VSM) task were likewise standardized, and were taken from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS) (Lang, Ohman, & Vaitl, 1988). These stimuli were incorporated into a PowerPoint[R] slideshow, and projected onto a large screen with an LCD projector. Participants penciled their responses onto prepared answer sheets.


Participants were randomly assigned to either the SOY group (n = 25) or the WHEY group (n = 25). Each participant first filled out appropriate consent documentation, completed the family medical history questionnaire, and indicated that they had fasted for at least 8 hours prior to the experiment. During baseline testing, participants first completed the VSM task. Sixteen photographs were projected onto the screen in a 4 x 4 grid for ten seconds, after which the objects were replaced by a blank screen. Each subject was given a blank 4 x 4 grid and reproductions of each photograph at their desks, and they were required to place the objects in the correct locations on their grid. Once all participants had completed the first trial, their photograph reproductions were removed and two more identical trials of the VSM were completed (using the same objects in the same location). After completion of the VSM, a verbal task ensued. Twenty words were projected sequentially onto the screen for 2-seconds each (with a 2-second inter-stimulus interval). Immediately after the word list was presented, a recall test was given where participants had two minutes to write down as many words that they could recall from the projected list. A recognition test immediately followed the recall task, during which the participants identified the words from a list of 40 items (20 original and 20 new words). After the baseline testing, participants within the experimental and control groups were given up to five minutes to consume either the soy or whey protein shake, respectively. All participants were blind regarding the type of protein they consumed. The subsequent testing session occurred 1.75 hours after protein consumption to allow for isoflavone absorption (Izumi et al. 2000; Zubik & Meydani, 2003). The second testing procedure was identical to that of the baseline testing, other than the stimuli for both the VSM and verbal tasks were different from the first testing session.


The SOY and WHEY groups performed similarly on baseline cognitive tests prior to protein consumption (see Table 1). As expected, the means for both groups improved across repeated trials of the VSM task ([F.sub.2,147] = 57.37, p < .01). As three identical trials of the visual-spatial task were administered, it was predicted that participants' scores would improve across the trials. However, the only difference between the groups occurred on the first trial of the VSM, as the WHEY group scored higher than the SOY group ([F.sub.1,48] = 4.11, p < .05). For the word recall and recognition tasks, regardless of which task was analyzed, performance between participants in the SOY and WHEY conditions was similar (p>.05 for all comparisons). Cumulatively, these results indicate that participants in the SOY and WHEY groups performed similarly on the baseline assessment.

The performance of the SOY and WHEY groups on the subsequent cognitive testing was similar to that of baseline testing (see Table 2). The groups performed similarly on the VSM and verbal tasks, and statistical analyses confirmed these impressions. As with the baseline measures of cognition, performance did improve over the three trials of the VSM ([F.sub.2,147] = 37.76, p < .01). There were, however, no differences between the groups on any of the VSM trials, nor on the recall or recognition tasks (for all comparisons, p > .05).


After assessing baseline cognitive performance on visual-spatial and verbal tasks, participants consumed either a soy or whey protein shake and were reevaluated using similar methods. The results indicate that an acute administration of soy isoflavones did not affect memory in the young adults tested. This conclusion is based on the observation that participants in the soy group did not demonstrate enhanced cognitive performance relative to the whey (control) group.

It is clear that isoflavone administration, in this dose, was not effective in enhancing memory performance. The soy isoflavone levels chosen for this experiment were consistent with those amounts administered in longitudinal studies (Kritz-Silverstein et al., 2003; Duffy et al., 2003). While it has been observed that longitudinally administered isoflavones enhance memory at this dosage level, this same amount was not effective when administered acutely. It is possible that the effects observed in longitudinal studies are due to sustained isoflavone levels in blood plasma that modulate the mechanisms associated with memory.

Our results do not permit us to determine whether soy isoflavones, administered acutely to older adults and/or pre/post menopausal women, would enhance memory. One of the proposed benefits of long-term consumption of soy isoflavones among older populations is the prevention of cognitive decline associated with aging (Lee, Lee, & Sohn, 2005). As the mean age of our study sample was 20.1 years, age-related cognitive decline was not a factor. Since soy isoflavones administered longitudinally to young adults have been shown to improve cognition (File et al., 2001), this implies that there may be several mechanisms associated with improved cognition after long-term consumption of soy isoflavones.

As the results of this acute experiment differ from that of longitudinal studies, additional research on the impact of soy isoflavones on cognitive function is needed. Future investigations should focus on assessing the dose response curve associated with acute administration of soy isoflavones. Only after a dose response curve has been determined, will the benefits, if any, of acute consumption be realized.


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Author info: Correspondence should be sent to: Dr. David Vanata, Ashland University, 401 College Ave., Ashland, OH 44805. E-mail

David F. Vanata and Mitchell M. Metzger

Ashland University
TABLE 1 Baseline Group Means for Three Trials of Visual Spatial Memory
Task (VSM), Word Recall, & Word Recognition Tests

Group      VSM1         VSM2          VSM3

SOY     6.32 (2.6)   10.24 (3.4)   13.00 (3.5)
WHEY    7.80 (2.6)   11.88 (3.0)   13.60 (2.1)

Group     RECALL         RECOG

SOY     10.76 (3.8)   16.60 (2.8)
WHEY    11.56 (3.0)   16.68 (3.1)

Note: Standard deviations are presented in parentheses

TABLE 2 Group Means for Three Trials of Visual Spatial Memory Task
(VSM), Word Recall, & Word Recognition Tests after Protein Consumption

Group      VSM1         VSM2         VSM3

SOY     4.96 (2.5)   8.76 (3.6)   10.16 (3.8)
WHEY    5.28 (2.4)   8.44 (3.5)   11.20 (3.5)

Group     RECALL         RECOG

SOY     11.04 (3.3)   15.32 (2.8)
WHEY    11.84 (3.4)   16.36 (2.9)

Note: Standard deviations are presented in parentheses
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