Bonsoy Soy Milk Recall

by Leisa on December 28, 2009

There is just something a tad funny about this recall…  I would love to be able to find out a bit more information about it – so I’m doing some digging and will let you know.

The official story is that there is a soy milk product on the market Bonsoy which contains Kombu, a type of seaweed.  This particular brand was said in news articles to contain unacceptably high levels of iodine which has led to 10 people suffering from thyroid complaints.  Hmmmm.

Here is the official story:

“Authorities are warning against drinking Bonsoy soy milk after 10 people, including a newborn baby, fell ill with thyroid problems in NSW.

The product was found to contain unusually high levels of iodine, which may affect the thyroid and cause people to feel unwell, Food Standards Australia (FSA) said.

The milk is being recalled nationally, and should not be used by coffee shops, retail and other food outlets, FSA said.

A healthy daily iodine intake is about 80-150 micrograms for adults.

Testing found drinking just one-eighth of a cup of Bonsoy, which is imported from Japan and contains seaweed, would exceed the daily safety limit of 1,100 micrograms, FSA spokeswoman Lydia Buchtmann said.

“These are extremely high levels,” she told AAP.

The authority was alerted after the nine people, aged between 29 and 47, and child, reported using the brand.

“They are all okay. Once you stop consuming it, your (iodine) levels go down,” Ms Buchtmann said.

She said there were no obvious symptoms from excessive iodine intake, but people may feel generally unwell or lethargic.

Anyone drinking the product over a prolonged period who thinks they may be affected is urged to consult their doctor.”

Now there are two things that I find particularly interesting about this story. One is the levels of iodine found in the milk (which occurs naturally as a part of the seaweed component). They claim 1100mcg which is the upper limit of “safety” in Australia was found in just 30ml of soy milk.

In Japan they consume up to 45mg of iodine in their normal daily diet – which is more than 40 times the Australian recommendation of the upper limit of safety. So something is very off between our acceptable level of iodine in the diet and the Japanese levels…

In Australia, we are notoriously low in iodine – a study recently performed at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, found that 70% of pregnant women were deficient in iodine – and to make that worse, the iodine was measured using the extremely low recommendations which Australia finds acceptable.

In the past, Lugol’s Iodine Solution was used widely as a remedy for many, many illnesses. One drop of Lugol’s Solution contains 6500mcg of iodine – six times the “upper limit of safety”.  And this was frequently used in doses of 10 drops per day. Personally I have taken Lugol’s Iodine at a level of 8 drops a day for several months without adverse effects; so that does lead me to question what else may be contributing to the thyroid problems found due to drinking this particular brand of soy milk.

Soy milk, as many of you know is not a product that I recommend anyone drink anyway. It is a highly processed product, soy is indigestible in nature unless it is fermented, and it contains endocrine disruptive phytochemicals which can INHIBIT thyroid function.

So it is possible that the people drinking the soy milk had some form of compromise in thyroid function from the soy to start with. Soy is also one of the top five allergy foods which in itself can disrupt the immune system which may contribute to the auto-immune problems of Graves Disease.   Then putting high dose iodine on top of this may have had some type of negative effect on the thyroid gland, bringing on the very distressing hyperthyroid states these people were suffering from. Although I would need a lot more information before coming to any firm conclusion.

However, I think this needs to be looked into at a deeper level, as the amounts of iodine in the soy are largely considered normal in a Japanese diet. My money would be betting that the soy itself is a part of the problem, not just the overload of iodine itself.

Leisa

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15 commentsAdd comment

anonymous January 6, 2010 at 12:24 pm

The Bonsoy recall is not a kneejerk reaction. I suggest you look at http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/endocrine/graves/Answer.asp?QuestionID=18.
For the fortunate, there is no impact of excess iodine. But for the less fortunate such as myself (a long term Bonsoy user with a normal thyroid), iodine-induced thyrotoxicosis occured. Also, Iodine-induced hyperthyroidism is more likely to occur in patients who live in areas where there may be not enough iodine in the diet.
Martins et al. (J-Endocrinol-Invest, 1989, Apr 12(4):239-44) found 4 patients took 12 months to resolve iodine-induced thyrotoxicosis . Another 4 took 50 months to normalise!!! And one patient needed to take medication.
Before the Bonsoy recall, I started antithyroid medication for thyrotoxicosis. And now I am concerned this medication could have damaged my thyroid.

anonymous January 6, 2010 at 10:01 pm

PS thryotoxicosis can cause heart attack and more rarely thyroid storm (multi-organ failure and 20% mortality rate with timely treatment, 80% mortality without treatment)

Sandi January 8, 2010 at 12:28 am

When my son was four years old, I weaned him, and in my zeal to not give him homogenised, pasteurised milk on his home made muesli, I mixed Roberts Soy Compound and coconut milk powder (we lived in the bush and had no refrigeration). He developed a swollen little toe; I thought he’d hit it on a rock, but it didn’t go away. About a year later, he had two little swollen toes and the joint on the big toe was so sore and swollen he was walking on the side of his foot. I took him to a specialist who diagnosed Juvenile Arthritis ( a form of Rheumatoid, and an immune problem), and much to my horror started prescribing heavy duty immune suppressants and anti inflammatories. I went straight to my naturopath, who advised me to take him off the soy milk, gave him a couple of colonics, and with a breakfast of banana and date smoothies with added omega fatty acids (hemp, flax and evening primrose oils), colloidal minerals, enzymes ( whole Kiwi fruit with skin, greenish papaya with skin and some seeds, echinacea, and for good measure cats claw (I know that’s good for other types of arthritis), his symptoms disappeared in two weeks, never to return.

anonymous January 8, 2010 at 2:46 am

PPS Japan is an iodine-replete area where hypothyroidism occurs in 8.5 out of 1000 women and hyperthyroidism occurs in 5.1 out of 1000 women (see http://www.thyrolink.com/servlet/PB/show/1812110/Thyroid-Inter-2-2009-WEB-NEU.pdf). .
One study found with hypothyroidism that 63.6% of cases were reversible when refraining from iodine-containing food and drugs (see http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/459924?mpid=18101).

anonymous January 10, 2010 at 10:58 am

I’m appalled at the Australian Government’s lack of a response on this issue. There has been no update to the information since December 24. I have drunk between one and two cups of Bonsoy a day for the last 15 years! The National Food Standards Authority (spokeswoman Lydia Buchtmann) really need to lift their game.

Darren February 2, 2010 at 1:02 am

You say that you don’t recommend soy milk but I think it depends on the brand. Vitasoy, for example, is 100% organic and GM-free while at the other end of the scale, the stuff from Pauls is utter crap. The ingredients of Vitasoy High Fibre look fine to me:

Filtered Water, Certified Organic Whole Soy Beans (Min. 13%), Pearl Barley, Raw Sugar, Inulin (Dietary Fibre), Gum Arabic, Barley Malt, Sea Salt, Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B6, Thiamin, Vitamin A, Vitamin B12.

Christine February 3, 2010 at 7:02 am

Don’t forget the kombu Darren

Kerry D February 11, 2010 at 11:53 pm

has anyone thought about the strange coincidence that Coca-Cola have just bought out Vitasoy, the same time Bonsoy was recalled (??) great way to alleviate your main competition. I have been drinking Bonsoy for the better part of 19 years, my iodine levels are fine according to the doctor :)

Julie February 20, 2010 at 3:18 am

I spent the majority of 2009 feeling very unwell, anxious and exhausted and in September was diagnosed with Hyperthyriodism….various GP and Endocronologist appointments followed resulting in proposed treatment with medication – but only because I am breastfeeding – the ideal treatment was radiation to ‘kill’ my thryoid gland!! Thankfully, my intuition prevailed, medication was discarded, appointments cancelled and considering that, we really do need our thyroid glands to function well, (read – not be killed off by maniacal, trigger happy ‘specialists’ with a superiority complex, resulting in a lifetime dependency of medication to treat an ‘underactive’ thyriod!!!!!?)) I visited a natropath and now undertake a treatment of bugleweed – which has been successfully used to treat a friend with long term hyperthyriodism. Until the recall, I drank half a litre of bonsoy a day for many years!!)…sad to think that all this money was paid out on an apparently superior health product all this time and was actually making, or contributing to an illness!

Dee March 24, 2010 at 5:21 am

My story is similar to Julie above – I felt so unwell that I was sure I had a heart problem. The thyrotoxisis, once diagnosed, lead me to the specialist who insisted I had Graves disease. I started medication even though test results showed negative to Graves disease and anything else associated with such high levels of Thyroid hormone in my blood stream – other possible causes such as cancer or nodules on the thyroid. I thank the stars that this came out about Bonsoy (as I was a 4 glasses a day drinker) as finally there was some explanation. My specialist had to (reluctantly) admit, after more tests that the iodine levels from drinking Bonsoy was the cause of my illness. I instantly took myself off the medication and hopefully my body is healing itself. I have also cut back to only 1/4 glass a day of any type of soy milk…just in case.

Tim March 30, 2010 at 11:13 pm

The rabbit hole goes deep on this.

thebonsoydebacle.com.au

Tim April 19, 2010 at 5:46 am

2004-2005 – a thyrotoxicosis cluster in NZ led to a study that pinned the cases to a soy milk – not Bonsoy (I do have the literature at hand that names the brand).

Subsequent food study confirmed this.

That manufacturer still making soy, 2 of its products have kombu, in very low levels (since 2005).

This study was published in Aus NZ Journal of Public Health so I am wondering where Food Standards Aus/NZ was on this? Why weren’t all soy manufacturers required to submit to compulsary testing.

The rabbit hole is getting deeper the more I dig.

-tim

Darcy January 12, 2013 at 5:48 pm

I just read an article just yesterday about one Japanese woman and a Korean woman who each gave birth to babies who were born with thyrotoxicosis. They discovered that both women had ingested a tea that contained an herbal seaweed concoction. The babies eventually recovered, but are now at high risk of developing thyroid autoimunity from the thyroid inflammation from the excessive iodine they were exposed to in utero.

So the comment that Asians can always eat high levels of seaweed and be fine is just not true. There are many case studies in the journals that show Japanese with thyroid issues caused by high iodine exposure. They also develop Graves disease just like the rest of the world.

Leisa January 13, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Thanks for your comment Darcy. I believe you have put words in my mouth by claiming that I said “Asians can always eat high levels of seaweed and be fine” – I didn’t write that and nowhere in my article do I claim that high levels of iodine are always perfectly safe.

It is a well known fact that susceptible people will have an adverse reaction to the consumption of high levels of iodine. The point I was aiming to make is that there is more to this than simply stating that iodine over a level of 1000mcg is dangerous for everyone.

There are different studies that show that we don’t reach full body saturation of iodine without doses higher than the RDA of 150mcg and research shows that 3 – 6mg of supplemental iodine such as Lugol’s Iodine Solution is optimal for reversing Fibrocystic Breast Disease.

So yes, I agree that for susceptible people (and most people will not be aware that they are susceptible until they have an adverse reaction) the level of iodine in the Bonsoy was too high. And for the safety of the general population this did need to be addressed. However, there are more factors in thyrotoxicosis than just iodine – low selenium is a factor, immune disorders which can be driven by allergy or intolerances, heavy metal toxicity etc. So it is not just a one-size-fits-all, iodine is bad scenario.

I agree that the Bonsoy should have done something about the high levels of iodine in their product, however I don’t think the iodine is the sole issue and it would be great to have some research done on the other factors involved that lead to the harm of 600 Australians who were consuming this product.

Vanessa September 28, 2013 at 1:36 am

Hi, I agree about soy and I’ve been doing a little research and the fermented soy products seem to be ok. I am currently making slow efforts to becoming a vegan and wanted to buy a protein powder. I’m looking into an organic, non GMO soy protein powder. Do you have any opinions about soy protein powder at all? I would be very interested in your opinion.

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