Yoram Shir, head of the McGill University Health Centre pain clinic, has pioneered rodent studies at universities in both Israel and the United States before coming to McGill.
According to Shir, scientists already know soy is a key player in reducing pain in rats, but they have recently found the analgesic effects were even more remarkable when rats got a soy-rich diet prior to nerve injury.
It seemed as if the soy was protecting them from developing pain.
"Study results were so robust that I didn't believe it," said Shir. "So I repeated the study and the results were even better."
According to Shir, it was time to overturn the current model of pain management, in which traditional opiate and morphine therapy is applied after the patient feels pain and attempts to find medical help.
"It's hopeless because once established, chronic pain is a cureless disease, to some extent," Shir said. "I've treated hundreds of patients . . . so the idea of trying to prevent chronic pain from developing is where we should invest our money now."
Statistics from the 13th World Congress on Pain held recently in Montreal propose that one in five people suffer pain that lingers beyond three months and many are severely disabled by it, according to Tthe Vancouver Sun.
Links between diet and health issues such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and depression are well established, says Shir, and there's similar correlation between diet and pain.
Three-year examinationBut before encouraging people to load up on soy products, Shir's team at the Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit has launched a large-scale, double-blind study in humans to replicate the rat findings.
The research team intends to spend three years examining the benefits of soy in preventing chronic pain in women, specifically those who have recently undergone breast cancer surgery.
Half the participants in the study will receive soy protein and half will get milk protein supplements.
Participants will be asked to substitute 40 to 50 grams of their usual protein with soy (or the placebo) daily for two weeks prior to surgery, and will receive a nutritionist’s assistance for meal plans.
Researchers expect to find that a diet of soy serves to decrease the number of women with post-surgery chronic pain by as much as 50%, compared to the control group getting a milk supplement instead.
Shir's study is supported by a grant from the National Health Institutes in the US.
“If we can demonstrate that a soy-rich pre-surgery diet, is both safe and effective for the prevention of chronic post-surgical pain, the clinical implications will be significant and could help many women around the world,” said Shir.
Reprinted with permission from Shalom Life
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