NTP-CERHR expert panel report on the developmental toxicity of soy infant formula

Gail McCarver, Jatinder Bhatia, Christina Chambers, Robert Clarke, Ruth Etzel, Warren Foster, Patricia Hoyer, J. Steven Leeder, Jeffrey M. Peters, Emilie Rissman, Michael Rybak, Claire Sherman, Jorma Toppari, Katie Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Soy infant formula contains soy protein isolates and is fed to infants as a supplement to or replacement for human milk or cow milk. Soy protein isolates contains estrogenic isoflavones (phytoestrogens) that occur naturally in some legumes, especially soybeans. Phytoestrogens are nonsteroidal, estrogenic compounds. In plants, nearly all phytoestrogens are bound to sugar molecules and these phytoestrogen-sugar complexes are not generally considered hormonally active. Phytoestrogens are found in many food products in addition to soy infant formula, especially soy-based foods such as tofu, soy milk, and in some over-the-counter dietary supplements. Soy infant formula was selected for National Toxicology Program (NTP) evaluation because of (1) the availability of large number of developmental toxicity studies in laboratory animals exposed to the isoflavones found in soy infant formula (namely, genistein) or other soy products, as well as few studies on human infants fed soy infant formula, (2) the availability of information on exposures in infants fed soy infant formula, and (3) public concern for effects on infant or child development. On October 2, 2008 (73 FR 57360), the NTP Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) announced its intention to conduct an updated review of soy infant formula to complete a previous evaluation that was initiated in 2005. Both the current and previous evaluations relied on expert panels to assist the NTP in developing its conclusions on the potential developmental effects associated with the use of soy infant formula, presented in the NTP Brief on Soy Infant Formula. The initial expert panel met on March 15 to 17, 2006, to reach conclusions on the potential developmental and reproductive toxicities of soy infant formula and its predominant isoflavone constituent genistein. The expert panel reports were released for public comment on May 5, 2006 (71 FR 28368). On November 8, 2006 (71 FR 65537), CERHR staff released draft NTP Briefs on Genistein and Soy Formula that provided the NTP's interpretation of the potential for genistein and soy infant formula to cause adverse reproductive and/or developmental effects in exposed humans. However, CERHR did not complete these evaluations, finalize the briefs, or issue NTP Monographs on these substances based on this initial evaluation. Between 2006 and 2009, a substantial number of new publications related to human exposure or reproductive and/or developmental toxicity were published for these substances. Thus, CERHR determined that updated evaluations of genistein and soy infant formula were needed. However, the current evaluation focuses only on soy infant formula and the potential developmental toxicity of its major isoflavone components, e.g. genistein, daidzein (and estrogenic metabolite, equol), and glycitein. This updated evaluation does not include an assessment on the potential reproductive toxicity of genistein following exposures during adulthood as was carried out in the 2006 evaluation. CERHR narrowed the scope of the evaluation because the assessment of reproductive effects of genistein following exposure to adults was not considered relevant to the consideration of soy infant formula use in infants during the 2006 evaluation. To obtain updated information about soy infant formula for the CERHR evaluation, the PubMed (Medline) database was searched from February 2006 to August 2009 with genistein/genistin, daidzein/daidzin, glycitein/glycitin, equol, soy, and other relevant keywords. References were also identified from the bibliographies of published literature. The updated expert panel report represents the efforts of a 14-member panel of government and nongovernment scientists, and was prepared with assistance from NTP staff. The finalized report, released on January 15, 2010 (75 FR 2545), reflects consideration of public comments received on a draft report that was released on October 19, 2009, for public comment and discussions that occurred at a public meeting of the expert panel held December 16 to 18, 2009 (74 FR 53509). The finalized report presents conclusions on (1) the strength of scientific evidence that soy infant formula or its isoflavone constituents are developmental toxicants based on data from in vitro, animal, or human studies; (2) the extent of exposures in infants fed soy infant formula; (3) the assessment of the scientific evidence that adverse developmental health effects may be associated with such exposures; and (4) knowledge gaps that will help establish research and testing priorities to reduce uncertainties and increase confidence in future evaluations. The Expert Panel expressed minimal concern for adverse developmental effects in infants fed soy infant formula. This level of concern represents a "2" on the five-level scale of concern used by the NTP that ranges from negligible concern ("1") to serious concern ("5"). The Expert Panel Report on Soy Infant Formula was considered extensively by NTP staff in preparing the 2010 NTP Brief on Soy Infant Formula, which represents the NTP's opinion on the potential for exposure to soy infant formula to cause adverse developmental effects in humans. The NTP concurred with the expert panel that there is minimal concern for adverse effects on development in infants who consume soy infant formula. This conclusion was based on information about soy infant formula provided in the expert panel report, public comments received during the course of the expert panel evaluation, additional scientific information made available since the expert panel meeting, and peer reviewer critiques of the draft NTP Brief by the NTP Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC) on May 10, 2010 (Meeting materials are available at). The BSC voted in favor of the minimal concern conclusion with 7 yes votes, 3 no votes, and 0 abstentions. One member thought that the conclusion should be negligible concern and two members thought that the level of concern should be higher than minimal concern. The NTP's response to the May 10, 2010 review ("peer-review report") is available on the NTP website at. The monograph includes the NTP Brief on Soy Infant Formula as well as the entire final Expert Panel Report on Soy Infant Formula. Public comments received as part of the NTP's evaluation of soy infant formula and other background materials are available at. Reports can be obtained from the web site or from: Kristina A. Thayer, PhD, NIEHS/NTP K2-04, PO Box 12233, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709. E-mail: [email protected].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-468
Number of pages48
JournalBirth Defects Research Part B - Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2011


  • Endocrine disrupters
  • Nutrition
  • Safety assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Embryology
  • Toxicology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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