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Metabolism. 2002 Jul;51(7):919-24.

Effects of high- and low-isoflavone (phytoestrogen) soy foods on inflammatory biomarkers and proinflammatory cytokines in middle-aged men and women.

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Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Center, and the Department of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, St Michael's Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


This study sought to determine effects of high- and low-isoflavone soy protein foods on acute-phase proteins and proinflammatory cytokines and whether isoflavone phytoestrogens might act as estrogens, which enhance the immune response. Forty-one hypercholesterolemic men and postmenopausal women underwent three 1-month diets consisting of a low-fat dairy food control phase and high- and low-isoflavone soy food test phases (50 g/d and 52g/d soy protein, respectively, and 73 mg/d and 10 mg/d isoflavone, respectively). Diets were low in saturated fat (<5% of energy) and cholesterol (<50 mg/d). Fasting blood analytes and blood pressure were measured at the start and end of each phase. For the entire group of subjects, no treatment differences were observed for acute-phase proteins or proinflammatory cytokines. However, a significant interaction was noted between diet and sex. Assessing the results of men and women separately, women showed significantly higher interleukin-6 (IL-6) values after the high-isoflavone soy diet (P =.013) compared to control values. For women, the difference between the high- and low-isoflavone IL-6 values was significant using the unadjusted data (P =.048) but not after adjustment. No significant effects were seen for men or women in C-reactive protein (CRP), serum amyloid A (SAA), or tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). Thus, high levels of isoflavone intake appear to increase serum concentrations of IL-6 in women. This finding may indicate an estrogenic effect of soy isoflavones in enhancing the immune response and provide a possible explanation through enhanced immune surveillance for lower incidence of certain cancers in soy-eating parts of the world.

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