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Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Sep;78(3 Suppl):593S-609S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/78.3.593S.

Dietary phytoestrogens and their effect on bone: evidence from in vitro and in vivo, human observational, and dietary intervention studies.

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Department of Pediatrics, Clinical Mass Spectrometry, Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH 45229, USA.


Impressive data from the many studies on cultured bone cells and rat models of postmenopausal osteoporosis support a significant bone-sparing effect of the soy isoflavones genistein and daidzein. Translating this research to the clinic has been more challenging, and thus far only a few clinical studies have attempted to tease out the influence of phytoestrogens on bone from the many other components of the diet. Human studies have shown promising although variable results. Studies have been mostly of short duration and with relatively small sample sizes, making it difficult to observe significant and accurate changes in bone. Levels of intake of the soy protein and isoflavones are varied, and the optimal isoflavone intake for bone-sparing effects remains to be determined. Clinical studies thus far performed can be broadly divided into those that have assessed biochemical evidence of reduced bone turnover from measurement of surrogate markers of osteoblast and osteoclast activity, and those that have examined changes in bone mineral density. There are no studies examining effects on fracture rate. This review focuses specifically on the potential influence of phytoestrogens on bone by examining the evidence from 17 in vitro studies of cultured bone cells, 24 in vivo studies of animal models for postmenopausal osteoporosis, 15 human observational/epidemiologic studies, and 17 dietary intervention studies. On balance, the collective data suggest that diets rich in phytoestrogens have bone-sparing effects in the long term, although the magnitude of the effect and the exact mechanism(s) of action are presently elusive or speculative.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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