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Ann Med. 2005;37(6):423-38.

Phytoestrogens: end of a tale?

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Department of Pharmacological Sciences, University of Milano, Milano, Italy.


Phytoestrogens are plant-derived hormone-like diphenolic compounds of dietary origin that are present at high levels in plasma of subjects living in areas with low atherosclerosis and cancer incidence. The term phytoestrogen is commonly applied to the soy isoflavones genistein, daidzein and glycitein. As outlined in a previous review article in this journal by Adlercreutz and Mazur 1, these compounds are weakly estrogenic and appear to influence the cardiovascular system, the production, metabolism and biological activity of sex-hormones, as well as malignant cell proliferation, differentiation and angiogenesis. Recently skepticism has developed concerning the true potential of phytoestrogens to beneficially modify these processes. A critical analysis of the early findings from supplementing the diet with soy protein has failed to confirm phytoestrogens as the responsible agent for beneficial cardiovascular effects, be it by way of lipid reduction, vasodilation or lipoprotein oxidation. Furthermore, contrasting data have been reported on the potential of phytoestrogens to prevent hormone-dependent cancers (e.g. breast and prostate) and to successfully treat post-menopausal complaints, an indication for which they are widely used. These potentially negative findings have led health authorities in several countries to suggest maximum daily intake levels for phytoestrogens. There is now growing interest in the use of soy products containing low levels of phytoestrogens and in research on other phytoestrogen free legumes such as lupin.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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