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Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2012 Nov 1;264(3):335-42. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2012.09.013. Epub 2012 Sep 20.

A diet containing the soy phytoestrogen genistein causes infertility in female rats partially deficient in UDP glucuronyltransferase.

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Tytgat Institute for Liver and Intestinal Research, Academic Medical Center, S1-166, Meibergdreef 69, 1105 BK Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Soy beans contain genistein, a natural compound that has estrogenic effects because it binds the estrogen receptor with relatively high affinity. Genistein is therefore the most important environmental estrogen in the human diet. Detoxification of genistein is mediated through conjugation by UDP-glucuronyltransferase 1 and 2 (UGT1 and UGT2) isoenzymes. Gunn rats have a genetic deficiency in UGT1 activity, UGT2 activities are not affected. Because our Gunn rats stopped breeding after the animal chow was changed to a type with much higher soy content, we examined the mechanism behind this soy diet induced infertility. Gunn and control rats were fed diets with and without genistein. In these rats, plasma levels of genistein and metabolites, fertility and reproductive parameters were determined. Enzyme assays showed reduced genistein UGT activity in Gunn rats, as compared to wild type rats. Female Gunn rats were completely infertile on a genistein diet, wild type rats were fertile. Genistein diet caused a persistent estrus, lowered serum progesterone and inhibited development of corpora lutea in Gunn rats. Concentrations of total genistein in Gunn and control rat plasma were identical and within the range observed in humans after soy consumption. However, Gunn rat plasma contained 25% unconjugated genistein, compared to 3.6% in control rats. This study shows that, under conditions of reduced glucuronidation, dietary genistein exhibits a strongly increased estrogenic effect. Because polymorphisms that reduce UGT1 expression are prevalent in the human population, these results suggest a cautionary attitude towards the consumption of large amounts of soy or soy supplements.

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