Environ Health Perspect. 1995 Oct; 103 Suppl 7(): 103-12.
Phytoestrogens: epidemiology and a possible role in cancer protection.
Department of Clinical Chemistry, University of Helsinki, Finland.
Because many diseases of the Western Hemisphere are hormone-dependent cancers, we have postulated that the Western diet, compared to a vegetarian or semivegetarian diet, may alter hormone production, metabolism, or action at the cellular level by some biochemical mechanisms. Recently, our interest has been mainly focused on the cancer-protective role of some hormonelike diphenolic phytoestrogens of dietary origin, the lignans and the isoflavonoids. The precursors of the biologically active compounds originate in soybean products (mainly isoflavonoids), whole grain cereal food, seeds, and probably berries and nuts (mainly lignans). The plant lignan and isoflavonoid glycosides are converted by intestinal bacteria to hormonelike compounds with weak estrogenic but also antioxidative activity; they have now been shown to influence not only sex hormone metabolism and biological activity but also intracellular enzymes, protein synthesis, growth factor action, malignant cell proliferation, differentiation, and angiogenesis in a way that makes them strong candidates for a role as natural cancer-protective compounds. Epidemiologic investigations strongly support this hypothesis because the highest levels of these compounds in the diet are found in countries or regions with low cancer incidence. This report is a review on recent results suggesting that the diphenolic isoflavonoids and lignans are natural cancer-protective compounds.