Dietary isoflavones: biological effects and relevance to human health

J Nutr. 1999 Mar;129(3):758S-767S. doi: 10.1093/jn/129.3.758S.


Substantial evidence indicates that diets high in plant-based foods may explain the epidemiologic variance of many hormone-dependent diseases that are a major cause of mortality and morbidity in Western populations. There is now an increased awareness that plants contain many phytoprotectants. Lignans and isoflavones represent two of the main classes of phytoestrogens of current interest in clinical nutrition. Although ubiquitous in their occurrence in the plant kingdom, these bioactive nonnutrients are found in particularly high concentrations in flaxseeds and soybeans and have been found to have a wide range of hormonal and nonhormonal activities that serve to provide plausible mechanisms for the potential health benefits of diets rich in phytoestrogens. Data from animal and in vitro studies provide convincing evidence for the potential of phytoestrogens in influencing hormone-dependent states; although the clinical application of diets rich in these estrogen mimics is in its infancy, data from preliminary studies suggest beneficial effects of importance to health. This review focuses on the more recent studies pertinent to this field and includes, where appropriate, the landmark and historical literature that has led to the exponential increase in interest in phytoestrogens from a clinical nutrition perspective.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Diet*
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Isoflavones / administration & dosage*
  • Isoflavones / chemistry
  • Isoflavones / pharmacokinetics
  • Isoflavones / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Menopause
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Osteoporosis / prevention & control
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Preparations
  • Plants, Edible / chemistry
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal
  • Isoflavones
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Preparations