Soy isoflavones have been hypothesized to exert hormonal effects in postmenopausal women. To test this hypothesis, we studied the effects of three soy powders containing different levels of isoflavones in 18 postmenopausal women. Isoflavones were consumed relative to bodyweight [control: 0.11 +/- 0.01; low isoflavone (low-iso): 1.00 +/- 0.01; high isoflavone (high-iso): 2.00 +/- 0.02 mg/kg/day] for 93 days each in a randomized crossover design. Blood was collected on day 1 of the study (baseline) and days 36-38, 64-66, and 92-94 of each diet period, for analysis of estrogens, androgens, gonadotropins, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), prolactin, insulin, cortisol, and thyroid hormones. Vaginal cytology specimens were obtained at baseline and at the end of each diet period, and endometrial biopsies were performed at baseline and at the end of the high-iso diet period, to provide additional measures of estrogen action. Overall, compared with the control diet, the effects of the low-iso and high-iso diets were modest in degree. The high-iso diet resulted in a small but significant decrease in estrone-sulfate (E1-S), a trend toward lower estradiol (E2) and estrone (E1), and a small but significant increase in SHBG. For the other hormones, the few significant changes noted were also small and probably not of physiological importance. There were no significant effects of the low-iso or high-iso diets on vaginal cytology or endometrial biopsy results. These data suggest that effects of isoflavones on plasma hormones per se are not significant mechanisms by which soy consumption may exert estrogen-like effects in postmenopausal women. These data also show that neither isoflavones nor soy exert clinically important estrogenic effects on vaginal epithelium or endometrium.