Animal models impacted by phytoestrogens in commercial chow: implications for pathways influenced by hormones

Lab Invest. 2001 May;81(5):735-47. doi: 10.1038/labinvest.3780282.


It is generally not known that most commercial rodent diets are formulated with soy protein and deliver large daily doses of isoflavones to animals throughout their lifespan, including the in utero period. Here, we demonstrate that isoflavones are bioavailable and show that commercial rodent diets universally used by animal facilities lead to very high steady-state serum isoflavone concentrations in adult rats (2613 +/- 873 ng/mL) and mice (2338 +/- 531 ng/mL), exceeding the animal's endogenous estrogen level by 30,000- to 60,000-fold. We demonstrate the maternal-fetal intrauterine transfer of isoflavones in animals fed a standard Purina 5001 soy-containing diet and show that newborn rat pups have high serum isoflavones levels (540 +/- 174 ng/mL) that are maintained throughout the suckling period by passage of isoflavones into maternal milk. These findings have profound implications for all animal experiments, including multigenerational studies and studies of transgenic animals, especially if biochemical or morphological end-points are influenced by the hormonal or nonhormonal properties of phytoestrogens. These compounds have the potential to modulate genotypic and phenotypic expression in general, and therefore, all investigators should be vigilant to the phytoestrogen composition of commercial rodent diets because there is a history of potent biological effects in larger animals and in humans from high circulating isoflavone concentrations.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animal Feed / analysis*
  • Animal Feed / standards
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Animals, Suckling
  • Chromans / analysis
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Equol
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / analysis*
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / blood
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / urine
  • Female
  • Genistein / analysis
  • Hormones / physiology*
  • Isoflavones / analysis*
  • Isoflavones / blood
  • Isoflavones / urine
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Preparations
  • Rats


  • 4',7-dihydroxy-3,4-dihydroisoflavone
  • Chromans
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal
  • Hormones
  • Isoflavones
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Preparations
  • Equol
  • daidzein
  • Genistein