Lignans, similar in structure to endogenous sex steroid hormones, may act in vivo to alter hormone metabolism and subsequent cancer risk. The objective of this study was to examine effects of dietary intake of a lignan-rich plant food (flaxseed) on serum concentrations of endogenous hormones and binding proteins (estrone, estrone sulfate, 17 beta-estradiol, sex hormone-binding globulin, progesterone, prolactin, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, dehydroepiandrosterone, androstenedione, testosterone, and free testosterone) in postmenopausal women. This randomized, crossover trial consisted of three seven-week feeding periods, during which 28 postmenopausal women, aged 52-82 yr, consumed their habitual diets plus 0, 5, or 10 g of ground flaxseed. Serum samples collected during the last week of each feeding period were analyzed for serum hormones using standard diagnostic kits. The flaxseed diets significantly reduced serum concentrations of 17 beta-estradiol by 3.26 pg/ml (12.06 pmol/l) and estrone sulfate by 0.09 ng/ml (0.42 nmol/l) and increased prolactin by 1.92 micrograms/l (0.05 IU/ml). Serum concentrations of androstenedione, estrone, sex hormone-binding globulin, progesterone, testosterone, free testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone, and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate were not altered with flaxseed feeding. In this group of postmenopausal women, consuming flaxseed in addition to their habitual diets influenced their endogenous hormone metabolism by decreasing serum 17 beta-estradiol and estrone sulfate and increasing serum prolactin concentrations.