Estrogen metabolism and the diet-cancer connection: rationale for assessing the ratio of urinary hydroxylated estrogen metabolites

Altern Med Rev. 2002 Apr;7(2):112-29.


Estrogens are known for their proliferative effects on estrogen-sensitive tissues resulting in tumorigenesis. Results of experiments in multiple laboratories over the last 20 years have shown that a large part of the cancer-inducing effect of estrogen involves the formation of agonistic metabolites of estrogen, especially 16-alpha-hydroxyestrone. Other metabolites, such as 2-hydroxyestrone and 2-hydroxyestradiol, offer protection against the estrogen-agonist effects of 16-alpha-hydroxyestrone. An ELISA method for measuring 2- and 16-alpha-hydroxylated estrogen (OHE) metabolites in urine is available and the ratio of urinary 2-OHE/16-alpha-OHE (2/16-alpha ratio) is a useful biomarker for estrogen-related cancer risk. The CYP1A1 enzyme that catalyzes 2-hydroxyestrone (2-OHE1) formation is inducible by dietary modification and supplementation with the active components of cruciferous vegetables, indole-3-carbinol (I-3-C), or diindolylmethane (DIM). Other dietary components, especially omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and lignans in foods like flax seed, also exert favorable effects on estrogen metabolism. Thus, there appear to be effective dietary means for reducing cancer risk by improving estrogen metabolism. This review presents the accumulated evidence to help clinicians evaluate the merit of using tests that measure estrogen metabolites and using interventions to modify estrogen metabolism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Estradiol / metabolism
  • Estrogens / metabolism*
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydroxylation
  • Isoflavones*
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Preparations
  • Postmenopause / metabolism
  • Uterine Neoplasms / etiology
  • Uterine Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Vegetables


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