Thirty postmenopausal women (11 omnivores, 10 vegetarians and 9 apparently healthy women with surgically removed breast cancer) were investigated with regard to the association of their urinary excretion of estrogens, lignans and isoflavonoids (all diphenols) with plasma sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). A statistically significant positive correlation between urinary total diphenol excretion and plasma SHBG was found which remained statistically significant after elimination of the confounding effect of body mass determined by body mass index (BMI). Furthermore we found a statistically significant negative correlation between plasma SHBG and urinary excretion of 16 alpha-hydroxyestrone and estriol which also remained significant after eliminating the effect of BMI. Furthermore we observed that enterolactone (Enl) stimulates the synthesis of SHBG by HepG2 liver cancer cells in culture acting synergistically with estradiol and at physiological concentrations. Enl was rapidly conjugated by the liver cells, mainly to its monosulfate. Several lignans and the isoflavonoids daidzein and equol were found to compete with estradiol for binding to the rat uterine type II estrogen binding site (the s.c. bioflavonoid receptor). It is suggested that lignans and isoflavonoids may affect uptake and metabolism of sex hormones by participating in the regulation of plasma SHBG levels and in this way influence their biological activity and that they may inhibit cancer cell growth like some flavonoids by competing with estradiol for the type II estrogen binding sites.