Soy isoflavone phyto-pharmaceuticals in interleukin-6 affections. Multi-purpose nutraceuticals at the crossroad of hormone replacement, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory therapy

Biochem Pharmacol. 2004 Sep 15;68(6):1171-85. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2004.05.036.


Interleukin-6 is a pleiotropic cytokine which plays a crucial role in immune physiology and is tightly controlled by hormonal feedback mechanisms. After menopause or andropause, loss of the normally inhibiting sex steroids (estrogen, testosterone) results in elevated IL6 levels that are further progressively increasing with age. Interestingly, excessive IL6 production promotes tumorigenesis (breast, prostate, lung, colon, ovarian), and accounts for several disease-associated pathologies and phenotypical changes of advanced age, such as osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple myeloma, neurodegenerative diseases and frailty. In this respect, pharmacological modulation of IL6 gene expression levels may have therapeutical benefit in preventing cancer progression, ageing discomforts and restoring immune homeostasis. Although "plant extracts" are used in folk medicine within living memory, it is only since the 20th century that numerous scientific investigations have been performed to discover potential health-protective food compounds or "nutraceuticals" which might prevent cancer and ageing diseases. About 2000 years ago, Hippocrates already highlighted "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food". Various nutrients in the diet play a crucial role in maintaining an "optimal" immune response, such that deficient or excessive intakes can have negative consequences on the organism's immune status and susceptibility to a variety of pathologies. Over the last few decades, various immune-modulating nutrients have been identified, which interfere with IL6 gene expression. Currently, a broad range of phyto-pharmaceuticals with a claimed hormonal activity, called "phyto-estrogens", is recommended for prevention of various diseases related to a disturbed hormonal balance (i.e. menopausal ailments and/or prostate/breast cancer). In this respect, there is a renewed interest in soy isoflavones (genistein, daidzein, biochanin) as potential superior alternatives to the synthetic selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), which are currently applied in hormone replacement therapy (HRT). As phyto-chemicals integrate hormonal ligand activities and interference with signaling cascades, therapeutic use may not be restricted to hormonal ailments only, but may have applications in cancer chemoprevention and/or NF-kappaB-related inflammatory disorders as well.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / therapeutic use
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / genetics
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism*
  • Interleukin-6 / physiology
  • Isoflavones / therapeutic use*
  • NF-kappa B / physiology
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Preparations / therapeutic use*
  • Soybeans / chemistry*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Interleukin-6
  • Isoflavones
  • NF-kappa B
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Preparations