Gut bacterial metabolism of the soy isoflavone daidzein: exploring the relevance to human health

Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2005 Mar;230(3):155-70. doi: 10.1177/153537020523000302.


The indigenous intestinal microflora are involved in a variety of processes within the human body, and are important for maintaining host health. As such, interindividual differences in the ability to harbor certain intestinal bacteria might be associated with interindividual differences in health and/or disease susceptibility. In the last decade there has been considerable interest in phytoestrogen intakes in relation to human health. Daidzein, an isoflavone phytoestrogen found in soy, is metabolized to equol and O-desmethylangolensin (O-DMA) by intestinal bacteria. The specific bacterium/bacteria responsible for equol and O-DMA production in humans have yet to be identified definitively, but in vitro and animal studies have suggested that equol and O-DMA are more biologically active than their precursor daidzein. Interestingly, substantial interindividual differences in daidzein metabolism exist; following soy or daidzein consumption, approximately 30%-50% of the human population produce equol, and approximately 80%-90% produce O-DMA. Observational and intervention studies in humans have suggested that the ability to produce equol and O-DMA may be associated with reduced risk of certain diseases including breast and prostate cancers. However, relatively few studies have been conducted to date. In this review, we discuss the available evidence for a relationship between daidzeinmetabolizing phenotypes and human health, and suggest potential mechanisms for some of the reported relationships.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Equol
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Intestines / microbiology
  • Isoflavones / metabolism*
  • Isoflavones / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Soybeans / chemistry*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*


  • 4',7-dihydroxy-3,4-dihydroisoflavone
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal
  • Isoflavones
  • Equol
  • daidzein
  • O-desmethylangolensin