Research studies have demonstrated a strong association between estrogen metabolism and the incidence of breast cancer, and we have therefore sought pharmacological means of favorably altering both metabolism and subsequent risk. Indole-3-carbinol (I3C), obtained from cruciferous vegetables (e.g., cabbage, broccoli, etc.), is a known inducer of oxidative P-450 metabolism in animals. We investigated the effects in humans of short-term oral exposure to this compound (6-7 mg/kg/day over 7 days). We used an in vivo radiometric test, which provided a highly specific and reproducible measure of estradiol 2-hydroxylation before and after exposure to I3C. In a group of 12 healthy volunteers, the average extent of reaction increased by approximately 50% during this short exposure (p less than 0.01), affecting men and women equally. We also measured the urinary excretion of two key estrogen metabolites, 2-hydroxyestrone (2OHE1) and estriol (E3). We found that the excretion of 2OHE1 relative to that of E3 was significantly increased by I3C, further confirming the ongoing induction of 2-hydroxylation. These results indicate that I3C predictably alters endogenous estrogen metabolism toward increased catechol estrogen production and may thereby provide a novel "dietary" means for reducing cancer risk.