Method of defining equol-producer status and its frequency among vegetarians

J Nutr. 2006 Aug;136(8):2188-93. doi: 10.1093/jn/136.8.2188.


7-Hydroxy-3-(4'-hydroxyphenyl)-chroman (S-equol) is a specific end-metabolite formed in the biotransformation of the dietary soy isoflavones daidzin and daidzein by intestinal bacteria. The frequency of equol production varies among individuals and populations, and it is suggested that the efficacy of soy foods differs depending on the ability of an individual to produce equol. To develop a standardized approach to define equol-producer status that can be universally adopted to differentiate these 2 distinct populations, we measured isoflavones in serum and urine collected from a cohort of 41 healthy adults, comprising 29 vegetarians and 12 nonvegetarians, after consuming 2 x 250 mL/d soy milk on 3 consecutive days. Serum and urinary daidzein and S-equol concentrations were analyzed by MS. Serum S-equol and daidzein concentrations ranged from 10.3-139 nmol/L (2.5-33.6 microg/L) and 16-1401 nmol/L (4.0-356 microg/L), respectively, whereas in urine the corresponding concentrations ranged from 16-12,574 nmol/L (4-3043 microg/L) and 539-26,834 nmol/L (137-6816 microg/L), respectively. The log10-transformed urinary S-equol:daidzein ratio provided a clearer distinction of equol-producer status than the absolute serum or urinary S-equol concentrations because it is independent of isoflavone intake and minimizes interindividual variation in isoflavone pharmacokinetics or differences in analytical methodologies. A threshold value for the log10-transformed urinary S-equol:daidzein ratio of -1.75 provided a demarcation to define equol-producer status. The frequency of equol producers in the vegetarians was 59%, similar to the reported frequency in Japanese adults consuming soy, and much higher than for nonvegetarian adults (25%), suggesting that dietary components other than soy influence S-equol synthesis by intestinal bacteria.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diet, Vegetarian*
  • Equol
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Isoflavones / administration & dosage
  • Isoflavones / biosynthesis
  • Isoflavones / blood
  • Isoflavones / metabolism*
  • Isoflavones / urine
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phytoestrogens / metabolism*
  • Soybean Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Soybean Proteins / metabolism*


  • 4',7-dihydroxy-3,4-dihydroisoflavone
  • Isoflavones
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Soybean Proteins
  • Equol
  • daidzein