Soy isoflavones and immunity

J Med Invest. 2008 Aug;55(3-4):167-73. doi: 10.2152/jmi.55.167.


The amount of soy products consumed in Japan is much greater than that in Western countries. Recent evidence indicates that soy isoflavones play a beneficial role in obesity, cancer, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease. The soybean isoflavone genistein is present at high levels in soy products. Genistein is structurally similar to 17beta-estradiol (E2), and genistein has been suggested to be act as E2 or an antagonist against E2. Genistein suppresses antigen-specific immune response in vivo and lymphocyte proliferation response in vitro. However, genistein enhances the cytotoxic response mediated by NK and cytotoxic T cells and the cytokine production from T cells. Thus, the effect of genistein on immunity is immune cell-dependent. Due to its unique effect on immune function, genistein has been used for the treatment of the diseases in animal models and it has been found that genistein inhibits allergic inflammatory responses. In this review, we summarize current studies related to the effect of isoflavone genistein on the immune system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibody Formation / drug effects
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Genistein / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Immunity / drug effects*
  • Immunity, Cellular / drug effects
  • Isoflavones / pharmacology*
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / immunology
  • Phytoestrogens / pharmacology
  • Soybeans / chemistry*
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology


  • Isoflavones
  • Phytoestrogens
  • daidzein
  • Genistein