Administration of the isoflavone genistein (GEN) has been described to result in bone protection but also to induce uterotrophic responses. To compare bone protective effects of GEN with an isoflavone-rich diet (IRD) and to further elucidate molecular mechanisms involved in bone-protection, ovariectomized rats (OVX) received either a diet low in isoflavone content (IDD) enriched with GEN (42 mg kg(-1)b.wtd(-1)) (GEN(d)), an IRD (14 mg kg(-1)b.wtd(-1) GEN, 14 mg kg(-1)b.wtd(-1) daidzein) or were treated subcutaneously (s.c.) with GEN (10 mg kg(-1)b.wtd(-1)) (GEN(sc)) for 12 weeks. Intact (SHAM), vehicle treated OVX animals and those substituted with 17beta-estradiol (2microg kg(-1)b.wtd(-1)) (E(2)), served as controls. OVX-induced bone loss could be antagonized in E(2), GEN(sc), GEN(d) and IRD groups. Uterine wet weight (UWW) was only stimulated in E(2) and GEN(sc) animals. Serum biomarkers of bone-formation (osteocalcin, osteopontin) and bone-resorption (telopeptides of collagen type I, pyridinoline cross-links) were elevated in OVX compared to SHAM and E(2) animals. Feeding IRD stimulated bone-formation and inhibited bone-resorption, whereas s.c. or dietary administration of GEN only resulted in a stimulation of bone-formation. The results of the present study indicate that in contrast to s.c. administration, dietary intake of GEN resulted in bone protection without stimulation of UWW. Dietary intake of isoflavones by an IRD also did not result in a stimulation of UWW, yet IRD appeared to be more effective in bone protection than administration of pure GEN.