Emerging research on equol and cancer

J Nutr. 2010 Jul;140(7):1369S-72S. doi: 10.3945/jn.109.118323. Epub 2010 May 26.


Mechanisms of action of equol described using in vitro studies suggest possible effects of this compound in relation to cancer risk. However, experimental data are lacking with regard to the effects of S-(-)-equol (a gut bacterial product of daidzein), racemic equol, or even daidzein on tumorigenesis in vivo. Rodent studies, using racemic equol or daidzein in equol-producing animals, suggest that equol exposure does not stimulate mammary tumor growth, but there is little evidence that it is protective either. Racemic equol has been shown to inhibit skin carcinogenesis in hairless mice. Epidemiologic studies of associations between urinary or plasma isoflavone concentrations and breast cancer risk in women have reported no association nor increased risk associated with higher equol measures in low-soy-consuming populations but have reported a trend toward decreased cancer risk with increased equol in Asian populations. These population-based differences have been reported for prostate cancer too. Several studies in Asian men report lower equol concentrations or a lower prevalence of equol-producers among men with prostate cancer compared with controls, whereas studies in European populations report no association. Studies using intermediate biomarkers of cancer risk and susceptibility in humans also have examined the effects the equol-producer phenotype in relation to soy intake with varying results. Overall, the role of equol in relation to cancer remains unclear. With the availability of R- and S-equol, animal studies of carcinogenesis and human intervention studies addressing effects of the equol enantiomers on intermediate biomarkers may help to ascertain the role of equol in cancer risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Equol
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isoflavones / blood
  • Isoflavones / pharmacology*
  • Isoflavones / urine
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*


  • 4',7-dihydroxy-3,4-dihydroisoflavone
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Isoflavones
  • Equol