Western diet and Western diseases: some hormonal and biochemical mechanisms and associations

Scand J Clin Lab Invest Suppl. 1990:201:3-23.


Breast cancer, prostate cancer, coronary heart disease and colon cancer belong to the so-called Western diseases and a general opinion is that diet is a significant or even the main factor increasing incidence and mortality of these diseases in the Western world. This review describes studies carried out in this department for about 10 years, many in collaboration with scientists abroad, and with the aim to clarify some of the connections between the diet and sex hormone, lipid and bile acid metabolism. A Western-type diet elevates plasma levels of sex hormones and decreases the sex hormone binding globulin concentration, increasing the bioavailability of these steroids. The same diet results in low formation of mammalian lignans and isoflavonic phytoestrogens. These diphenolic compounds seem to affect hormone metabolism and production and cancer cell growth by many different mechanisms making them candidates for a role as cancer protective substances. The precursors of these diphenols are to be found in fiber-rich unrefined grain products, various seeds, beans and probably also in pulses, peas and berries. Some types of fiber seem to influence sex hormone and bile acid metabolism mainly by partial interruption of the enterohepatic circulation, by alteration of intestinal metabolism and by increasing fecal excretion of these compounds. The sex hormone pattern found in connection with a Western-type diet is prevailing in the breast cancer patients, but is only partly a result of the diet.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / metabolism
  • Bile Acids and Salts / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Coronary Disease / etiology*
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Isoflavones / metabolism
  • Lignans
  • Lignin / metabolism
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Male
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / etiology*
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Isoflavones
  • Lignans
  • Lignin