Background/objectives: Phytoestrogens are estradiol-like natural compounds found in plants that have been associated with protective effects against chronic diseases, including some cancers, cardiovascular diseases and osteoporosis. The purpose of this study was to estimate the dietary intake of phytoestrogens, identify their food sources and their association with lifestyle factors in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort.
Subjects/methods: Single 24-hour dietary recalls were collected from 36,037 individuals from 10 European countries, aged 35-74 years using a standardized computerized interview programe (EPIC-Soft). An ad hoc food composition database on phytoestrogens (isoflavones, lignans, coumestans, enterolignans and equol) was compiled using data from available databases, in order to obtain and describe phytoestrogen intakes and their food sources across 27 redefined EPIC centres.
Results: Mean total phytoestrogen intake was the highest in the UK health-conscious group (24.9 mg/day in men and 21.1 mg/day in women) whereas lowest in Greece (1.3 mg/day) in men and Spain-Granada (1.0 mg/day) in women. Northern European countries had higher intakes than southern countries. The main phytoestrogen contributors were isoflavones in both UK centres and lignans in the other EPIC cohorts. Age, body mass index, educational level, smoking status and physical activity were related to increased intakes of lignans, enterolignans and equol, but not to total phytoestrogen, isoflavone or coumestan intakes. In the UK cohorts, the major food sources of phytoestrogens were soy products. In the other EPIC cohorts the dietary sources were more distributed, among fruits, vegetables, soy products, cereal products, non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages.
Conclusions: There was a high variability in the dietary intake of total and phytoestrogen subclasses and their food sources across European regions.