Primary prevention through lifestyle interventions is a cost-effective alternative for preventing a large burden of chronic and degenerative diseases, including cancer, which is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. In the past decade, epidemiologic and preclinical evidence suggested that polyphenolic phytochemicals present in many plant foods possess chemopreventive properties against several cancer forms. Thus, there has been increasing interest in the potential cancer chemopreventive agents obtained from natural sources, such as polyphenols, that may represent a new, affordable approach to curb the increasing burden of cancer throughout the world. Several epidemiologic studies showed a relation between a soy-rich diet and cancer prevention, which was attributed to the presence of a phenolic compound, genistein, present in soy-based foods. Genistein acts as a chemotherapeutic agent against different types of cancer, mainly by altering apoptosis, the cell cycle, and angiogenesis and inhibiting metastasis. Targeting caspases, B cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2)-associated X protein (Bax), Bcl-2, kinesin-like protein 20A (KIF20A), extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2), nuclear transcription factor κB (NF-κB), mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK), inhibitor of NF-κB (IκB), Wingless and integration 1 β-catenin (Wnt/β-catenin), and phosphoinositide 3 kinase/Akt (PI3K/Akt) signaling pathways may act as the molecular mechanisms of the anticancer, therapeutic effects of genistein. Genistein also shows synergistic behavior with well-known anticancer drugs, such as adriamycin, docetaxel, and tamoxifen, suggesting a potential role in combination therapy. This review critically analyzes the available literature on the therapeutic role of genistein on different types of cancer, focusing on its chemical features, plant food sources, bioavailability, and safety.
Keywords: bioavailability; cancer; genistein; safety; source.
© 2015 American Society for Nutrition.