Background: The oxidative metabolism of estrogens in humans is mediated primarily by cytochrome P450, many isoenzymes of which are inducible by dietary and pharmacologic agents. One major pathway, 2-hydroxylation, is induced by dietary indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which is present in cruciferous vegetables (e.g., cabbage and broccoli).
Purpose: Because the pool of available estrogen substrates for all pathways is limited, we hypothesized that increased 2-hydroxylation of estrogens would lead to decreased activity in competing metabolic pathways.
Methods: Urine samples were collected from subjects before and after oral ingestion of I3C (6-7 mg/kg per day). In the first study, seven men received I3C for 1 week; in the second study, 10 women received I3C for 2 months. A profile of 13 estrogens was measured in each sample by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.
Results: In both men and women, I3C significantly increased the urinary excretion of C-2 estrogens. The urinary concentrations of nearly all other estrogen metabolites, including levels of estradiol, estrone, estriol, and 16alpha-hydroxyestrone, were lower after I3C treatment.
Conclusions: These findings support the hypothesis that I3C-induced estrogen 2-hydroxylation results in decreased concentrations of several metabolites known to activate the estrogen receptor. This effect may lower estrogenic stimulation in women.
Implications: I3C may have chemopreventive activity against breast cancer in humans, although the long-term effects of higher catechol estrogen levels in women require further investigation.