Estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) decreases the progression of coronary artery atherosclerosis in monkeys. Dietary soy protein also retards the progression of atherosclerosis relative to animal proteins such as casein. Soy protein contains weakly estrogenic compounds called isoflavones or phytoestrogens that may be responsible for the cardioprotective effects. This study was designed as a 2 x 2 factorial to determine the magnitude of soy protein's effects on cardiovascular risk factors relative to casein and lactalbumin, with or without estradiol treatment. Ovariectomized female monkeys were randomized to four treatment groups based on past dietary cholesterol consumption, their origin, and past reproductive history, and studied for 7 months. The animals were divided into (1) a group fed casein and lactalbumin as the protein source (n = 14), (2) a group fed casein and lactalbumin as the protein source plus 17 beta-estradiol (E2) (n = 13), (3) a group fed soybean protein isolate as the protein source (n = 11), and (4) a group fed soybean protein isolate as the protein source plus E2 (n = 10). Soy protein compared with casein consumption resulted in a significant improvement in plasma lipid and lipoprotein concentrations, a significant improvement in insulin sensitivity and glucose effectiveness as determined by minimal-model analyses, and a decrease in arterial lipid peroxidation. E2-treated monkeys had a significant reduction in fasting insulin levels and insulin to glucose ratios, total body weight, and amounts of abdominal fat, and had smaller low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles. In addition, E2 treatment resulted in a significant reduction (P = .001) in aortic cholesteryl ester content. A similar trend (P = .14) was found for soy protein compared with casein. There also was a significant interaction (P = .02) with soy and E2, such that animals consuming soy protein +E2 had the least arterial cholesteryl ester content. These results suggest that both ERT and dietary soybean protein have beneficial effects on cardiovascular risk factors. Interestingly, the two treatments affected different risk factors and together resulted in the greatest reduction in arterial cholesterol content. Further studies are needed to determine the active component of the soy protein and to assess its long-term effects on the cardiovascular system and other organ systems (such as the bones and reproductive system).