Soy isoflavones are hypothesized to be responsible for changes in hormone action associated with reduced breast cancer risk. To test this hypothesis, we studied the effects of isoflavone consumption in 14 premenopausal women. Isoflavones were consumed in soy protein powders and provided relative to body weight (control diet, 10 +/- 1.1; low isoflavone diet, 64 +/- 9.2; high isoflavone diet, 128 +/- 16 mg/day) for three menstrual cycles plus 9 days in a randomized cross-over design. During the last 6 weeks of each diet period, plasma was collected every other day for analysis of estrogens, progesterone, LH, and FSH. Diet effects were assessed during each of four distinctly defined menstrual cycle phases. Plasma from the early follicular phase was analyzed for androgens, cortisol, thyroid hormones, insulin, PRL, and sex hormone-binding globulin. The low isoflavone diet decreased LH (P = 0.009) and FSH (P = 0.04) levels during the periovulatory phase. The high isoflavone diet decreased free T3 (P = 0.02) and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (P = 0.02) levels during the early follicular phase and estrone levels during the midfollicular phase (P = 0.02). No other significant changes were observed in hormone concentrations or in the length of the menstrual cycle, follicular phase, or luteal phase. Endometrial biopsies performed in the luteal phase of cycle 3 of each diet period revealed no effect of isoflavone consumption on histological dating. These data suggest that effects on plasma hormones and the menstrual cycle are not likely to be the primary mechanisms by which isoflavones may prevent cancer in premenopausal women.