CrossRef enabled

PAC Archives

Archive →

Pure Appl. Chem., 2003, Vol. 75, No. 11-12, pp. 2047-2053

Toxicity vs. beneficial effects of phytoestrogens

H. Wanibuchi, J. S. Kang, E. I. Salim, K. Morimura and S. Fukushima

Department of Pathology, Osaka City University Medical School, Osaka 545-8585, Japan

Phytoestrogens are nonsteroidal plant-derived compounds possessing estrogenic activity. These include two major classes: isoflavonoids and lignans. Phytoestrogens have received recently great attention because of their beneficial effects, which include the prevention of cancer, atherosclerosis, and bone density loss. However, they have estrogenic activity and may affect as endocrine disruptors. In this review, we pay attention to both the toxic and beneficial effects of phytoestrogens.
Epidemiological data support that isoflavonoids help prevent cancer of breast, prostate, stomach, and lung. However, there have been some reports about a positive association between some phytoestrogens (e.g., campesterol and stigmasterol) and prostate cancer risk. Animal experiments and in vitro experiments have shown that the biological effects of phytoestrogens may be organ-specific, inhibiting cancer development in some sites, yet showing no effect or an enhancing effect on tumorigenesis at other sites. Also, their effects may be dependent on the timing and duration of exposure. For example, several studies in rodents have established that the favorable effect of an isoflavone-rich diet on breast cancer risk may be significant only if consumption occurs before puberty or during adolescence. On the other hand, prenatal exposure of genistein was reported to have a carcinogenic effect on the uterus of rodents. Phytoestrogen, especially soy products, has been used as hormone-replacement therapy, reducing such symptoms as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood changes while protecting women from osteoporosis and heart disease. However, the animal data suggest that the timing of exposure to such compounds is crucial, with neonatal exposure having the most pronounced effects. Given the exposure of neonates to phytoestrogens, this should be a cause for concern.