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Animal research suggests plant estrogens in soy do not increase breast cancer risk

three diets for three years: soy that didn't contain isoflavones, soy with the isoflavones intact, or soy without isoflavones, but with Premarin, or estrogen therapy, added.

The isoflavone group consumed the human equivalent of about 129 milligrams a day, more than most people would get in a soy-rich diet.

The researchers measured breast density, numbers of dividing breast and uterine cells, and levels of the estrogen produced by the body all markers for cancer risk. Monkeys on the soy plus estrogen diet had increased levels of all markers, while monkeys that ate soy with isoflavones did not.

In fact, the monkeys eating soy with isoflavones had lower levels of the estrogen produced by the body. High levels of this estrogen are considered an important predictor of breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women.

"These findings suggest that high dietary levels of soy isoflavones do not increase markers for breast and uterine cancer risk in postmenopausal monkeys and may contribute to an estrogen profile associated with reduced breast cancer risk," said the researchers.

Wood said it is important to note that the research addressed the effects of plant estrogens on normal breast tissue, and not in breast cancer.

"A big unanswered question is whether it is safe for breast cancer survivors to turn to soy," he said.

Researchers are not certain how plant estrogens and the estrogen produced by the body, or given in pills, act together. One theory is that the plant estrogens bind to cells that have estrogen receptors, such as breast tissue, and block the effects of the other types of estrogen. Isoflavones may also help reduce the amount of active estrogen in the body.

To investigate these ideas, Wood and colleagues are currently looking at whether soy may block breast cell proliferation induced by estrogen therapy.


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Contact: Shannon Koontz
shkoontz@wfubmc.edu
336-716-4587
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center
6-Jul-2004


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