Soy compounds thwart estrogen

From New Orleans, at the e.hormone 2003 Conference

Although soybeans have gained renown as a source of the isoflavones genistein and daidzein, which can mimic the activity of the hormone estrogen, those same compounds occasionally have the opposite effect and block estrogen’s activity. Now, a team of New Orleans researchers reports that a different family of soy isoflavones blocks estrogen even more consistently.

These unusual isoflavones, known as glyceollins, might lead researchers to improved drugs that starve breast cancers of the estrogen that many depend upon, notes research leader Stephen M. Boué of the Agriculture Department’s Southern Regional Research Center.

When soybeans are infected or otherwise stressed, the plants make three glyceollins with natural pesticidal properties. In their experiments, Boué and his team infected tissue from soybean seeds with a fungus. Within 3 days, the concentration of glyceollins in the bean tissue spiked to as much as 1,000 parts per million.

When added to human breast cancer cells in a lab dish, the glyceollins inhibited the estrogen-sensitive cells’ growth. The glyceollins also dramatically reduced the ability of estrogen to turn on the cellular receptors that it usually activates.

Estrogen receptors come in two types: alpha and beta. Though glyceollins inhibited estrogen’s binding to both, the compounds proved far more effective at suppressing activity of the alpha receptors–the ones that play a central role in the growth of most breast cancers. In contrast, Boué notes, daidzein and genistein have their biggest effect on the beta receptors.


If you have a comment on this article that you would like considered for publication in Science News, send it to Please include your name and location.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

More Stories from Science News on Health & Medicine