a1 School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK
Following the high-profile studies on hormone replacement therapy which provided little evidence in support of the drug therapy improving future health, there remains a growing demand for dietary solutions for maintaining health and preventing disease as women age. Although interest in the relative importance of phyto-oestrogens to human health has increased dramatically over the last decade, the effective dose for health benefits and hypothetical issues on safety remain to be resolved. Plausible mechanisms and epidemiological data are available to support the concept that phyto-oestrogen-rich diets exert physiological effects, but optimal doses and sources of these compounds have still not been elucidated for specific health benefits. In addition, much of the current mechanistic data are difficult to interpret as the experiments have incorporated levels of phyto-oestrogens that may not be achievable in vivo and have to date only used aglycones and glycosides of the pure compounds rather than examining the biological effects of gut and liver metabolites. The present review will concentrate on the isoflavone subclass of phyto-oestrogens, as, to date, these compounds have received most attention from both a commercial and research perspective.