Risks and benefits of dietary isoflavones for cancer
A high intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of cancer. In this context, considerable attention is paid to Asian populations who consume high amounts of soy and soy-derived isoflavones, and have a lower risk for several cancer types such as breast and prostate cancers than populations in Western countries. Hence, interest focuses on soyfoods, soy products, and soy ingredients such as isoflavones with regard to their possible beneficial effects that were observed in numerous experiments and studies. The outcomes of the studies are not always conclusive, are often contradictory depending on the experimental conditions, and are, therefore, difficult to interpret. Isoflavone research revealed not only beneficial but also adverse effects, for instance, on the reproductive system. This is also the case with tumor-promoting effects on, for example, breast tissue. Isoflavone extracts and supplements are often used for the treatment of menopausal symptoms and for the prevention of age-associated conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. In relation to this, questions about the effectiveness and safety of isoflavones have to be clarified. Moreover, there are concerns about the maternal consumption of isoflavones due to the development of leukemia in infants. In contrast, men may benefit from the intake of isoflavones with regard to reducing the risk of prostate cancer. Therefore, this review examines the risks but also the benefits of isoflavones with regard to various kinds of cancer, which can be derived from animal and human studies as well as from in vitro experiments.