Epidemiological studies suggest a lowered risk of hormone-dependent cancers among vegetarians, but the basis for this association remains unclear. Vegetables and fruits contain certain compounds which can be converted to biologically active hormone-like substances, such as lignans and isoflavones, by intestinal flora. The interaction of these compounds with endogenous hormones may be a novel, diet-dependent mechanism in cancer prevention. To explore this possibility, we developed a rapid, specific assay system to screen for compounds with estrogen-like activity in tissue culture. We utilized the estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer cell MCF-7 and monitored the expression of the estrogen-responsive protein pS2 by Northern blots. Our results indicated that the phenolic compounds daidzein, equol, nordihydroguaiaretic acid, enterolactone, and kaempferol were able to elicit an estrogen-like response, while quercetin and entero-diol were not.
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