Does genistein promote or prevent breast cancer?

December 2, 2008 by  
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 Diet plays and important role in the development of breast cancer, especially among Caucasian women. It estimated that food and drinks contribute to about 50% of all newly diagnosed breast cancer.

The phytochemical genistein belongs to a class of compounds called isoflavones found in many plants. Genistein is found mainly in the soybean plant from which tofu and other soy products are made. Isoflavones are said to have string antioxidant properties although some studies suggest that genistein has actually the opposite (oxidation) effect.

In addition, genistein has been shown to interact with human estrogen receptors, and can mimic effects similar to those of estrogen. Recently, the US FDA has approved over-the-counter soya-based supplements as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women.

This review paper by researchers at the Georgetown University tries to answer whether genistein promotes or inhibits the formation of tumors in breast cancer. This topic sparked interest when it way observed that breast cancer is lower among Asian women compared to white women. However, this risk cannot be explained solely by genetic and ethnic factors because Asian women who migrated to the US tended to develop the risk level of Caucasian women within 2 generations. There is therefore, a strong possibility that lifestyle change -especially diet – may play an important in this increased risk.

Asian diet is rich with tofu and other soy products. Soy products have long been though to be a wonder health food that is beneficial to cardiovascular health although many experts believe otherwise. Over the years, numerous studies on the health effects of soy products have been conducted with contradicting or inconclusive results.

The conclusions of the review paper are as follows:

It is clear that more research is needed before the truth about genistein is to be known. In the meantime, we should keep in mind that breast cancer development is not only due to diet but due to other lifestyle as well as environmental factors.

 Photo credit: stoxk.xchng

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