Isoflavones are found in leguminous plants, especially soybeans. They have a structural similarity to natural estrogens, which enables them to bind to estrogen receptors and elicit biological activities similar to natural estrogens. They have been suggested to be beneficial for the prevention and therapy of hormone-dependent diseases. After soy products are consumed, the bacteria of the intestinal microflora metabolize isoflavones to metabolites with altered absorption, bioavailability, and estrogenic characteristics. Variations in the effect of soy products have been correlated with the isoflavone metabolites found in plasma and urine samples of the individuals consuming soy products. The beneficial effects of the soy isoflavone daidzin, the glycoside of daidzein, have been reported in individuals producing equol, a reduction product of daidzein produced by specific colonic bacteria in individuals called equol producers. These individuals comprise 30% and 60% of populations consuming Western and soy-rich Asian diets, respectively. Since the higher percentage of equol producers in populations consuming soy-rich diets is correlated with a lower incidence of hormone-dependent diseases, considerable efforts have been made to detect the specific colonic bacteria involved in the metabolism of daidzein to the more estrogenic compound, equol, which should facilitate the investigation of the metabolic activities related to this compound.
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