Phytoestrogens are potent inhibitors of estrogen sulfation: implications for breast cancer risk and treatment

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • Robert Harris
  • DD Wood
  • L Bottomley
  • Simone Blagg
  • [No Value] [No Value]

Colleges, School and Institutes


We investigated the ability of 37 flavonoids and flavonoid sulfoconjugates, including some abundant dietary constituents, to act as substrates and/or inhibitors of the sulfotransferase and sulfatase enzymes that interconvert active estrogens and inactive estrogen sulfates in human tissues. The enzymes studied include estrogen sulfotransferase, the thermostable phenolsulfotransferase that acts on a range of substrates including estrogens; steroid sulfatase; and two related enzymes, monoamine phenolsulfotransferase and arylsulfatase A. Several dietary flavonoids, including the soy isoflavones genistein and daidzein, were sulfated by these human sulfotransferases. Many flavonoids were potent inhibitors of thermostable phenolsulfotransferase. Genistein and equol were potent mixed inhibitors of hepatic estrogen sulfotransferase, with inhibitory constant values of 500 nM and 400 nM, respectively. Monoamine phenolsulfotransferase activity was relatively unaffected by flavonoids, but this enzyme was mainly responsible for the sulfation of flavonoids at concentrations greater than 1 micro M. Of the compounds tested, only daidzein 4,7-bisulfate, a trace metabolite in humans, significantly inhibited steroid sulfatase in the micromolar concentration range. Hence, dietary flavonoids may be able to influence the bioavailability of endogenous estrogens, and disrupt endocrine balance, by increasing the ratio of active estrogens to inactive estrogen sulfates in human tissues.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1779-87
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004