Dietary factors including fat and fiber have been reported to play a role in the development of breast cancer, possibly mediated by changes in estradiol. Diet and exercise have been shown to affect levels of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), which in turn regulate the bioavailability of estradiol. Diet and exercise also affect insulin levels, which play a role in the synthesis of SHBG, and the hormone itself is a potent mitogen for many cancer cell lines. This study was designed to measure the effects of a low-fat, high-fiber diet, combined with regular aerobic exercise, on the levels of SHBG, insulin, and serum lipids in postmenopausal women with or without hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Two groups of postmenopausal women, 11 on HRT and 11 not on HRT, underwent a low-fat (1O% fat calories), high-fiber (65-70 g/day) diet-and-exercise intervention for three weeks. Serum SHBG, insulin, and lipids were measured before and after the regimen. After the intervention, SHBG levels were significantly increased for the women on HRT (44.5 +/- 3.4 vs. 62 +/- 6.4 nmol/l) and the women not on HRT (32.1 +/- 4.6 vs. 45.5 +/- 6.1 nmol/l, both changes p < 0.01). Also after the intervention, insulin levels were significantly reduced for the women on HRT (196 +/- 44.4 vs. 119.8 +/- 28.7 pmol/l) and the women not on HRT (144.2 +/- 17.9 vs. 115.5 +/- 20.8 pmol/l, both changes p < 0.01). Body mass index and total cholesterol were significantly reduced for both groups of women (all changes p < 0.01). Although the exact mechanism for the change in SHBG is not known, the increases in SHBG and reductions in insulin as a result of this lifestyle intervention should reduce the risk for breast cancer in postmenopausal women.