Differences in ability to metabolize daidzein to equol might help explain inconsistent findings about isoflavones and breast cancer. We examined equol-producing status in relation to breast density, a marker of breast cancer risk, and evaluated whether an association of isoflavone intake with breast density differs by equol-producing status in a sample of Chinese immigrant women.
Participants were 224 women, ages 36 to 58 years, enrolled in a study on diet and breast density. All women completed dietary recall interviews, underwent a soy challenge to assess equol-producing status, and received a mammogram assessed for breast density using a computer-assisted method.
In our sample, 30% were classified as equol producers. In adjusted linear regression models, equol producers had significantly lower mean dense tissue area (32.8 vs. 37.7 cm(2), P = 0.03) and lower mean percent breast density (32% vs. 35%, P = 0.03) than nonproducers. Significant inverse associations of isoflavone intake with dense area and percent density were apparent, but only in equol producers (interaction P = 0.05 for both).
These results support the possibility that equol-producing status affects breast density and that effects of isoflavones on breast density depend on ability to metabolize daidzein to equol.
Although these findings warrant confirmation in a larger sample, they offer a possible explanation for the inconsistent findings about soy intake and breast density and possibly breast cancer risk as well. The findings further suggest the importance of identifying factors that influence equol-producing status and exploring appropriate targeting of interventions.