Background: Isoflavones are naturally occurring flavonoids, commonly found in the food
consumed for centuries in the East-Asian population, characterized by a structure able to exert nonsteroidal
estrogen-like activity on human cells. They have attracted researcher interest all around the
word, following the results obtained in epidemiological and clinical studies. The involvement of isoflavones
and their metabolites in various biological processes suggests that they can influence several
metabolic pathways and can influence the gene expression at epigenetic level, involving effects that
probably are due to early life exposure. They show positive health effects on several diseases, especially
in the prevention of coronary heart and neurological diseases, hormone-related cancers, osteoporosis,
and postmenopausal symptoms.
Methods: We have performed a critical evaluation of available literature trough a structured search of
bibliographic databases about isoflavones health promoting properties, risk assessment and mechanisms
of action. In addition, we supplied useful information on their biochemical properties, sources and bioavailability.
Results: Although these molecules have been the subjects of numerous researches, their role for the
wellness of the human organism remains controversial. Moreover, there are substantial inconsistencies
between the results obtained by epidemiologic studies conducted on Eastern population, which found
high health promoting properties, and Western clinical trials, which found much less positive effects.
Conclusion: Further epidemiologic studies and well-designed prospective human studies are to determine
the beneficial effects of isoflavones exposure, as well as establishing its safe therapeutic.