Clinical Science

Research article

Effect of a phytoestrogen food supplement on reproductive health in normal males

Julie H. MITCHELL, Elizabeth CAWOOD, David KINNIBURGH, Anne PROVAN, Andrew R. COLLINS, D. Stewart IRVINE


Animal studies and human intervention trials have demonstrated the cancer chemopreventive properties of plant phytoestrogens, and phytoestrogen supplements are now widely available ‘over-the-counter’. However, consumption of phytoestrogen-rich diets can cause impaired fertility and reproductive tract disorders in some animals and the apparent decline in human sperm quality over recent decades may be related to increased exposure to environmental endocrine disruptors. The present study determines the effects of a short-term phytoestrogen supplement on semen quality and serum sex steroid and gonadotrophin levels in human males. Healthy volunteers took a supplement containing 40 mg of isoflavones daily for 2 months and donated blood and semen samples monthly for 2 months before and 4 months after supplementation. Semen samples were analysed for ejaculate volume, sperm concentration, total sperm count, motility and morphology. Blood samples were analysed for sex hormone and gonadotrophin levels and phytoestrogen concentrations, and testicular volume was measured using an orchidometer. The phytoestrogen supplement increased plasma genistein and daidzein concentrations to approx. 1 µM and 0.5 µM respectively; yet, there was no observable effect on endocrine measurements, testicular volume or semen parameters over the study period. This is the first study to examine the effects of a phytoestrogen supplement on reproductive health in males. We conclude that the phytoestrogen dose consumed had no effect on semen quality.

  • endocrine disruptors
  • fertility
  • isoflavones
  • phytoestrogens
  • reproductive health