Soy, phyto-oestrogens and male reproductive function: a review


Serge Nef, Department of Genetic Medicine and Development, University of Geneva Medical School, 1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland. E-mail:


There is growing interest in the possible health threat posed by the effects of endocrine disruptors on reproduction. Soy and soy-derived products contain isoflavones that mimic the actions of oestrogens and may exert adverse effects on male fertility. The purpose of this review was to examine the evidence regarding the potential detrimental effects of soy and phyto-oestrogens on male reproductive function and fertility in humans and animals. Overall, there are some indications that phyto-oestrogens, alone or in combination with other endocrine disruptors, may alter reproductive hormones, spermatogenesis, sperm capacitation and fertility. However, these results must be interpreted with care, as a result of the paucity of human studies and as numerous reports did not reveal any adverse effects on male reproductive physiology. Further investigation is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn. In the meantime, caution would suggest that perinatal phyto-oestrogen exposure, such as that found in infants feeding on soy-based formula, should be avoided.