Objective: Estrogen deficiency after menopause results in rapid bone loss, predisposing women to osteoporotic fractures. Genistein, a phytoestrogen present in high concentrations in soy, is an ingredient in dietary supplements aggressively marketed for bone health. However, in a recent long-duration clinical trial in postmenopausal women, the efficacy of soy extracts in reducing bone loss was disappointing. To better understand the failure of soy extracts to consistently induce a robust skeletal response in women, we investigated the long-term (5 mo) efficacy of genistein, administered as a daily oral supplement, (1) in preventing cancellous bone loss in skeletally mature virgin Long-Evans rats ovariectomized at 7 months of age and (2) in improving cancellous bone mass and architecture in aged retired-breeder rats ovariectomized at 16 or 22 months of age.
Methods: Rats within each age group were randomly assigned into one of three treatment groups (n = 7-12 rats/group): (1) vehicle control, (2) genistein 485 μg/day, or (3) genistein 970 μg/day, resulting in mean (SE) serum genistein levels of 0.18 (0.10), 0.76 (0.15), and 1.48 (0.31) μM, respectively. Total tibia bone mass and density were evaluated using dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, whereas cancellous bone mass and architecture in the tibial metaphysis, as well as cortical bone mass and architecture in the tibial diaphysis, were evaluated by micro-CT.
Results: Oral genistein administered as a dietary supplement did not influence the cumulative effects of ovariectomy, aging, and/or reproductive history on cancellous and cortical bone mass and architecture.
Conclusions: Serum levels of genistein similar to those in women consuming a high-soy diet are ineffective in preventing or treating bone loss in rat models for postmenopausal osteoporosis.