Asian men have much lower incidences of prostate cancer and possibly of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) than their Western counterparts. Vegetarian men also have a lower incidence of prostate cancer than omnivorous males. Both Asian and vegetarian men consume low-fat, high-fibre diets which provide a rich supply of weak dietary oestrogens. These plant or phyto-oestrogens have been proposed as chemopreventive agents, particularly for Asian men and to a lesser extent, for vegetarian men also. The three principal classes of phyto-oestrogens are the isoflavonoids, flavonoids and lignans. Many foods of plant origin contain varying amounts of these compounds and hundreds of plants manifest some degree of oestrogenic activity. Soya, a dietary staple in many parts of Asia, is a major source of the isoflavonoids, daidzein and genistein. Flavonoids are present in high concentration in many fruits, vegetables and crop species. In particular, apigenin and kaempferol are regarded as major flavonoids because of their common occurrence in plants, and their significant concentrations when present. Apples, onions and tea-leaves are excellent sources of flavonoids. Plant lignans are present in many cereals, grains, fruits and vegetables, and give rise to the mammalian lignans, enterodiol and enterolactone; however, the richest source is linseed (flaxseed) and other oilseeds. In addition to their oestrogenic activity, many of these plant compounds can interfere with steroid metabolism and bioavailability, and also inhibit enzymes, such as tyrosine kinase and topoisomerase, which are crucial to cellular proliferation.
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