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Front. Nutr. | doi: 10.3389/fnut.2019.00142

Effects of Phytoestrogens on the Developing Brain, Gut Microbiota, and Risk for Neurobehavioral Disorders

  • 1Bond Life Sciences Center Investigator and Biomedical Sciences, University of Missouri, United States

Many pregnant and lactating women consume high amounts of soy and other plant products that contain phytoestrogens, such as genistein and daidzein. Infants may also be provided soy-based formulas. With their ability to bind and activate estrogen receptors (ESR) in the brain, such compounds can disrupt normal brain programming and lead to later neurobehavioral disruptions. However, other studies suggest that maternal consumption of soy and soy-based formulas containing such chemicals might lead to beneficial behavioral effects. Select gut microbes might also convert daidzein and to a lesser extent genistein to even more potent forms, e.g., equol derivatives. Thus, infant exposure to phytoestrogens might lead to contrasting effects dependent upon the gut flora. It is also becoming apparent that consumption or exposure to these xenoestrogens may lead to gut dysbiosis. Phytoestrogen-induced changes in gut bacteria might in turn affect the brain through various mechanisms. This review will consider the evidence to date in rodent and other animal models and human epidemiological data as to whether developmental exposure to phytoestrogens, in particular genistein and daidzein, adversely or beneficially impact offspring neurobehavioral programming. Consideration will be given to potential mechanisms by which such compounds might affect neurobehavioral responses. A better understanding of the effects perinatal exposure to phytoestrogen may have on brain programming will permit pregnant women and those seeking to become pregnant to make better educated choices. If gut dysbiosis is responsible for some of such changes, it may also pave the way to potential remediation strategies, namely pre-, pro-, or post-biotics.

Keywords: Genistein, daidzein, microbiome, cognition & emotion, learning and memory, Anxiety, Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Soy formula, Sex diferences

Received: 08 Jun 2019; Accepted: 14 Aug 2019.

Edited by:

Susan Ozanne, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Mercedes G. López, Center for Research and Advanced Studies (CINVESTAV), Mexico
Shayne Mason, North-West University, South Africa  

Copyright: © 2019 Rosenfeld. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mx. Cheryl S. Rosenfeld, University of Missouri, Bond Life Sciences Center Investigator and Biomedical Sciences, Columbia, 65211, MO, United States, rosenfeldc@missouri.edu