Exposure to estrogenic compounds may pose a developmental hazard to infants. Soy products, which contain the phytoestrogens, genistein and daidzein, are becoming increasingly popular as infant foods. To begin to evaluate the potential of the phytoestrogens in these products to affect infants, we measured total genistein and daidzein contents of commercially available soy-based infant formulas, infant cereals, dinners, and rusks. We also assayed phytoestrogens in dairy-based formulas and in breast milk from omnivorous or vegetarian mothers. In most cases, the glucoside forms of the phytoestrogens were hydrolyzed before separation by HPLC.
Mean (±SEM) total genistein and daidzein contents in four soy infant formulas were 87 ± 3 and 49 ± 2 μg/g, respectively. The phytoestrogen content of cereals varied with brand, with genistein ranging from 3-287 μg/g and daidzein from 2-276 μg/g. By contrast, no phytoestrogens were detected in dairy-based infant formulas or in human breast milk, irrespective of the mother's diet (detection limit = 0.05 μg/ml). When fed according to the manufacturer's instruction, soy formulas provide the infant with a daily dose rate of total isoflavones (i.e., genistein + daidzein) of approximately 3 mg/kg body weight, which is maintained at a fairly constant level between 0-4 months of age. Supplementing the diet of 4-month-old infants with a single daily serving of cereal can increase their isoflavone intake by over 25%, depending on the brand chosen. This rate of isoflavone intake is much greater than that shown in adult humans to alter reproductive hormones. Since the available evidence suggests that infants can digest and absorb dietary phytoestrogens in active forms and since neonates are generally more susceptible than adults to perturbations of the sex steroid milieu, we suggest that it would be highly desirable to study the effects of soy isoflavones on steroid-dependent developmental processes in human babies.