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Neuromodulation by soy diets or equol: Anti-depressive & anti-obesity-like influences, age- & hormone-dependent effects

Crystal Blake1, Kimberly M Fabick1, Kenneth DR Setchell2, Trent D Lund3 and Edwin D Lephart1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Physiology and Developmental Biology and The Neuroscience Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah 84602 USA

2 Division of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Clinical Mass Spectrometry, Department of Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio 45229 USA

3 Stoelting Co., 620 Wheat Lane, Wood Dale, Illinois, 60191 USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2011, 12:28  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-12-28

Published: 16 March 2011



Soy-derived isoflavones potentially protect against obesity and depression. In five different studies we examined the influence of soy-containing diets or equol injections on depression, serotonin levels, body weight gain (BW) and white adipose tissue (WAT) deposition in female Long-Evans rats at various stages of life [rats were intact, ovariectomized or experienced natural ovarian failure (NOF)].


In general, animals fed a soy-rich diet (Phyto-600) and/or administered equol (@ 5 mg/kg/day) displayed significant decreases in BW and WAT compared to a low-soy diet. When equol was injected alone (5 mg/kg/day), experiments 1, 4, and 5 demonstrated that body weight was significantly decreased. Equol has body weight control effects in females that are dependent on ovarian status and/or age of diet initiation. Experiments 1-4 all displayed no significant differences in depressive-related behavior as measured by the Prosolt forced swim test (PFST) when soy-rich (Phyto-600) or low-soy diets (Phyto-low) or equol treatments (5 mg/kg/day) were tested in female rats at various ages or hormonal status. Results of all the experiments are not presented here due to space limitations, but data from experiment 5 are presented. From conception female rats were exposed to either: a) a soy-rich (Phyto-600) or b) low-soy diet (Phyto-low). After 290 days all rats experienced NOF. At 330 days-old the animals were examined in the Porsolt forced swim test (PFST). One month later a second PFST was performed [after Phyto-low fed animals were injected with equol (5 mg/kg/day) for one week prior to the second PFST]. At the first PFST, serotonin and mobility levels were significantly decreased in the Phyto-low fed animals compared to animals that consumed the Phyto-600 diet. After equol injections at the second PFST, mobility and serotonin levels significantly increased in aged NOF rats fed the Phyto-low diet (to levels comparable to Phyto-600 fed animals).


Consumption of dietary isoflavones or equol exposure in rats has body weight controlling effects and equol specifically may have antidepressant potential dependent upon diet initiation and/or dosage of treatments. The current study demonstrates that equol is able to decrease body weight, abdominal WAT, and depressive-related behavior. While other factors and mechanisms may play a role, in part, the present results provide a greater understanding of how isoflavonoid molecules modulate the brain's influence on behavior.