Phytoestrogens are plant-derived compounds found in a variety of foods, most notably, soy. These compounds have been shown to improve immuno-metabolic health, yet mechanisms remain uncertain. We demonstrated previously that dietary phytoestrogen-rich soy (SOY) rescued metabolic dysfunction/inflammation following ovariectomy (OVX) in female rats; we also noted remarkable shifts in gut microbiota in SOY vs control diet-fed rats. Importantly, specific bacteria that significantly increased in those fed the SOY correlated positively with several favorable host metabolic parameters. One mechanism by which gut microbes might lead to such host effects is through production of bacterial metabolites. To test this possibility, we utilized non-targeted gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GCMS) to assess the fecal metabolome in those previously studied animals. Partial least square discriminant analysis (PLSDA) revealed clear separation of fecal metabolomes based on diet and ovarian state. In particular, SOY-fed animals had greater fecal concentrations of the beneficial bacterial metabolite, S-equol, which was positively associated with several of the bacteria upregulated in the SOY group. S-equol was inversely correlated with important indicators of metabolic dysfunction and inflammation, suggesting that this metabolite might be a key mediator between SOY and gut microbiome-positive host health outcomes.
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