Equol, a nonsteroidal estrogen of dietary origin, was recently identified in human urine, and is excreted in amounts comparable to the classical steroidal estrogens. We confirm here that phytoestrogens which are abundant in dietary soya protein are converted by human gastrointestinal flora to this weak estrogen. After the ingestion of meals containing cooked soya protein the urinary excretion of equol in four of six subjects studied increased by up to 1000-fold and this compound was the major phenolic compound found in the urine. These data also indicate that some subjects are unable to either produce or excrete equol despite the challenge of a diet containing soya. In view of the increasing use of commercial soya products in the diet and the capacity of human bacterial flora to synthesize this weak estrogen from the abundance of phytoestrogens in soya, the potential relevance of these observations to the diseases implicating steroid hormones is discussed.