Experimental evidence was sought concerning whether soy phytoestrogens (SPEs) inhibit postmenopausal atherosclerosis progression/extent and, if so, their effectiveness relative to traditional estrogen replacement therapy. Premenopausal cynomolgus monkeys were fed a moderately atherogenic diet (26 months) to induce atherosclerosis. After ovariectomy, the moderately atherogenic diet was continued, and they were treated (36 months) with a control diet (soy protein depleted of SPEs), a diet containing SPEs in soy protein isolate, or a diet containing SPE-depleted soy protein with conjugated equine estrogens (CEE; Premarin) added. SPE effects on plasma lipids were better than those of CEE (higher high density lipoprotein cholesterol and no increase in triglyceride). Relative to the control group, CEE treatment inhibited (P = 0.0001), and SPE treatment partially inhibited (P = 0.10) the progression of atherosclerosis (common iliac artery atherosclerosis before and after treatment). CEE-treated monkeys had much less coronary artery atherosclerosis than the controls (P = 0.0002), whereas SPE-treated monkeys were intermediate in lesion extent between the controls and the CEE-treated animals (P = 0.02). Both CEE and SPE significantly reduced the extent of common carotid and internal carotid artery atherosclerosis, and the two treatment groups were not significantly different.