Equol, a metabolite of the dietary isoflavone daidzein, is produced by the action of gut bacteria in some individuals who are termed as equol-producers. It is proposed to have stronger atheroprotective properties than dietary isoflavones. We examined a cross-sectional association of dietary isoflavones and equol-producer status with coronary artery calcification (CAC), a biomarker of coronary atherosclerosis, among men in Japan. A population-based sample of 272 Japanese men aged 40–49 years recruited from 2004 to 2007 was examined for serum isoflavones, serum equol, CAC and other factors. Equol-producers were classified as individuals having a serum level of equol >83 nm. The presence of CAC was defined as a coronary Ca score ≥10 Agatston units. The associations of dietary isoflavones and equol-producers with CAC were analysed using multiple logistic regression. The median of dietary isoflavones, equol and CAC were 512·7 (interquartile range (IQR) 194·1, 1170·0), 9·1 (IQR 0·10, 33·1) and 0·0 (IQR 0·0, 1·0) nm, respectively. Prevalence of CAC and equol-producers was 9·6 and 16·0 %, respectively. Dietary isoflavones were not significantly associated with CAC. After multivariable adjustment, the OR for the presence of CAC in equol-producers compared with equol non-producers was 0·10 (95 % CI 0·01, 0·90, P<0·04). Equol-producers had significantly lower CAC than equol non-producers, but there was no significant association between dietary isoflavones and CAC, suggesting that equol may be a key factor for atheroprotective properties of isoflavones in Japanese men. This finding must be confirmed in larger studies or clinical trials of equol that is now available as a dietary supplement.