Estrogen bioactivity in fo-ti and other herbs used for their estrogen-like effects as determined by a recombinant cell bioassay

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003 Sep;88(9):4077-9. doi: 10.1210/jc.2003-030349.


One of the most important issues in women's health concerns the risks and benefits of estrogen replacement therapy. Continual uncertainty and lack of consensus regarding estrogen replacement therapy has driven many women to seek alternative sources of estrogen, including herbal remedies. We adapted a recombinant cell bioassay to measure estrogen bioactivity in herbs. We studied, in vitro, estrogen bioactivity in red clover, dong quai, black cohosh, soy, licorice, chaste tree berry, fo-ti, and hops. Soy, clover, licorice, and hops have a large amount of measurable estrogen bioactivity, as suspected, based on previous reports using other methods. We discovered surprisingly high estrogen activity in extracts of fo-ti not previously reported. Chaste tree berry, black cohosh, and dong quai did not have measurable activity with this method. We also discovered that removal of a glycone group from soy increases its estrogen bioactivity significantly. We conclude that this recombinant cell bioassay for estradiol can be used to measure bioactivity in herbal products. The preparations of fo-ti studied had estrogen activity of 409 +/- 55 pmol/liter estradiol equivalents per microgram of herb, which is 1/300 the activity of 17 beta-estradiol. Clinical studies are underway to determine the estrogen bioactivity in women using dietary supplements containing these herbs.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Assay
  • Estradiol / biosynthesis
  • Estrogens / biosynthesis
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Glycine max / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Isoflavones*
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plant Preparations
  • Plants, Medicinal / chemistry*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / genetics
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae


  • Estrogens
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal
  • Isoflavones
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Preparations
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Estradiol