Assessing exposure to lignans and their metabolites in humans

J AOAC Int. Jul-Aug 2006;89(4):1174-81.


Phytoestrogens occur naturally in plants and are structurally similar to mammalian estrogens. The lignans are a class of phytoestrogen and can be metabolized to the biologically active enterolignans, enterodiol, and enterolactone by a consortium of intestinal bacteria. Secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG), a plant lignan, is metabolized to enterodiol and, subsequently, enterolactone. Matairesinol, another plant lignan, is metabolized to enterolactone. Other dietary enterolignan precursors include lariciresinol, pinoresinol, syringaresinol, arctigenin, and sesamin. Enterolignan exposure is determined in part by intake of these precursors, gut bacterial activity, and host conjugating enzyme activity. A single SDG dose results in enterolignan appearance in plasma 8-10 h later--a timeframe associated with colonic bacterial metabolism and absorption. Conjugation of enterolignans with sulfate and glucuronic acid occurs in the intestinal wall and liver, with the predominant conjugates being glucuronides. Controlled feeding studies have demonstrated dose-dependent urinary lignan excretion in response to flaxseed consumption (a source of SDG); however, even in the context of controlled studies, there is substantial interindividual variation in plasma concentrations and urinary excretion of enterolignans. The complex interaction between colonic environment and external and internal factors that modulate it likely contribute to this variation. Knowledge of this field, to date, indicates that understanding the sources of variation and measuring the relevant panel of compounds are important in order to use these measures effectively in evaluating the impact of lignans on human health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Butylene Glycols / analysis*
  • Diet
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Flax / metabolism
  • Food Analysis / methods*
  • Furans / analysis
  • Glucosides / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Lignans / analysis
  • Lignans / blood
  • Lignans / chemistry*
  • Lignans / metabolism
  • Models, Chemical
  • Phytoestrogens / analysis
  • Plant Extracts / metabolism


  • Butylene Glycols
  • Furans
  • Glucosides
  • Lignans
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Extracts
  • matairesinol
  • secoisolariciresinol diglucoside