Introduction: While the concept of a role of estrogen in gastrointestinal (in particular, colonic) malignancy has generated excitement in recent years, no review has examined the role of this potent and omnipresent steroid hormone in physiological states or its contribution to the development of benign pathological processes. Understanding these effects (and mechanisms therein) may provide a platform for a deeper understanding of more complex disease processes.
Methods: A literature search was conducted using the PubMed database and the search terms were "estrogen," "estrogen AND gastrointestinal tract," "estrogen AND colon," "estrogen AND esophagus," "estrogen AND small intestine," "estrogen AND stomach," "estrogen AND gallbladder," and "estrogen AND motility." Bibliographies of extracted studies were further cross-referenced. In all, 136 full-text articles were selected for review. A logical organ-based approach was taken to enable extraction of data of clinical relevance and meaningful interpretation thereof. Insight is provided into the hypotheses, theories, controversies, and contradictions generated over the last five decades by extensive investigation of estrogen in human, animal, and cell models using techniques as diverse as autoradiographic studies of baboons to human population analysis.
Conclusions: Effects from esophagus through to the colon and rectum are summarized in this first concise collection of data pertaining to estrogenic actions in gastrointestinal health and disease. Mechanisms of these actions are discussed where possible. Undoubtedly, this hormone exerts many actions yet to be elucidated, and its potential therapeutic applications remain, as yet, largely unexplored.