Phytoestrogens are plant-derived food ingredients assumed to contribute to the prevention of hormone-dependent cancers, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and menopausal symptoms. Lignans occur in numerous food plants and various structures; they are common constituents of human diet, and estrogen activity has been assessed for lignan metabolites formed in the mammalian intestine. We examined natural lignans and semisynthetic norlignans for estrogen and antiestrogen activity. A transformed yeast strain (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) expressing the estrogen receptor alpha and a reporter system was applied as test system. Some plant lignans showed estrogen activity while others and the semisynthetic norlignans were moderately active antiestrogens. Docking of lignans to protein models of estrogen receptor alpha in the active and inactive form sustained the results of the yeast estrogen assay and supported the concept of plant lignans as phytoestrogens.
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