Zearalenone (ZEN) is a non-steroidal mycoestrogen that widely contaminates agricultural products. ZEN and its derivatives share similar molecular mechanisms and activity with estrogens and interact with ERα and ERβ leading to changes in the reproductive system in both animals and humans. The reduced form of ZEN, α-ZEA ralenol, has been used as an anabolic agent for animals and also proposed as hormonal replacement therapy in postmenopausal women. Furthermore, both zearelanol ZEN and derivatives have been patented as oral contraceptives. ZEN has been widely used in the United States since 1969 to improve fattening rates in cattle by increasing growth rate and feed conversion efficiency. Evidence of human harm from this practice is provided by observations of central precocious puberty. As a result, this practice has been banned by the European Union. As ZEN has been associated with breast enlargement in humans, it has been included in many bust-enhancing dietary supplements but epidemiological evidence is lacking with regard to breast cancer risk. Extensive work with human breast cancer cell lines has shown estrogenic stimulation in those possessing ER but a reduction in DMBA-induced breast cancers in rodents given ZEN. Protein disulfide isomerase provides a molecular biomarker of dietary exposure to ZEN and its derivatives allowing the detection and control of harmful food intake. The interaction of ZEN with anti-estrogens, anticancer agents and antioxidants requires further investigation.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.