Purpose: The purpose of this study is to use a molecular docking approach to identify potential estrogen mimics or anti-estrogens in phytochemicals found in popular dietary herbal supplements.
Methods: In this study, 568 phytochemicals found in 17 of the most popular herbal supplements sold in the United States were built and docked with two isoforms of the estrogen receptor, ERα and ERβ (a total of 27 different protein crystal structures).
Results: The docking results revealed six strongly docking compounds in Echinacea, three from milk thistle (Silybum marianum), three from Gingko biloba, one from Sambucus nigra, none from maca (Lepidium meyenii), five from chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus), two from fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), and two from Rhodiola rosea. Notably, of the most popular herbal supplements for women, there were numerous compounds that docked strongly with the estrogen receptor: Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) had a total of 26 compounds strongly docking to the estrogen receptor, 15 with wild yam (Dioscorea villosa), 11 from black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), eight from muira puama (Ptychopetalum olacoides or P. uncinatum), eight from red clover (Trifolium pratense), three from damiana (Turnera aphrodisiaca or T. diffusa), and three from dong quai (Angelica sinensis). Of possible concern were the compounds from men's herbal supplements that exhibited strong docking to the estrogen receptor: Gingko biloba had three compounds, gotu kola (Centella asiatica) had two, muira puama (Ptychopetalum olacoides or P. uncinatum) had eight, and Tribulus terrestris had six compounds.
Conclusions: This molecular docking study has revealed that almost all popular herbal supplements contain phytochemical components that may bind to the human estrogen receptor and exhibit selective estrogen receptor modulation. As such, these herbal supplements may cause unwanted side effects related to estrogenic activity.
Keywords: Estrogen receptor; Herbal supplements; Molecular docking.