Plant-derived medicines for treatment of endometriosis: A comprehensive review of molecular mechanisms

Pharmacol Res. 2019 Jan;139:76-90. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2018.11.008. Epub 2018 Nov 6.


Endometriosis is an estrogen-dependent disease with inflammatory lesions at extra-uterine sites, causing pelvic pain and fertility reduction. Conventional therapies primarily focus on reducing systemic levels of estrogens; however, they do not have desirable effectiveness and possess considerable side effects. Therefore, there is a growing interest in the use of herbal medicine for the treatment of endometriosis. In this paper, electronic databases including PubMed, Scopus, Cochrane library and Google Scholar were searched to obtain any studies evaluating any herbal products in the management of endometriosis. Data were collected from 1980 to 2018. Most of studies investigating the effect of herbal medicines in endometriosis were in vitro and animal and only three clinical trials were found; one on Pinus pinaster bark extract (Pycnogenol) and two on Chinese herbal formulas. The studies on phytochemicals had mostly focused on polyphenolic compounds (epigallocatechin-3-gallate, genistein) and sesquiterpenes (β-caryophyllene, parthenolide). Various molecular mechanisms of action have been involved in beneficial effects of herbal medicines and phytochemicals including anti-inflammatory (via reduction of proinflammatory cytokines such as interleukin -1, interleukin -6, interleukin -8, transforming growth factor-beta, tumor necrosis factor-α, nuclear factor-kappa B, growth factors, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1), antioxidant (through downregulation of hydrogen peroxide, malondialdehyde, reactive oxygen species and upregulation of superoxide dismutase), anti-proliferative and apoptotic (via enhancing Bcl-2-associated X protein/ B-cell lymphoma-2 and caspase3, 8 and 9 activity), anti-angiogenic (by downregulation of vascular endothelial growth factor receptors/ vascular endothelial growth factor), anti-invasive (via decreasing expression of intercellular adhesion molecule-1, vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 and matrix metalloproteinases), immunomodulatory, and estrogen modulating activities. So, medicinal plants seem to be a valuable source for identifying new drugs for treatment of endometriosis; however, since most of studies are preclinical, further clinical trials are required to achieve more conclusive results.

Keywords: Endometrioma; Endometriosis; Herbal medicine; Phytochemical; Phytotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endometriosis / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plants, Medicinal