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Anal Biochem. 2000 Dec 1;287(1):102-9.

Extraction and quantification of lignan phytoestrogens in food and human samples.

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  • 1Dunn Human Nutrition Unit, Medical Research Council, Hills Road, Cambridge, CB2 2XY, United Kingdom.


Dietary phytoestrogens have a number of biological effects, including endocrine disruption, antioxidant potential, and protein tyrosine kinase inhibition. Secoisolariciresinol, matairesinol, and shonanin are lignan phytoestrogens found in foodstuffs, especially flaxseed. Normally they are glycosidically linked to carbohydrates and in the large intestine are deconjugated from the carbohydrate portion by bacteria. The aglycone lignans can be further modified to form the mammalian phytoestrogens enterodiol, enterolactone, and enterofuran, which are absorbed into the body and excreted in urine. To assess the health implications of phytoestrogens in general populations, knowledge of the quantity in the foods eaten is necessary. This article describes a simple preparative procedure for the assay of secoisolariciresinol, matairesinol, and shonanin in foodstuffs after hydrolytic removal of any conjugated carbohydrate. The difficulties in the practical application of the assay procedure are illustrated and discussed. Analytical results indicating the concentration of secoisolariciresinol, matairesinol, and shonanin in a number of foodstuffs are presented. Also, the mass spectral data of a putative mammalian phytoestrogen, called enterofuran, identified in urine are presented.

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