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Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2003 Feb;73(1):19-23.

Ergosterol (major sterol of baker's and brewer's yeast extracts) inhibits the growth of human breast cancer cells in vitro and the potential role of its oxidation products.

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Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH 45219, USA.


The derivation of chemopreventive agents from dietary sources has been the subject of considerable attention in recent years. Yeast extracts have been used as nutritional supplements for a number of years. In this communication we show that ergosterol (a 28-carbon sterol found in baker's and brewer's yeast) can prevent growth of breast cancer cells in vitro in the presence of estradiol-17 beta. Estrogen receptor (+) MCF-7 cells appear to be more sensitive to ergosterol than estrogen receptor (-) MDA-231 cells. However, MDA-231 cells were more sensitive to ergosterol in terms of apoptotic effects than MCF-7 cells, indicating that other mechanisms (antiestrogenic activity) may also be operative in estrogen receptor (+) cells. Compared to freshly prepared ergosterol, stored preparations were more potent in inhibiting growth of cancer cells, indicating that oxidation product(s) of ergosterol may be responsible for the noted effects. Further studies on in vivo effects of ergosterol and lipid extracts of yeast in animal models are warranted to determine their potential for use as supplements in humans.

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