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Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2004 Jun;229(6):560-8.

Mycotoxins in root extracts of American and Asian ginseng bind estrogen receptors alpha and beta.

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Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Clemson University, South Carolina 29634, USA.


The estrogenic activity of ginseng has been the subject of conflicting reports. Cell proliferation, induction of estrogen-responsive genes, and isolated cases of adverse reactions such as postmenopausal vaginal bleeding and gynecomastia have been reported after ginseng treatment. Other studies report antiproliferative effects with no induction of estrogen-responsive genes. We developed estrogen receptor (ER) alpha and ER alpha competitive binding assays using recombinant receptors and [(3)H]-17 alpha-estradiol to detect phytoestrogens in extracts of Asian ginseng root (Panax ginseng C. A. Meyer) and American ginseng root (Panax quinquefolius L.). Root extracts contained substances that bound both receptor isoforms. These substances had a two to three times greater affinity for ER alpha. Significantly higher binding was found in methanol extracts than in hot water extracts. Subsequent analysis of the extracts revealed significant ER binding attributable to zearalenone, the estrogenic mycotoxin produced by several Fusarium species. The ER showed no binding affinity for Rb1 and Rg1, the major ginsenosides found in P. quinquefolius and P. ginseng, respectively. Thus, ginseng extraction methods, plant species tested, and mycotoxin contaminants may help to explain the disparate literature reports. The prevalence and health significance of fungal contamination in herbal products used for medicinal purposes should be further investigated.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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