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Progesterone in botanicals could aid women’s health

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The University of Illinois at Chicago has received a five-year, $1.225 million federal grant to discover progesterone-like compounds from commonly consumed botanicals and learn how the hormones can aid women's health.

Whether contained in birth control pills or emergency contraception, treatments for endometriosis or fibroids, or as hormone replacement therapy, progesterone will be taken by almost all women at some point in their lives. The hormone plays important roles in the menstrual cycle and in maintaining the early stages of pregnancy. But little is known about progesterone-like compounds in plants.

Women are becoming increasingly dependent upon botanical extracts for the alleviation of menopausal symptoms and for women's health issues in general, said Joanna Burdette, associate professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy, who along with Brian Murphy, assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy, serve as co-investigators on the project.

"The biomedical purposes that progesterone can be used for are vast," Burdette said. An estimated $13.7 million is spent annually by Americans on alternative products, including women's health related supplements.

About 10 botanicals — hops, red clover, dogwood and wild yam, among others — have been selected by Burdette and Murphy to study. The list contains botanicals that women commonly use and that have been previously screened at the UIC/NIH Center for Botanical Dietary Supplements Research.

"Reports on the ability of botanicals to modify progesterone receptor signaling is sparse and practically unavailable despite the impact this could have on women's health," Murphy said.

The research will provide information for women to make better decisions about self-medicating and will improve safety by allowing them to understand if they are exposing themselves to progestins alone or in a combination with estrogen-like molecules, Burdette said.

The grant is funded by the National Institute of Health's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

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Sam Hostettler
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