2015 Volume 40 Issue 2 Pages 235-242
Propolis, a natural product derived from plants by honeybees, is a mixture of several hundred chemicals, including flavonoids, coumaric acids, and caffeic acids, some of which show estrogen-like activity. In this study, the estrogenic activity of crude ethanolic extract of Brazilian propolis was determined using several in vitro and in vivo assays. Propolis was found to bind to human estrogen receptors (ERs). Furthermore, propolis induced the expression of estrogen-responsive genes in ER-positive MCF-7 and Ishikawa cells. These in vitro assays suggest that propolis exerts estrogenic activity; therefore, in vivo experiments were conducted using ovariectomized rats. Oral administration of propolis (55 or 550 mg/kg/day for 3 days) significantly increased uterine wet weight and luminal epithelium thickness in comparison with the corresponding values in the corn oil-treated control group. Moreover, propolis induced ductal cell proliferation in the mammary glands. These effects were completely inhibited by full ER antagonist ICI 182,780, confirming that the effects of propolis are mediated by the ER. Our data show that oral intake of propolis induces estrogenic activity in ER-expressing organs in vivo and suggest that Brazilian propolis is a useful dietary source of phytoestrogens and a promising treatment for postmenopausal symptoms.