Experimental studies on lignans and cancer

January 1, 1998 Human Health and Nutrition Data 0 Comments

Experimental studies on lignans and cancer

Year: 1998
Authors: Thompson, L.U
Publication Name: Baillire's Clin. Endocrin. Meta.
Publication Details: Vol. 12, No. 4; Pages 691-705.


Mammalian lignans are produced from plant precursors such as secoisolariciresinol diglycoside (SDG) and matairesinol via the action of bacteria in the human or animal
colon. While precursors are found in many plant foods, flaxseed is the richest source of
SDG and was therefore used as a model to determine the anti-cancer effects of lignans.
This paper reviews the experimental studies in animals and humans demonstrating the
anti-cancer effects of flaxseed and its SDG as well as other studies relevant to the clinical
use of lignans, such as those on their food sources, bio-availability and safety. (Author's Abstract)
In this early review paper (1998), the author describes the research that has been conducted pn the role of lignans in the reduction of the risk of developing chronic disease, particularly cancer.
Several epidemiological studies suggest that phytoestrogens, including lignans, may have a protective effect against cancer, particularly hormone-related cancers such as those of the breast and prostate. Although mammalian lignan precursors can be found in many food products, flaxseed appears to be the richest source, with values more than 100 times higher than those of the other foods. This is also evident when urinary lignan excretion is assessed following human diets supplemented with flaxseed compared with other plant foods.  Flaxseed been used as an experimental model to determine the anti-cancer effects of lignans, and protective effects against cancer particularly of the breast, colon and skin, have been demonstrated in rats or mice. The weak oestrogenic/antioestrogenic, as well as anti-oxidant and possibly anti-angiogenic, properties of lignans seen in vitro may be involved in the anti-cancer effects of lignans, but in vivo data to support this are limited (in 1998). The evidence reviewed by the author suggests that lignans may have a protective effect against carcinogenesis when given at the post-weaning or adult stage. While lignan exposure during pregnancy and lactation may influence reproduction, it may also reduce the risk of breast cancer. Female offspring exposed to flaxseed or its equivalent amount of SDG during pregnancy and lactation have a lower number of TEBs in the mammary gland structure at postnatal day 50 compared with controls. Whether similar effects will occur in humans remains to be determined, although there appear to be similarities in mammalian lignan production between rats and humans. (Editor's comments)

Back to Databases

Affiliated Organizations

Flax Focus Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with important flax news and announcements with our FLAX FOCUS newsletter.