Welcome to the Botanical Estrogen Research Center

Project 3: Botanical Estrogens and Cognitive Function

Susan L. Schantz, Ph.D., UIUC


Botanical supplements with estrogenic activity including soy, wild yam, licorice root and dong quai are widely consumed by women seeking to gain relief from menopausal symptoms or to slow bone loss and/or cognitive decline during aging. However, very little is known about the efficacy or safety of most of these compounds. The proposed Botanical Research Center will address this important unmet public health need through a highly integrated set of Research Projects and Cores. Verified botanical materials will be provided to all of the Projects by Core A as raw materials, extracts and pure compound isolates. Project 3 will use a rodent model to examine the impact of these botanical estrogens on cognitive function and bone health. Insights about mechanism of action gained from in vitro and cell-based studies in Project 1 and information on pharmacokinetics and bioavailability available from Core B will be used to select materials and doses for these studies. We will use a well-characterized battery of cognitive tasks that tap multiple cognitive domains and multiple memory systems, and that are sensitive to both the beneficial and detrimental effects of estrogens. We will include as positive controls estrogens with known activities, and, in collaboration with Project 2, we will evaluate brain and bone health in the same experimental animals allowing direct comparisons of the relative efficacy and safety of botanical estrogens in these two important target tissues. Compounds that are identified as active in brain and/or bone will be studied further to identify whether they demonstrate an ER-mediated mechanism of action, and, if so, the involvement of well-established ER signaling pathways. Because many botanical estrogens show selectivity for ERβ, we hypothesize that they will act through ERβ-mediated pathways to alter both cognitive function and bone health. In summary our research will fill a critical gap in knowledge by providing high quality preclinical data addressing the efficacy, safety and mechanism of action of botanical estrogens derived from soy, wild yam, licorice root and dong quai on two very important estrogen responsive endpoints: cognitive function and bone. These studies will provide critical data needed for the appropriate design of clinical trials in the future.


Little is known about the efficacy and safety of botanical dietary supplements widely consumed by older women for relief of menopausal symptoms. This Project will meet an important unmet public health need by providing important new information on how botanical estrogens affect brain function and bone health in a preclinical rodent model.


  • Schantz, Susan L., UIUC                     Project 3 PI
  • Korol, Donna L., UIUC                         Project 3 Co-PI
  • Helferich, William G., UIUC                  Project 3 Co-I