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UIC to study whether botanicals can ease menopause

September 1st, 2010

( -- Can botanical dietary supplements such as black cohosh, licorice and hops help alleviate menopausal symptoms in women? Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy have received a $7.4 million five-year federally funded grant to find out.

The UIC/NIH Center for Botanical Dietary Supplements will study how multi-component mixtures work together; how they are absorbed, distributed and eliminated by the body; how they affect chemical and physical processes within the body; how they interact with drugs; and how they impact women's own estrogenic hormones.

Headed by Norman Farnsworth, professor and director of the program for collaborative research in the pharmaceutical sciences, the center's past research has also focused on red clover, chaste berry, valerian and dong quai, a popular plant in China to treat women's conditions.

The research is funded by the Office of Dietary Supplements and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, two of the National Institutes of Health.

With the rising popularity of botanicals, the safety of the products has been questioned by consumer advocates and government officials. In 2009, the Government Accountability Office published a report stating the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should take further actions to improve oversight and consumer understanding of dietary supplements.

The 2007 National Health Interview Survey showed nearly 18 percent of adults took a non-vitamin, non-mineral, natural product, spending about $15 billion on the purchase of these products. Botanical products, including supplements, are among the most prevalent -- and their use appears to be increasing.

Sales of dietary supplements rose 24 percent from 2003 to 2008, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. The publication estimates that sales of botanicals will increase 19 percent over the next five years.

In 1999, the Office of Dietary Supplements received funding to develop a botanical research initiative that resulted in the Botanical Research Centers Program; it is entering its third five-year cycle. The UIC/NIH Center for Botanical Dietary Supplements Research is one of five U.S. centers to receive the grants this year. UIC is the longest continuously operated center, now in its 11th year of funding. It has always focused on women's health.

The five interdisciplinary and collaborative dietary supplement centers are expected to advance understanding of how botanicals affect human health.

"Eventually, the program may provide data that translates to new ways to reduce disease risk," said Paul Coates, director of the Office of Dietary Supplements. "Until then, the research from these centers will help the public make informed decisions about botanical dietary supplements."

Other researchers in the UIC Center include Richard van Breemen, professor of medicinal chemistry; Guido Pauli, associate professor, medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy; and Judy Bolton, professor and head of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy.

Provided by University of Illinois at Chicago

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