HOUSTON — Olive leaves may hold the key to treating women with endometriosis. The debilitating condition affects up to 15 percent of women of reproductive age in the United States alone and millions worldwide.
Endometriosis is a disease which sees women develop tissue resembling endometrium (the lining of the uterus) outside the uterus. It causes chronic inflammatory that can lead to the formation of scar tissue within the pelvis and other areas.
“Endometriosis depends on estrogen, a hormone well known for regulating a woman’s reproductive functions. Estrogen also affects other organs such as the heart and blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles and the brain,” says corresponding author Dr. Sang Jun Han, associate professor of molecular and cellular biology in the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, in a university release.
Due to estrogen’s close link to the condition, current targets have so far aimed to systematically remove estrogen and use anti-inflammatory drugs. The issue is that these drugs aren’t very effective and may even result in adverse side-effects.
Han and his team have now set out to find more effective options. Previously, Han has shown that estrogen receptor-beta (ER-beta), which is one of two receptors that mediate estrogen’s effects on cells alongside estrogen receptor-alpha (ER-alpha), contributes significantly to the condition’s progression.
“These findings suggest that selectively suppressing the activity of ER-beta could help treat the condition without side effects of current hormonal therapies targeting ER-alpha,” says first author Dr. Yuri Park, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Baylor.
Oleuropein could be a natural remedy
More recently, Han and his team have worked with cell cultures in their lab and extensively browsed a library of natural products, looking for compounds that could act as non-hormonal treatment options for the condition. They found that oleuropein, a naturally-occurring compound found in olive leaves, can selectively inhibit ER-beta activity, but not ER-alpha activity. Further, oleuropein was able to suppress the growth of endometriosis lesions in mice without inducing harm.
“In addition, oleuropein treatment was neither toxic to the liver nor did it affect the ability of female mice to have offspring,” Han says. “In mice with endometriosis, oleuropein improved the pregnancy rate. Oleuropein is less expensive than hormonal therapy, and our current findings suggest that it is safer than current treatments.”
Currently, health professionals recommend women with endometriosis use birth control to keep their symptoms in line. While this can help many patients, others are left feeling stuck. Birth control can cause several different side-effects like weight gain, acne, depression, and headaches. Many will endure these problems so long as they have relief from their menstrual pain. It’s this team’s hope that future work further explores oleuropein as a natural alternative for endometriosis care.
The findings are published in the Journal of Biomedical Science.