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The root of Pueraria mirifica (Photo courtesy of the Hiroshima University Graduate School of Biomedical and Health Sciences Department of Pharmacognosy)

Recent news reports have focused on health damage to users of a supplement made from the root of a Thai plant with properties similar to the female hormone estrogen. The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about this supplement.

Question: There was news about an herbal supplement from Thailand that was making people sick, wasn’t there?

Answer: Yes, Pueraria mirifica. It’s a flowering vine in the Fabaceae — or the legume — family. The powdered roots of the plant are sold as a health supplement.

Q: What health benefits does the powdered root have?

A: The roots of Pueraria mirifica contain a chemical that is similar to the female hormone estrogen. In Thailand, the supplement is apparently mainly used as a folk remedy for menopause. However, in Japan it is claimed to increase breast size and aid in weight loss, among other things.

Q: What’s the problem with it?

A: The estrogen-like effects of the plant are fairly powerful. Plants like soy beans also contain isoflavones, which also act similarly to estrogen. However, the effects of…

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