Hyperprogesteronemia in response to Vitex fischeri consumption in wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii)

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Abstract

Chimpanzees in Gombe National Park consume fruits of Vitex fischeri during a short annual fruiting season. This fruit species is a member of a genus widely studied for phytoestrogen composition and varied physiological effects. One particularly well-studied species, V. agnus-castus, is noted for its documented effects on female reproductive function, evidenced in increased progesterone levels and consequent regulation of luteal function. We examined reproductive hormone levels in both male and female chimpanzees during a 6-week period of intense V. fischeri consumption. V. fischeri consumption was associated with an abrupt and dramatic increase in urinary progesterone levels of female chimpanzees to levels far exceeding the normal range of variation. Female estrogen levels were not significantly impacted, nor were male testosterone levels. These are some of the first data indicating that phytochemicals in the natural diet of a primate can have significant impacts on the endocrine system, though the fluctuating nature of chimpanzee diet and reproductive function does not allow us to determine whether the effects observed during this short period had a broader positive or negative impact on female fertility. Given the widespread use of various Vitex species by African primates and the as-yet-undescribed phytochemical properties of these species, we predict that our observations may be indicative of a broader phenomenon. Am. J. Primatol. 70:1064–1071, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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