Russell Marker and the Origins of Bioidentical Hormones

Russell E Marker Progesterone Lab

Russell Marker and the Origins of Bioidentical Hormones


by Jeffrey Dach MD

Click Here for my previous article, The Safety Of Bioidentical Hormones.

Where do Bioidentical Hormones Come From?

A couple of times a week, I get the question, “Where do hormones comes from ?”  Russell E Marker was the Penn State chemist who originated Progesterone and other Bioidentical Hormones from a plant steroid called Diosgenin.  (upper left image Russell Marker courtesy of American Chemical_Society)

 Who was Russell Marker ?

Russell Marker was a Penn State chemist in 1938 who invented a practical way to mass produce Progesterone, the pregnancy hormone. using a technique known as the Marker degradation process.

Russell E Marker ProgesteroneChemistry Professor at Penn State

In 1938, Marker was a chemistry professor at Pennsylvania State College working on plant steroid chemistry.   During this time, Marker found a plant steroid from the Dioscorea family called Diosgenin which could be easily converted into the human bioidentical hormone, Progesterone.

Next, Marker needed an economical source of the plant material to isolate the plant steroid called Diosgenin.  (upper left image Russell Markerwith plants courtesy of   American Chemical_Society )

Dioscorea_mexicanaFinding the Plant Material in Mexico

In November 1941,  Marker found what he had been searching for in a botany textbook describing a Dioscorea plant  indigenous to Veracruz in Mexico, called Cabeza de Negro.  Left image: Diosgenin from Diascorea plant Mexican Yam courtesy of wikimedia commons.

In 1942, Marker then traveled to Mexico where he purchased some of the Dioscorea plant material and started the mass production of the bioidentical hormone, Progesterone.

In 1943,  Marker resigned from Penn State University and moved to Mexico to begin mass production of Progesterone and other bioidentical hormones.    Marker refused to assign patent rights to anyone, including himself, thus granting free use of his invention to anyone interested.

In early 1944, Syntex was formed in Mexico to manufacture Progesterone from the Diascorea Diosgenin.  In May 1945, over a dispute, Marker left Syntex and started a new company, Botanica-mex, near Mexico City which then made  several kilos of Progesterone.   Botanica-mex folded in March 1946,   and was restarted as a new company called Hormonosynth.   During this time, the cabeza de negro plant source was replaced by another yam called barbasco, containing 500% more diosgenin.   After Marker’s retirement, the company was again reorganized as Diosynth.

Marker Degradation Process Diagram

(upper image Chemcial Diagram of Marker Degradation  courtesy of   American Chemical_Society_CNBP_027297 )

Syntex After Marker Leaves  – Syntex Prospers

After Marker left Syntex , the company recruited another chemist George Rosenkranz, who began October 1945, and Syntex was again selling progesterone.    Rosenkranz extended the process to the production of testosterone and other bioidentical hormones.   Rosenkranz built a research program at Syntex, and recruited other  Ph.D. chemists including Carl Djerassi and Alejandro Zaffaroni.

Cortisone and the “Pill”   

Further research at Syntex led to discovery that this same plant steroid precursor Diosgenin could be converted to cortisone, a powerful anti-inflammatory steroid.  The company also worked on the synthetic birth control pill.   By the 1950s, Syntex and its competitors were the major supplier of  bioidentical hormones to the United States.

Health Benefits of Diosgenin

While using Diosgenin as a precursor to progesterone, Russel Marker had no way of knowing that Diosgenin has its own health benefits.   One of which is as a natural anti-cancer drugDiosgenin also reduces inflammation, serving as an anti-inflammatory drug.  Diosgenein also serves as a lipid control drug, with beneficial effects of lipid profiles.

Articles with Related Interest:

The Safety of Bioidentical Hormones

The Importance of Bioidentical Hormones

Bioidentical Hormones Prevent Heart Disease

Bioidentical Hormones Prevent Arthritis

Author: Jeffrey Dach MD

 Links and References:




The following pages commemorate the designation of the “Marker Degradation” and creation of the Mexican steroid hormone industry as an International Historic Chemical Landmark. The designation was conferred by the American Chemical Society and the Sociedad Química de México in ceremonies at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, on October 1, 1999, in Monterrey, Mexico, on October 25, 1999, and in Mexico City, Mexico, on December 2, 1999.


The Marker degradation is a three-step synthetic route in steroid chemistry developed by American chemist Russell Earl Marker in 1938–40.
The Marker semi-synthesis of progesterone from diosgenin. Marker RE, Krueger J (1940). “Sterols. CXII. Sapogenins. XLI. The Preparation of Trillin and its Conversion to Progesterone”. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 62 (12): 3349–3350.
Road to Hope for Female Infertility: Progesterone
By Stephen T. Spagnol, Spring 2010

7) pdf file:Russell_Marker_Syntex_Progesterone_Chemical_Society_CNBP_027297


Jeffrey Dach MD
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Russell Marker and the Origins of Bioidentical Hormones
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Russell Marker and the Origins of Bioidentical Hormones
Russell Marker and the Origins of Bioidentical Hormones
Jeffrey Dach MD
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