Alternative Therapies: Phytoestrogens
The interest in Phytoestrogens has developed because of the epidemiological evidence that diets rich in these compounds have led women in Japan and Asia to appear to have a much lower incidence of "Western diseases" such as heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancers of breast, colon, and womb. Women in these countries do not appear to suffer the same way with hot flushes and sweats as we do in the western world.
Whether we can attain the same protection by starting their diet later in life remains to be seen and the difference may also be related to other factors such as cultural differences in attitude to menopause.
Phytoestrogens are derived from naturally occurring compounds that have estrogenic activity. They have a similar chemical structure to estrogen and bind to the estrogen receptors, acting like hormone regulators. As a group of compounds they exhibit many properties and can behave by boosting estrogen effects even though the dose is very small. As a group of compounds they also seem to have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and may reduce the effects of viruses.
Phytoestrogens have been shown in some clinical trials [Ref 5 and Ref 29] to reduce hot flushes significantly, although many of the trials were undertaken over short periods e.g. 3 months and some trials have shown limited effect.
Phytoestrogens can be taken either by increasing dietary intake or from supplements. To rely on dietary intake alone would involve the ingestion of large amounts of legume food plants, such as peas and beans, with variation in their quantities of phytoestrogens. There are many supplements now available which aim to be equivalent to a typical Japanese diet rich in phytoestrogens.
There are four classes of phytoestrogens that have been most investigated: isoflavones, lignans, flavones and coumestrans. Isoflavones are the most common form and include genistein, daidzein and glycitin.
Promensil Menopause Red Clover (Formerly known as Novogen) is an excellent source of four key isoflavones (Genistein, Daidzein, Biochanin A and Formononetin). There are many other options on the market but this one has over fifteen years of clinical studies and contains standardised Red Clover Isoflavones obtained through a patented extraction process that guarantees strength and efficacy. Always check the label!! It can be quite an expensive option but cheaper than buying the similar food sources on a daily basis. Red Clover or Promensil in the USA has been endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration as cholesterol lowering and prostate cancer reducing.
- Red clover may combat hot flushes : 1 August 2005 - BBC News Online
- Safety and effect of Black Cohosh and Red Clover for hot flushes here
Phytoestrogens or plant estrogens in our diets
CEREALS: oats, barley rye, brown rice, couscous and bulgar wheat.
SEEDS: sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, poppy, linseeds
PULSES: soya beans and all soya based products (except soya sauce which does not contain any!)
BEANS: chickpeas, kidney beans, haricot beans, broad beans, green split peas
VEGETABLES: red onions, green beans, celery, sweet peppers, sage, garlic, broccoli, tomatoes and bean sprouts.
SOYA, LINSEEDS and RED CLOVER are the richest sources
COMMERCIAL PRODUCTS are also available such as Bergen bread, Provamel yoghurts and "So Good" milk.
A recommended book if you are interested in following this type of diet is "The Phyto Factor" by Maryon Stewart.
Some women need to be cautious of taking these supplements - e.g. if they are currently suffering from Breast cancer or other hormone dependent tumours. Some breast surgeons and oncologists believe that even the tiny amounts of estrogen can have an adverse effect, but opinion is currently divided..