The Glandular System
Because of the synergistic effects of herbs, intelligently formulated herbal and vitamin combinations usually yield better results than using single herbs alone.
Menopause refers to the time in a woman's life marked by the permanent cessation of menstrual activity. It can occur between 25 and 58 years of life. The menses may stop suddenly, but usually there is a gradual decrease each month until final cessation occurs; or in many cases the interval between periods gradually becomes longer until complete cessation occurs.
Natural menopause occurs in 25% of women by age 47, in 50% by age 50, 75% by age 52 and 95% by age 55. Menopause due to surgical removal of the ovaries occurs in almost 30% of U.S. women past the age of 50.
Menopause may be accompanied by hot and cold flashes, feelings of weakness, irritability, and in some cases mental depression. These changes are brought about by a natural decline in the secretion of hormones by the woman's body. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the medical treatment for these symptoms. When done right, HRT can greatly decrease these undesirable symptoms. However, most doctors routinely prescribe powerful synthetic hormones such as Premarin that lead to many undesirable side effects. About nine million women now use Premarin for hormone (estrogen) replacement. While some women appear to do fine on the drug, others experience problems, and all experience an increased risk for certain types of cancer.
Premarin is derived from the urine of pregnant mares. There are over 50 horse estrogens in Premarinnot one of which is naturally found in a woman's body. To manufacture the drug, between 75,000 and 85,000 mares are kept on some 500 farms in North Dakota and Canada. To collect their urine, these mares are confined in stalls throughout the duration of their pregnancy. Water is restricted because a concentrated urine is desired. Exercise is also denied. As soon as they give birth, they are immediately impregnated again.
Premarin production is bad news for the mares that "donate" it. Many women, particularly those who have experienced its undesirable side effects, have concluded that it may not be the best choice for them either. Some of the potential side-effects of HRT with drugs such as Premarin are:
- Headaches or Migraines
- Breast tenderness
- Hair loss
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Candidiasis (systemic yeast infections)
- Weight gain
- Loss of libido (sexual drive)
- Blood clots
- Increased risk of gall bladder disease
- Increased risk of uterine and breast cancer
Phytoestrogens Offer Women Drug-Free Support
Phyto- is from the Greek phyton meaning plant. A phytoestrogen is a naturally-occurring plant nutrient that exerts an estrogen-like action on the body. Scientists have discovered hundreds of phytoestrogens including soybeans, whole grain cereals, seeds (especially flax), nuts (especially walnuts) and many herbs.
Medical research has demonstrated numerous benefits associated with phytoestrogens. In a study published in the journal Menopause, for example, half the women who participated ate a diet rich in phytoestrogens such as soybeans and flax seeds, while half ate a standard diet. In the group that ate the phytoestrogen-rich diet, the menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, decreased significantly. (4:2 (SUM 1997):89-94)
In a study conducted at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, researchers found a significant reduction in menopausal hot flashes when women supplemented their diets with soy. When presenting their findings at the American Heart Association's annual scientific sessions, a spokesperson for the research group noted that Japanese women, who consume relatively high amounts of soy, report only one-eighth as many menopausal symptoms as American women. (United Press, Nov. 10, 1996)
The major phytonutrients that have been studied for their estrogen-like activity are two classes of nutrients known as isoflavonoids (most notably genistein and daidzien, from soybeans) and lignans (from nuts and flax seeds.) These nutrients are converted by the flora, the beneficial bacteria of the digestive tract, into compounds that have estrogen-like actions. To derive the most benefit from these phytonutrients the flora of the intestinal tract must be in a healthy balance. Unfortunately, the intestinal flora is killed off by many drugs that women commonly use, especially antibiotics and birth control pills. (See article on yeast infections.)
Herbalists have discovered that many of the herbs traditionally used by women for the health concerns unique to women contain some of the highest amounts of these beneficial phytonutrients. The list includes black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), dong quai (Angelica sinensis), red clover (Trifolium pratense), alfalfa (Medicago sativa), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng), wild American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), Kudzu root (Puerariae lobata), and many others. Mexican wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) is not a phytoestrogen but contains a phytonutrient that is a precursor for progesterone, which is also important for balancing a women's glandular system.
New Dietary Guidelines Include Soy: The 5th edition of the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans", released by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), includes soybean-based foods as a means to meet the dietary recommendations of the Food Guide Pyramid. The guidelines provide recommendations based on current scientific knowledge about how diet may improve health and reduce risks for major chronic diseases. The new guidelines recognize one cup of a calcium-rich soy-based beverage as equal to one serving from the dairy group, and 1/2 cup of tofu or a 2 1/2 ounce soyburger as equal to a serving in the meat and beans group.
In a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives (103;Suppl 7:103-112;1995), researchers reported that, in addition to their benefits for the glandular system, phytoestrogens have been shown to have antioxidant activity and can influence intracellular enzymes, protein synthesis, growth factor action, and cell proliferation in a way that makes them "strong candidates for a role as natural cancer-protective compounds." The authors point out that countries or regions that consume the highest amounts of phytoestrogens also tend to have the lowest cancer rates.
Phytoestrogens Reduce Risk for Cancer
In another study published in the Journal of Epidemiology (Sept. 97) foods high in phytoestrogens were found to have a protective effect against endometrial cancer. In this nine-year study involving over 800 women, those who ate a diet rich in phytoestrogens showed a 54 percent reduction in the incidence of this cancer.
Stroke is the third most common cause of death for middle-aged and older women. A 50-year-old women has about a one in five chance of suffering a stroke in her remaining lifetime. One of the most common causes of stroke is blockage due to atherosclerosis of the carotid arteries in the neckthe arteries responsible for a major portion of the blood flow to the brain.
Phytoestrogens Reduce Risk for Stroke
A team of medical researchers has reported to the American Heart Association's Annual Conference of Cardiovascular Disease that the phytoestrogens in soy protein can reduce a woman's risk for stroke by preventing a plasma lipid profile that can lead to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Many women have discovered a better way, using a natural nutritional approach for the changes that accompany menopause. Several of the herbs that have proven to be the most useful are discussed below:
Phytoestrogens Offer Alternatives to Drugs Like Premarin!
Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) is probably the most widely-used herb for female concernsfrom dysmenorrhea or difficult menstruation to menopauseand with good reason for the research supporting the benefits of this herb is substantial. Black Cohosh is native to Eastern North America and has been valued by Native Americans and American colonists alike for the nutritional support of the female reproductive system, particularly to relieve menstrual cramps, aid amenorrhea and to ease labor. It was also used for fever, sore throat, bronchitis, hysteria, itch, lumbago, malaria, nervous disorders, snakebite, uterine disorders, St. Vitus' dance (chorea) and yellow fever. (The Black Cohosh supplement that I recommend is a product called Flash Ease.)
The German Commission E (the German equivalent of the FDA) approved black cohosh for dysmenorrhea or painful menstruation. The herb is widely used in Europe for the treatment of PMS and for juvenile menstrual problems and even as a support for women who have had a hysterectomy. Black cohosh is considered an emmenogogue, or a substance that promotes menstrual flow, but it is also successfully used by women with excessive menstrual flow, since it has a balancing effect on a woman's glandular system.
No adverse drug interactions have been identified with black cohosh. The herb has even been used in conjunction with conventional estrogen replacement therapy without any problems. In fact, studies indicate that black cohosh may actually reduce some of the negative side effects associated with conventional drug estrogen replacement therapy, including increased risk for cancer.
In a study of estrogen-dependent cancer, black cohosh extract was administered along with the cancer drug Tamoxifen. The herb appeared to work synergistically with the cancer drug to help block the proliferation of breast cancer cells. The combined effect was greater than the sum of the effects of each substance alone (Nesselhut et al. 1998).
The constituents of black cohosh do not enter into breast milk. There are no contraindications for lactation nor any problems found for nursing children.
Effects on the nervous system: Black cohosh binds to serotonin receptors in the brain which may be helpful for individuals suffering from depression. One study of over 900 peri-, pre- and post-menopausal women with mood disorders found a synergistic effect between black cohosh and St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), the herb most commonly used by individuals suffering from mild depression. (Liske et al. 1997)
Dong Quai, pronounced "don kwy," root (Angelica sinensis) is one of China's most popular herbs for women. It has traditionally been used for menopause, hot flashes, as a natural estrogen and hormone balancer, and for nervousness and spasms. The plant's root, which has a vitamin E content that actually outranks that of wheat germ, is the part used. Dong quai is also a natural source of iron and cobalt.
Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) is also known to nourish the female reproductive system. Not to be confused with tuberous sweet potato yam, wild yam is widely used in the world today to supply nutrients essential for optimal glandular function. It nutritionally benefits the urinary, nervous and respiratory systems as well. Wild yam was commonly called Colic root and Rheumatism root a hundred years ago in America. It is also used in Chinese herbal medicine. It has traditionally been used for hot flashes, irritability, depression, insomnia, and for other symptoms of menopause. (See Pro-G-Yam.)
Red Raspberry leaves (Rubus idaeus) have been used throughout pregnancy by women for many years to facilitate delivery, prevent miscarriage, and alleviate morning sickness. It has also been used by men, women, and children as a remedy for diarrhea.
Herbal Combinations for Women
Flash Ease is a time-released combination of concentrated Black Cohosh extract and Dong Quai. As the name implies it was formulated for the symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes. The time-released feature is particularly helpful in the product's balancing action on the glandular system.
Female Comfort is a formulation designed to help balance the glandular system in women. It has traditionally been used by herbalists, along with vitamin E, to help women who are suffering from infertility. It has also been used to help women with some of the problems associated with Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) such as bloating.
FCS II is another good synergistic herbal combination for menstrual problems, particularly for the relief of excess conditions: excessive uterine bleeding, heavy periods, irregular periods, and even anxiety. Each capsule of FCS II contains 440 mg of a proprietary blend of Red Raspberry Leaves (Rubus idaeus), Black Cohosh Root (Cimicifuga racemosa), Golden Seal Root (Hydrastis canadensis), Blessed Thistle Herb (Cnicus benedictus), Dong Quai Root (Angelica sinensis), Queen of the Meadow Herb (Eupatorium purpureum), Marshmallow Root (Althaea officinalis), Lobelia Herb (Lobelia inflata), Ginger Root (Zingiber officinale) and Capsicum Fruit (Capsicum annuum).
5-W is a combination of black cohosh, squaw vine, dong quai, butcher's broom and red raspberry formulated to be used by women during the last 5 weeks of pregnancy (hence the name). The product is completely safe and has been clinically proven over many years to help make childbirth easier by tonifying the muscles of the uterushelping reduce spasms, pain and anxiety during delivery. Women who use the product generally spend less time in labor and have a much easier time in childbirth. (The women I have known who have used the product have sworn to me that they would never consider having a baby without it. It is important to note, however, that when used during pregnancy, it is only to be taken toward the end of the last trimester. It is not to be used any earlier. Red Raspberry leaves, on the other hand, can and should be taken throughout the entire pregnancy.)
Phyto-Soy is a concentrated standardized soy supplement for individuals who want to supplement their diets with this important food. Soy is in great demand because of its healthful benefits for the immune, glandular and circulatory systems. As mentioned above, evidence continues to mount supporting the benefits of high levels of genistein, a particular isoflavonoid in soy that helps protect the body. Phyto-Soy contains 48 times more isoflavonoids than comparable amounts of tofu, 25 times more than tempeh, and 10 times more than roasted soybeans. Phyto-Soy is certified as non-genetically modified (non-GMO). Three capsules supply 36 mg isoflavones, 28 mg of which are genistein glycosides.
Phytoestrogens have been shown to benefit women by. . .
reducing cancer risks.
reducing risks for heart disease and stroke.
alleviating symptoms of PMS and menopause.
reducing side-effects and dangers of certain drugs.
All of the above.