Phytoestrogens (plant based estrogens) are paving the way towards a more
holistic approach to treating the undesirable symptoms associated with
menopause. Menopause is not a disease. Rather it is a natural process of aging.
A woman is considered menopausal once she has gone for 12 months without a
menstrual period, marking the end of her regular menstrual cycle. While there is
a great deal of variation, typically, menopause begins around age 50 and lasts
about four years. It may also be triggered by surgery (hysterectomy) or chemical
treatment (e.g., chemotherapy). Common symptoms include mood swings, hot
flashes, night sweats and incontinence. More serious and long-term consequences
of menopause include increased risk of coronary heart disease and osteoporosis,
resulting from decreased bone density.
Women's experience varies widely among individuals and across cultural
groups. Some may experience a whole host of symptoms and discomfort while others
may not. Nowadays, women are living well past menopause, signaling a demand for
greater information on living with menopause and post menopause safely,
intelligently, and more comfortably.
In the effort to prevent osteoporosis and coronary artery disease as well as
many other side effects resulting from menopause, conventional medicine has
dictated a protocol of female hormone (estrogen and progesterone) replacement
therapy (HRT). The most commonly prescribed medications for menopausal women
have been conjugated equine estrogens (CEE) (derived from the urine of pregnant
horses) and medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA). These synthetic drugs are
chemically and functionally different from the natural hormones produced and
used by the female body.
Wary of the potential side effects of synthetic
hormone—such as increased risk of endometrial (uterine
lining) and breast cancers, more and more women are requesting "natural"
hormones. In response, a growing body of research is establishing the efficacy
of phytoestrogens in alleviating typical symptoms of menopause (e.g. hot
flashes, anxiety, vaginal dryness, fatigue, and depression) as well as
associated risks of osteoporosis and heart disease.
Generally speaking, phytoestrogens are plant-based estrogens or plants with
estrogenic effects. The pomegranate, for example, is recognized as a
Phytoestrogens are weak estrogens, but in adequate doses they can stimulate
biological activity comparable to endogenous (occurring naturally in the body)
estrogens. Five to 100 mg of isoflavones as supplements or consumed in soy
products can significantly relieve menopausal symptoms, especially frequency and
severity of hot flashes. Some food products that contain phytoestrogens include
soy and legumes (lentils, beans, peas) and flaxseed.
Women who do not respond to integrated therapies, including phytoestrogens,
may wish to consider HRT. Fortunately, most of the newer products are
botanically based and chemically resemble human estrogens (primarily 17
estradiol) and progesterone. In choosing a regimen of hormone replacement
therapy, you should expect your healthcare provider to consider many factors
such as severity of symptoms, current health status and lifestyle as well as
your belief patterns. Simply substituting a phytoestrogen will not address the
array of issues an individual woman must face as she goes through menopause.
As you approach menopause, you can work with your doctor to explore the many
options for treating undesirable symptoms without compromising your bodily