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Herbal estrogen, phyto estrogen. What do these terms mean? Is there really an herbal estrogen? Not exactly. The term is probably meant to find herbs that act like estrogen in the body, but many people misunderstand how this works. Herbs do not contain estrogen or any other human hormones.
What herbs do contain is their own plant hormones, which, when taken internally, can cause your body to act like it has more estrogen, or more progesterone, etc.
One popular word for these herbal compounds is phyto estrogen. There are actually other compounds in herbs that work as balancers of hormones or more like progesterone, but they are all herbs that contain plant hormones.
Herbs that help your body use more estrogen during menopause can help reduce or eliminate hot flashes, help you sleep better, and reduce irritability. Other herbs can help reduce the effects of estrogen in menopause, even if you have high estrogen levels. They do this by taking the receptor spots for estrogen. There are only so many, so if they are already taken, the excess estrogen will not be able to effect you the same way. These herbs can help with joint pain, indigestion and other digestive issues that arise during menopause, and even protect your heart and bones.
The effects of taking herbs for hormonal issues will be different from taking bioidentical estrogen or progesterone, or conjugated estrogens or other menopausal hormones. First of all, herbal effects are generally much more subtle on the body. They are also holistic, in that the plants act on many different levels in your body. The action is gentle and harmonious with bodiy function, rather than intense and antagonistic to bodily function.
Generally speaking, your body has very good reasons for what it does. Just because we don't understand it, doesn't mean it's not working. People with high cholesterol often have a high amount of free radicals in their blood. Cholesterol helps get rid of them. So reducing cholesterol is not necessarily in the best interest of someone like that.
The more research medical experts do, the more they find out about synergistic actions within the body. Herbs act synergistically. This is why you do not want to buy isolated compounds, such as isoflavones. There is an assumption made that a very high dose of isoflavones, much higher than one would get eating a diet high in foods that contain isoflavones, will have the same effects as, say, the soy consumed in Japanese and Chinese diets. This has proven to be untrue, as stated in the paragraph below.
It depends. If you are taking herbal teas, infusions, decoctions or extracts made from the whole herb, the answer is yes, but be sure to understand proper dosage and any precautions or potential side effects. Some herbs are meant to be taken only for a short time, others can be used for years at a time with no problem. Foods containing phyto estrogens are fine, as long as they stay in their food-state. Once they have compounds extracted and put in supplement form, you will need to do more research. Some of these might be okay, but others, not so much.
For example, in an article written by Sally Fallon, for The Weston Price Foundation summaries of research studies show that traditional Japanese and Chinese diets contain from 3 to 28 milligrams of isoflavones through their food (legumes and soy products) each day. Some U.S. supplements contain much more than that.
Studies have shown that side effects occur at these higher doses, and scientists are not comfortable saying that consuming isoflavones in unnaturally high amounts is risk free. Even 35 milligrams a day can produce adverse effects on your thyroid gland and endocrine system. One cup of soy milk may contain up to 35mg of isoflavones.
Here are some herbs that may help. Click on each to get more information about effects, precautions, dose, and preferred preparation.