PHYTOSTEROLS — HORMONALLY ACTIVE PLANTS
This is of concern to our clients who are dealing with prostate, uterine, and breast cancers. They are listed as being present in the Burdock root and Turkey Rhubarb root.
Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like compounds found in plants. Primarily found in soybeans and flaxseed.
Normally, estrogen is released into the blood stream via a complicated chemical response/reaction within the body. It goes looking for receptors on the cell walls into which it can fit—like a key into a lock. It also has the potential to make contact with any cell in the body. Although certain receptor cells are generally located in only particular parts of the body, if a cell anywhere else has a receptor site to the chemical (hormone), the hormone will attach. Hormone dependant cancer cells have these little “locks” on them. High levels of certain hormones (“keys”) circulating in the blood can stimulate cancer growth.
It doesn’t have to be estrogen though to be a “key.” It can also be any chemical similar in structure. They may not produce the same response though. They can be pro-estrogen and give a response like estrogen. Or they can be anti-estrogen and block estrogen from entering the cell. This latter one can be advantageous in reproductive cancers, and is the focus of many current studies and trials (including those with testosterone). If the chemical, or estrogen look-alike is strongly close to the natural one secreted by our bodies, the stronger the effect can be. Some phytoestrogens will be pro-estrogen, while others will be anti-estrogen. “Phytoestrogens” can be a confusing label, as many are not estrogens at all—like lignans—yet they turn into biologically active estrogens when consumed. Over 300 plants are in this category.
When taking phytoestrogens, a woman who is pre-menopausal will not have as pronounced effects from the herbs, as one who is post-menopausal. Also the pharmaceutical antibiotics will reduce absoption of phytoestrogens due to the drug’s effect on the intestinal tract. You must also eat foods high in phytoestrogens on a regular basis, as they are not stored in the body for very long.
Linseed - Linum usitatissimum AKA Flax seed contains phytoestrogens. Taken in 10 gram daily doses, a study showed that it resulted in a mild increase in progesterone production of healthy pre-menopausal women. This study indicated its possible significance in the treatment of breast cancer.
Historically, the herbs used in balancing women’s estrogen levels are: Dong Quai - Angelica sinensis, Licorice root - Glycyrrhiza glabra, Black Cohosh - Cimicifuga racemosa and Fennel - Foeniculum vulgare. There may be some validity in these plants being used for excess estrogen production. They also tend to help bring up levels when low in the body.
For two thousands years people have known that pomegranates somehow helped in fertility. Well, science found out why. The seeds actually contain estrogen! In fact, all plants have estrogen-like hormones or they wouldn’t grow or attain sexual development. Estrogen content is high when the plants are young or their seeds are ripening. Sound like a female human in some ways? (smile)
The soil and environment that plants grow in can play a role too, along with what stage of development they are in. Nutrients in the soil (nitrogen and phosphate deficient soil produces higher levels of phytoestrogens—perhaps to insure survival?), the season or time of the year, the elevation grown in, how much it has been attacked by disease or insects (injury to the plant that it responds to). Here in some of the California deserts - when there is little rainfall - the plants are high in estrogen, quail eat the plants, and the birds don’t reproduce. In wetter months—bingo— there’s more quail!
Some studies erroneously pointed to Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) as possibly causing an excess of estrogen in women. The studies were done on cows who were given incredibly large amounts of the clover. If you’ve ever watched cows, they eat all the time! Their hormone metabolism is different than ours—and we don’t have two stomachs. Is there something wrong with this picture? Studies done with other animals (sterile lab rats for one) are inconclusive because they are not able to process phytoestrogens the same as us. Back to the drawing board.
Without giving an anatomy/physiology lesson here on reproductive mechanisms in the female, let it at least be said that: There are many different types of estrogen in the female body. Women require functional chemical messengers to parts of the brain (hypothalamus and pituitary), adequate enzymes and receptor sites in the endocrine glands (including the adrenals—which sit on top of each kidney). Next, we need the conversion of estrogen and enzymes to correctly be metabolized in the liver, intestines, fat and muscle tissue. It has to also bind to those little cell wall receptor sites (key and lock theory), and have some length of presence in the body. For more variables, we have to consider the individual’s age, state of overall health, liver function, intestinal function, if they consume alcohol, their weight and diet. Vegetarian women have lower forms of some estrogens than non-vegans.
Coumestrol—”a naturally occurring plant coumarin that displays high affinity for the hormone-dependant site of the human estrogen receptor, for which it serves as a potent non-steroidal agonist.”. It could be the most potent of the phytoestrogens, possibly 30-100x more so than the isoflavones. Coumestrol can reduce FSH and LH levels and is about 1/200 as potent as estrogen. About 20 coumestrols identified to date.
Isoflavones— Presently 40 isoflavone glycosides and 70 isoflavones have been identified, although all of them do not exhibit extrogenic actions. These are in a subclass of flavonoids—over 3,000 of them! Some of the latest research is around a chemical called “genistein” - a phytoestrogen in the subclass of isoflavonoids or isoflavones. Genistein may interfere with cancer growth by an antiangiogenesis action (blocking the tumor’s blood supply), and the inhibition of certain enzymes required for the tumor to continue growing.
Also, in estrogen-dependant tumors, this chemical may reduce the amount of receptors, or locks, to which estrogen can attach. Genistein, when combined with Adriamycin, produced added or synergistic effects against estrogen-dependant and –independent breast carcinomas. Studies have shown that phytoestrogens may protect against breast, colon and prostate cancer. In vitro experiments show that biochanin A and genistein inhibit the cell growth of stomach cancer cells. In vivo experiments showed that biochanin A can be used as an anti-cancer agent.
Lignans— These are minor compounds in many plants. Some are modified by intestinal bacteria to form estrogenic compounds. These lignans have the properties of being antitumor, antimitotic, antioxidant, with very weak estrogenic or anti-estrogenic action.
Only those under a physician’s guidance should attempt to treat their breast cancer with phytoestrogens, especially if they are taking Tamoxifen.
Men and phytoestrogens: Guess all you guys need to start grilling up some tofu! Asian men who eat foods high in phytoestrogens have a dramatic decrease in their incidence of prostate cancer. Yet testosterone stimulates prostate cancer growth. Plant estrogens work via a series of of hormonal actions that indirectly serve to bind levels of plasma free testosterone. In laboratory studies, genistein and biochanin A inhibit growth of androgen dependent and independent prostate cancer cells.
Progesteronic herbs: These are believed to stimulate the production of progesterone. In actuality, the level of progesterone or progesterone precursors in plants is minimal, or nonexistent, from what I could ascertain. The most well known of these is Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa), which does not contain any progesterone at all, but possibly a precursor. The hormone itself can be synthesized from the saponin dioscin only by subjecting it to harsh chemical reagents. The body manufactures steroids and progesterone from cholesterol. So&ldots;..the precursor for progesterone is not in Wild Yam, but in our own body’s manufacturing of cholesterol. Wild Yam benefits menopausal symptoms because of its subtle estrogenic effects.
The creams and preparations sold throughout health food stores is another scam, as they tend to mislead people into thinking that these Wild Yam creams are “natural” sources for progesterone. Look again at the label—they will contain a chemical name for a synthetic progesterone&ldots;.To play “Devil’s advocate” here, is it natural for a woman’s body to produce progesterone after menopause? Buyer beware! When women were given Wild Yam cream or tablets, saliva analysis showed that their progesterone levels were no different from those who didn’t use the Wild Yam products.
For an eye opening and very credible article , I highly suggest “Wild Yam, Natural Progesterone, Unraveling the Mystery” by Tori Hudson, N.D. I have heard her speak at herbal conferences, and she wrote a wonderful section on cervical cancer in the book “An Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide to Cancer” She specializes in women’s health issues. Tori Hudson, N.D.—A Woman’s Time-Menopause Options and Natural Medicine—2067 NW Lovejoy, Portland, OR 97209—telephone 503-222-2322
The chemical structure of progesterone and diosgenin is greatly different between the two molecules. Plants which stimulate progesterone production can only do this in pre-menopausal women. After menopause, the ovaries cease to function and producing progesterone. Vitex berry’s (Vitex agnus-castus) effect may be caused more from a dopaminergic action— having the effect of dopamine which stimulates cardiac output—but there is a possibility that it can have only have an action with those few who have a condition with the luteal phase of their cycle.
Plants only have significant progesterone activity by stimulating the luteal phase of the cycle in premenopausal women. According to scientific literature, there seems to be no other kind of progesterone activity from plants.
Some supplements may affect androgens. Zinc, for one, is said to aid in production of testosterone.
Biologically engineered foods (many of them unknown to us) will also alter the amounts of phytoestrogens available.
The plants with the strongest concentration of phytoestrogens, have less than 1% of the potency of our own natural estrogen.
Foods which contain isoflavonoids: soybeans and products made from them, black beans, red clover sprouts
Foods which contain lignans: flaxseeds, whole grains
Plant sources which contain coumesterol: soy sprouts, alfalfa, red clover, green beans, mung beans, red beans, split peas, cow pea, olives
Plant sources which contain isoflavones: soybeans and products made from them (highest in phytoestrogens), black beans, red clover sprouts, alfalfa, parsley, licorice root, chick peas, mung beans, whole grains
Plant sources which contain lignans: flaxseeds, rye, buckwheat, millet, sesame & sunflower seeds, dried seaweeds, whole legumes—including soya beans—whole grains (including oat barley), vegetables, fruit
Plant sources which contain resorcylic acid lactones: corn, oats, barley, rye, wheat, rice, peas, sesame, amaranth
Plant sources which contain estrogen like compounds (estradiol, estrone, estriol): licorice, french beans, apples, rice. All vegetable sprouts may be high.
Other phytoestrogenic plants include: willow, wormseed, astragalus, lotus, sorrel, sage, aniseed, celery, black cohosh, tansy, alcoholic drinks, corn oil, cherry, carrots, peas, sunflower, fennel, rhubarb, flaxseed, squash, saw palmetto, bakers yeast, plum, potato, pumpkin, olive oil, hops, dong quai, garlic, licorice, marrow, and the cabbage family.
This information is provided for educational purposes and to promote discussion only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat or claim cure for any disease or imbalance in the body.