Many women over the age of 45 are plagued by menopausal symptoms. Typical symptoms during this time are hot flushes and sweating, lack of concentration and circulatory problems. If the psychological and physical suffering is particularly severe, hormone therapies are often prescribed – which have recently come under increasing criticism. An alternative to this is plant hormones, so-called phytoestrogens. These natural estrogens are supposed to regulate the estrogen balance in a similar way and thus relieve menopausal symptoms.
The menopause, the phase of hormonal change of the female body in the years before and after the last menstruation is accompanied by a reduction in estrogen production in the ovaries and the end of fertility.
For most women, menopause begins in their mid-40s. Until the onset of Menopause ( = last menstrual period), several years pass with irregular cycles.
The hormonal change causes a hormonal imbalance in the body, which causes various physical and psychological complaints.
Among the most common problems are:
- sudden flushes
- Circulatory problems
- hair loss/ dry hair/greasy hair
- irritability, panic attacks, depressive moods
- Fatigue– and exhaustion symptoms
Hormone therapy in the menopause
Hormone therapy or even hormone replacement therapy during menopause does not serve to restore hormone balance. The purpose of hormone preparations is Relief of pronounced menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes or urological conditions that can severely affect the everyday life of affected women.
The hormones can be taken in different ways, e.g. as tablets or dragees, as patches, gels or suppositories for local complaints. How long the treatment lasts and in which dosage it takes place is determined individually with the doctor. As a rule, the hormones are taken until the symptoms are getting better.
What are phytoestrogens?
Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring, secondary phytochemicals which are chemically assigned to the polyphenols. They are found in particular in certain cereals, pulses, fruit and vegetables such as Soya or Red Clover. Its name is based on its structure and effect, which is similar to that of the estrogens in the human body. They are therefore also known as estrogen-like described.
The different phytoestrogens are three structural classes assigned:
- Isoflavones (genistein, daidzein)
- Lignans (enterodiol, enterolactone)
- Coumestane (Coumestrol)
In connection with phytoestrogens the term Phyto-SERM on. SERM stands for Selective Estrogen-Receptor-Modulator. A Phyto-SERM binds to the estrogen receptors in the body, but the effect is much weaker than with the body’s own estrogen. Depending on the tissue, a Phyto-SERM does not have a general hormonal effect, but a hormone-regulating action.
Hormone therapy with phytoestrogens
As an alternative to synthetic hormones, the use Phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms is becoming increasingly popular because its significantly weaker estrogenic effect causes fewer side effects.
This trend reversal can be attributed to the realization that women from the Asian region hardly experience any menopausal symptoms – i.e. where soya is a major component of the diet. Soy contains isoflavones, which are considered to be the most potent phytoestrogens. This led to the assumption that the intake of estrogen-like substances with food can reduce menopausal complaints.
Most frequently isoflavones from the Grape silver candle (Cimicifuga racemosa), the Soya plant (Glycine max (L.) Merr.) and the Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is used in hormone replacement therapy.
Isoflavone preparations from soy and red clover are, in contrast to products from Black cohosh, only offered as food supplements, as they are not available as approved drugs.
Effectiveness of phytoestrogens
Many women prefer herbal hormones instead of classical hormone therapy with synthetic preparations in the treatment of their complaints.
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa):
The Black cohosh is one of the most intensively studied phyto-SERMs and not a phytoestrogen in the true sense of the word. Here the data on the effect is quite clear. The special extract iCR plays a pioneering role.
According to studies, preparations from the grape silver candle can cause typical menopausal symptoms such as Hot flushes and Insomnia significant improvement. There are also indications that they are suitable for osteoporosis prevention.
Cimicifuga products are the only ones among the Phyto-SERMs that are officially designated as Pharmaceuticals and are approved.
Soya plant (Glycine max (L.) Merr.)
Besides the Black cohosh there are Isoflavones from soya as a remedy for menopausal symptoms. Although there are food supplements containing isoflavones from soya, there are no approved drugs, as is the case with the Black cohosh.
It has been proven that soy isoflavones have estrogen-like effects. However, their efficacy in menopausal symptoms is controversial and scientifically not unequivocally proven. Different studies could neither prove an improvement nor a worsening effect.
Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
Red clover isoflavones behave similarly to soy isoflavones.
At the moment there are still no meaningful clinical data that prove the effectiveness of red clover preparations. No positive or negative effects have been found in studies, so their use for hot flushes, sweating, and similar ailments is still controversial.
Preparations containing red clover are also offered as food supplements and may not be explicitly advertised as a remedy for certain menopausal symptoms.
Phytoestrogens: side effects
Often it is the fear of the Side effects which keeps many women away from the classical hormone therapy and makes alternative ways seem interesting.
Previous studies have shown that the intake of phytoestrogens rarely causes side effects.
Some of the possible side effects of the grape silver candle are stomach pain and nausea, diarrhea, water retention or Skin reactions such as rashes/redness.
Similar complaints can occur with other isoflavone-containing preparations. However, the reason for this can also be Incompatibility to soy protein. In case of allergic reactions, the intake should, therefore, be stopped immediately.
For long-term hormone replacement therapy with plant hormones, the available data are not yet sufficient to make clear statements on Long-term effects to be able to meet. The duration of the intake and dose of these remedies should therefore always be determined in consultation with a doctor.
Phytoestrogens and breast cancer
How the intake of phytoestrogens, especially isoflavones, affects the Breast cancer risk is a matter of intense debate.
The data situation regarding the effects is currently still contradictory – neither a recommendation nor a warning can be given. In some studies, soy isoflavones have been shown to have both anticancer and carcinogenic effects.
So basically Caution with cancer: Women who already have hormone-dependent cancer (breast cancer, cervical cancer) or who are at increased risk of developing it should take estrogen-like plant preparations by no means unattended.
Anyone who decides to take phytoestrogens to relieve menopausal symptoms should, depending on the product, be advised to scientifically proven efficacy respect. According to current knowledge, this is only possible with extracts from the Black cohosh. Preparations from this plant are assigned to the Phyto-SERM and can improve typical problems in the menopause.
In contrast, the effectiveness of soy and red clover products has not yet been clinically proven. Accordingly, they are not available in pharmacies but are only sold as food supplements.
After all, there is no need to fear any side effects when taking it: These are comparatively minor when taking the drug. Above all, preparations from the grape silver candle are generally regarded as very well compatible.
Nevertheless, hormone replacement therapy with estrogen-like substances should only be carried out in consultation with a doctor or under medical supervision especially when previous illnesses are known.