In their clamour to promote HRT as a "natural" and therefore "healthy" hormone, the drug companies and the medical profession have conveniently overlooked that there are natural sources of estrogen that don't require the use of drugs. Rhubarb and hops both contain estrogen like hormones, known as phytoestrols, which have been shown to relieve menopausal symptoms without the dangers or the side effects. Soya beans and soya products like tofu and miso are also good sources of estrogen.
Phytoestrols are compounds which have a similar molecular structure to estrogen, and their effects are comparable, although weaker than the hormone. Other sources of phytoestrols include anise, celery, fennel, ginseng, alfalfa, red clover and liquorice.Japanese women with their high soya diet have a much lower frequency of hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms than women in the West. One study (Am J Clin Nutr, 1991; 54:1093-100) found that Japanese women on a traditional low fat diet had phyto estrogen levels in their urine of up to 1000 times higher than those of American women.
For those who want their plant estrogen in a tablet form, Carl Mueller/Goeppingen produces one made up of 4mg of rhubarb root and 90mg hops, registered under the name of Phytoestrol. Writing in the International Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (September 1993), naturopath Harald Gaier (our Alternatives columnist) cites evidence showing Phytoestrol has been used successfully to treat menopausal symptoms and also to minimize estrogen withdrawal symptoms for women who have had problems on HRT.
"In short, Phytoestrol offers the benefits of . . . HRT without the well known attendant risks," says Gaier. "Phytoestrol is not as quick acting as conventional hormones but will generally bring about a lasting improvement."
According to Gaier, Phytoestrol is better tolerated than the orthodox hormone preparations, has no known side effects, and no drug interactions or incompatibilities. He believes that besides the menopause, this preparation is useful for problems which usually call for conventional estrogen such as infrequent, heavy or painful periods.
For the alleviation of mild menopausal symptoms, Gaier recommends one Phytoestrol tablet with water after breakfast, and one after supper. In more severe cases, the dosage should be doubled, but you should try cutting down to the lower dose after two months. Treatment should continue for several months, he says, and is best handled under the supervision of an experienced, qualified herbalist.