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Menopause....Herbally

Menopause is not a sickness...but it is big business. The cover of a Life Magazine in the early 1960’s shows an elderly hand next to a very young one that is holding a little pink pill. In this cover story, a well-known physician states "estrogen replacement therapy will prevent our women from becoming dried up old sexless hags." Not only are we told that estrogen protects our bones and heart, but that it will keep us young forever. In this way estrogen became the magic drug for keeping women sexy and allegedly healthy. Is it any wonder that as more than 400,000 women approach menopause, estrogen is the most prescribed drug in America today? That is, until the Women's Health Initiative study sponsored by the National Institute of Health exposed the unspoken dangers of these hormone replacement drugs. The nation's largest trial of hormone replacement therapy was abruptly and prematurely halted when the study showed a significant increased the rate of heart attacks, breast cancer and stroke is healthy postmenopausal women. (1)

In the natural cycle of life we know that sex hormone production decreases as we age. We continue to produce estrogen and progesterone, however, it appears that the many estrogens in our environment compromise the body's ability to keep progesterone at optimal levels. This secondary hormone is critical in keeping all of our sex hormones balanced. Because of the environmental or xenoestrogens so prevalent in today's world.....many times it feels like our bodies need help in maintaining balance. These xenoestrogens are the result of off gassing of plastics, growth hormones in beef and chicken, car exhaust, pesticides used on fruits and vegetables, are all xenoestrogens. They behave like synthetic estrogen when absorbed by the body. Other major synthetic estrogens can be found in the meat supply of the United States in the form of growth hormones. These hormones are feed to beef and chicken to assist in rapid growth, to get them fatter faster. This not only affects the meat of the animal but it is also present in eggs, milk, cheese and butter. In farming communities with high exposure to pesticides in the air, food and water, there is an alarming increase in infertility, breast development in young boys, early menstruation, and abnormal sexual development in fish, frogs, turtles and other aquatic life. (2) We cannot completely avoid the toxic side effects of these numerous chemicals with which this planet and our bodies are increasingly bombarded. We can limit our dietary intake to avoid these hormones, but even then the natural cycles of a woman's body have become uncomfortable and big business. 

Menopause symptoms, PMS, infertility, and breast disease are on the rise and have been linked to synthetic hormones in our environment. We see new health issues almost daily in the news like "early onset puberty," "male menopause or andropause," and even breast cancer in men. In the past, menstruation, and aging were a natural life cycle. Today, from beginning to end, humans are challenged by symptoms that were rare in our grandmother's day. Chemical overload has created a terrible imbalance (3) In large numbers, women are turning to natural remedies like progesterone, wild yam, black cohosh and vitex to ease the symptoms of menopause which include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, irritability, insomnia, depression, weight gain, and bloating. Rather than taking the prescription drugs that doctors have routinely prescribed for the last 45 years, women want alternatives. The unpleasant and sometimes deadly side effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) were uncovered during the Women's Health Initiative, a nationwide study on the effects of HRT. The results revealed a significant increase risk for breast cancer, heart attacks and stroke. (4)

Plants with the saponin diosgenin, like wild yam and soy, are the base material for large amounts of progesterone production. Diosgenin is extracted, a hormone is added and progesterone is produced. This hormone is nearly identical to the progesterone our body produces. Pharmaceutical companies produce much of the progesterone used by natural companies. In order to patent, these drug companies add an additional molecule, making it an "unnatural" substance called a progestin. This hormone is not natural to the human body and therefore produces the unpleasant and often deadly side effects mentioned above.

Often called Mexican wild yam, Dioscorea villosa is one of the plants used by herbalists to create helpful formulas.. Though these products do not convert into or provide actual progesterone through topical application it appears they may provide support to assist the body in achieving hormone balance. MoonMaid Botanicals ProMeno Wild Yam Cream and Vital “V” Wild Yam Salve are examples of effective herbal wild yam formulas. Women desiring more natural relief for their symptoms have made these herbal formulas as well as progesterone creams very popular.

Consult a health professional when making these important decisions abut your health, particularly when discontinuing an HRT prescription drug. It is unfortunate that misleading labeling and marketing practices have found their way into the marketing of natural products and created muchconfusion about the types of wild yam products available and what to use. Consult with your local health food store, a local herbalist or other natural practitioner AND read your labels.