Natural Estrogen

Written by Sarah Provost
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The phrase "natural estrogen" is somewhat misleading. The only estrogen that is truly natural to human women is the estrogen produced in their own bodies. Premarin, the most widely prescribed compound for hormone replacement therapy, is manufactured from the urine of pregnant mares--and is therefore natural to horses. The phrase is usually used, however, as a synonym for phytoestrogens, the estrogen-like substances found in some plants.

"Natural Estrogen" from Soy

When humans ingest phytoestrogens, the substance binds to estrogen receptors in the cells in the same manner as the hormone produced in the woman's body. They therefore act like human natural estrogen, though they are chemically different. Soy is the easiest source from which to get phytoestrogens, and the best way to ingest it is in foods such as tofu, miso, soybean nuts, and soy "dairy" products such as milk, cheese and yogurt. Some processed substances, such as soy powder, no longer retain any phytoestrogens.

There are also herbal sources of phytoestrogens, the most common being Black Cohosh and dong quai. Other herbs, such as evening primrose and vitex, contain phytoestrogens but are not recommended because they can cause side effects. People often assume that because a substance occurs naturally in plants rather than being manufactured in a lab, it is inherently safe. If this were true, we could eat any wild mushrooms we found!

It is also important to note that "natural estrogens" from soy and other plants can have the same effects as Premarin or synthetic hormones. In large enough doses, "natural estrogens" can cause the same serious side effects as standard hormone replacement therapy. Though phytoestrogens can be very useful in combating the discomforts of menopause, be sure to discuss them with your health practitioner.

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