Women are misinformed about their hormones, to the detriment of their health,
while drug companies reap huge profits at their expense.
For over 300 years, beginning in the 13th century and continuing well into the 16th century, the Inquisition was a reign of terror for the vast majority of people living throughout Europe and Scandinavia. The political, economic and religious forces of that time joined together to consolidate their power by eliminating those whom they perceived as impeding their ultimate objectives.
The unfortunate target of their efforts were the keepers of the healing arts and the ancient spiritual and cultural wisdoms. Historians debate the exact toll of such a hellish time - whether it was several hundreds of thousands or as many as nine million people - but what is undebatable is that the vast majority of the victims were women. In fact, the Inquisition is now regarded as a period of genocide against women, which successfully divested women of their power, self-respect, wealth, healing arts, and prominence and influence in their communities.
The Inquisition guaranteed that the Church fathers were the indisputable spiritual authorities. It was also successful in enshrining medical knowledge securely in the realm of men, since the Inquisition decreed that only trained medical doctors could now practice the healing arts and, needless to say, medical schools were barred to women (for that matter, so was any form of education).
What a relief that such a violent and misogynous era ended long ago. Or did it? Unfortunately, it appears that some traditions linger on. Women of today are still prey to vast political and economic interests, with dire consequences to their health, financial independence and personal power. Perhaps the Inquisition didn't end at all but just took on a more subtle and devious form.
Women are certainly big business to the medical and pharmaceutical interests. According to John Archer, author of Bad Medicine, about 600,000 hysterectomies are performed every year in the USA, and about 45,000 in Australia. (1) In 1994, it was estimated that 45,000 Australian women were taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT). (2) Many women are presently encouraged to remain on HRT for the rest of their post-menopausal lives.
According to Dr. Stanley West, noted infertility specialist, chief of reproductive endocrinology at St. Vincent's Hospital, New York, and author of The Hysterectomy Hoax, about 90 per cent of all hysterectomies are unnecessary. Gynecological consultants to Ralph Nader's Public Health Research Group reached a similar conclusion in 1991 in their book, Women's Health Alert. According to Dr. West, the only 100 percent appropriate reason for performing an hysterectomy is for treating cancer of the reproductive organs. (3) However, hysterectomies are all too frequently offered as treatment for a variety of conditions including endometriosis, fibroids, ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease and uterine prolapse.
It is no accident that gynecologists happen to be the highest earners of all specialists. Throughout their lives, women are encouraged to be subjected continuously to various medical treatments and procedures. Natural female functions, from menstruation through childbirth and into menopause, are taken over by medical and pharmaceutical interventions. Barraged by misinformation, myths, propaganda and, in some cases, downright lies, it's no wonder that so many women are thoroughly confused about matters relating to their own bodies and their health.
Perhaps there's no topic of greater confusion to women than the highly publicized introduction of HRT for the menopausal woman. It is touted as the best thing for liberating women since the discovery of oral contraceptives - even though the statistics now show that the wide use of the Pill has given rise to health hazards such as breast cancer, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease on a scale previously unknown in medicine. (4)
Investigation into the theory of hormone replacement goes all the way back to the 1930s with the research of Dr. Serge Voronoff. His research involved implanting fresh monkey's testicles into men's scrotums, with limited effectiveness. Offshoots of his research led to the grafting of monkey ovaries in women, with rather dire consequences. After several fatalities (to both monkeys and women), the search was redirected to the use of synthetic estrogen. With the advent of World War II, research was put on hold.
Menopause didn't really come into vogue as a topic of concern for the medical profession until the 1960s. In 1966 a New York gynecologist, Dr. Robert Wilson, wrote a best seller called Feminine Forever, extolling the virtues of estrogen replacement to save women from the "tragedy of menopause which often destroys her character as well as her health." His book sold over 100,000 copies in the first year. Wilson energetically promoted menopause as a condition of "living decay." According to him, estrogen replacement was a kind of long sought after youth pill that would save poor, fading women from the horrors of age. He popularized the erroneous belief that menopause is a deficiency disease.
Women's magazines eagerly seized upon his ideas and extensively promoted his concepts. This pleased Wilson no end, since he had earlier set up The Wilson Foundation for the sole purpose of promoting the use of estrogen drugs. The pharmaceutical industry generously contributed over US$1.3 million to his Foundation. Each year he received funds from such companies as Searle, Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories and Upjohn which made hormone products that Wilson claimed were effective in treating and preventing menopause. Pharmaceutical companies jumped on the bandwagon with aggressive promotions and advertising campaigns. His message hit a receptive chord: mid-life women need hormone drugs to be rescued from the inevitable horrors and decrepitude of this terrible deficiency disease called menopause.
Wilson pioneered the use of unopposed estrogen. However, there had been no formal assessment of the safety of estrogen therapy or its long term effects. Unopposed estrogen went out of vogue when it became obviously apparent that it shortened the lifetime of its users. In 1975, The New England Journal of Medicine examined the rates of endometrial cancer for estrogen consumers, concluding that the risk was seven and a half times greater for estrogen users. Women who had used estrogen for seven years or longer were 14 times more likely to develop cancer. (5)
As the popularity of unopposed estrogen therapy waned, new approaches were sought. The focus was also directed away from the false claims of preserving feminine beauty and youthfulness and towards more urgent health matters. The pharmaceutical industry resurrected estrogen replacement therapy with the new 'safe' hormone replacement therapy - a combination of synthetic progesterone and estrogen which would supposedly protect menopausal women not only from cardiovascular disease but also from the ravages of osteoporosis.
While the so-called 'experts' on women's health are reassuring women that there are no, or at least only very minor, unpleasant side effects, Dr. Lynette J. Dumble, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne's Department of Surgery at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, believes that "the sole basis of HRT is to create a commercial market that is highly profitable for the pharmaceutical companies and doctors. The supposed benefits of HRT are totally unproven." She believes that HRT not only exacerbates the presenting health problems but also contributes to the acceleration of the aging process of women. It either hastens the onset of other medical conditions or worsens the existing ones.
This perspective seems to be validated by the recent findings from a landmark study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1995, involving 121,700 women, which revealed startling effects from HRT. It warned that women who used HRT to offset the symptoms of menopause also increased their chance of developing breast cancer by 30 to 40 per cent by taking the hormone for more than five years. In women aged between 60 and 64, the risk of breast cancer rose to 70 per cent after five years of HRT. Finally, the study concluded that women using HRT were 45 per cent more likely to die from breast cancer than those who chose not to use HRT or used it for less than five years. (6)
According to Leslie Kenton, author of Passage to Power, "everybody who is anybody will tell you that menopause is an estrogen-deficiency disease and that you will need to take more estrogen as you approach mid-life. What may surprise you is this: not only is most of such commonly given advice on menopause wrong, a great deal of it can be positively dangerous."
Fortunately there is another side to the hormone story - a perspective that not only can assist women of all ages to attain greater health but also to reclaim a greater sense of power, responsibility and dignity in their lives.
A Brief Gynecological Tour of a Woman's Body
In order to understand the HRT debate, it is important, first, to have a rudimentary knowledge of a woman's cyclic nature. Until recently, doctors thought that menopause began when all the eggs in the ovaries had been used up. However, recent work has shown that menopause is probably not triggered by the ovaries but by the brain. It seems that both puberty and menopause are brain-driven events.
Menstruation depends on a complex network of hormonal communications between the ovary, the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in the brain. The hypothalamus secretes gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) which triggers the production of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) by the pituitary gland. The FSH then stimulates the growth of the egg follicles (a small excretory sac or gland) in the ovaries to trigger ovulation. As the egg follicles grow, estrogen is manufactured and released into the blood.
This chain reaction is not just one way. Estradiol, one of the ovarian estrogens in the bloodstream, also acts on the hypothalamus, causing a change in GnRH. Next, this altered hormone stimulates the pituitary to produce luteinising hormone (LH) which causes the egg follicles to burst and the ovum to be released. After the egg is expelled, progesterone is also manufactured by the collapsed egg follicle which develops into the corpus luteum.
All the hormones released during the menstrual cycle are secreted not in a constant, steady way but at dramatically different rates during different parts of the 28 day cycle.
For the first eight to 11 days of the menstrual cycle, a woman's ovaries make lots of estrogen. Estrogen prepares the follicles for the release of one of the eggs. It is estrogen which proliferates the changes that take place at puberty: the growth of breasts, the development of the reproductive system and the shape of a woman's body.
The rate of estrogen secretion begins to fall off on about day 13, one day before ovulation occurs. As estrogen falls, progesterone begins to rise, stimulating very rapid growth of the follicle. Beginning with this secretion of progesterone, ovulation occurs too. After the egg has been released from the follicle (known as the luteal stage of a woman's cycle), the follicle begins to change, enlarging and becoming a unique organ known as the corpus luteum. Progesterone is secreted from the corpus luteum, this tiny organ with a huge capacity for hormone production. The surge of progesterone at the time of ovulation is the source of libido - not estrogen, as is commonly believed.
After 10 or 12 days, if fertilization does not occur, ovarian production of progesterone falls dramatically. It is this sudden decline in progesterone levels that triggers the shedding of the secretory endometrium (the menses), leading to a renewal of the entire menstrual cycle.
Ovarian estrogen and progesterone stimulate the growth of the endometrium, or lining of the uterus, in preparation for fertilization. Estrogen proliferates the growth of endometrial tissue, and progesterone facilitates the secretory lining of the uterus so the fertilized egg can implant successfully. Adequate progesterone
Adequate progesterone, therefore, is the hormone most essential to the survival of the fertilized egg and the fetus.
At around 40 years of age, the interaction between hormones alters, eventually leading to menopause. It is still not clear how. Menopause may start with changes in the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland rather than in the ovaries. Scientists have conducted experiments where young mice have had their ovaries replaced with those from aged animals no longer capable of reproducing. The young mice can mate and give birth. This shows that old ovaries placed in a young environment are capable of responding. On the other hand, when young ovaries are put into old mice, these mice cannot reproduce. (7)
Whatever the mechanism triggering menopause, as fewer egg follicles are stimulated, the amount of estrogen and progesterone being produced by the ovaries declines although other hormones continue to be produced. By no means do the ovaries shrivel up and cease functioning, as is popularly believed. With the reduction of these hormones, menstruation becomes scantier and erratic and eventually ceases.
However, other body sites such as the adrenal glands, skin, muscle, brain, pineal gland, hair follicles and body fat are capable of making these same hormones, enabling the female body to make healthy adjustments in hormonal balance after menopause - provided a woman has taken good care of herself during the pre-menopausal years with proper lifestyle, diet and attention to mental and emotional health.
Menopausal women have the opportunity to enter this phase of life empowered in their wisdom and creativity as never before. They have access to profound inner knowing. The renowned sociologist Margaret Mead said, "There is nothing more powerful than a menopausal woman with zest!" In many cultures around the world, menopause is a transition and an initiation into the fulfillment of a woman's power, totally symptom-free. She is held in the highest regard in her community as a wise, respected elder.
The Myth of Estrogen and Synthetic Progestins
The earlier research that led to the synthesis of estrogen made possible the development of the oral contraceptive by 1960. With consent of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Pill was widely marketed as an effective, convenient method of birth control. True sexual liberation for women was at hand at last.
However, the entire basis for the FDA's consent was the result of clinical studies conducted on 132 Puerto Rican women who had taken the Pill for one year or longer. (8) (Never mind the fact that there were five women who died during the study without any investigation into the cause of their deaths.)
By the mid-1970s the death toll of women from heart attacks and strokes began to attract public notice. A newer, supposedly safer Pill was then created with a lower dose of estrogen. But, in fact, there has never been any valid scientific proof that the Pill is safe - nor, for that matter, that any of the other forms of contraception presently available are safe. Women are only now discovering the price they have been paying for their sexual freedom: by altering their hormonal balance, many varied and devastating emotional and physiological dysfunctions have been created.
It is now 35 years on from the introduction of oral contraception and there are presently about 60 million women worldwide who are, in effect, 'trial-ing' the Pill. Its safety and long term effects have still not been established conclusively. It is interesting to note, however, that it has produced a wide assortment of adverse effects and side effects and has a significant link to breast cancer, high blood pressure and, in particular, cardiovascular disease - the major cause of female deaths in Australia. In 1992, 27,833 women died from heart disease and strokes, compared to 2,438 from breast cancer. (9) Is this merely a coincidence, or do these statistics indicate, perhaps, the harmful side effects of tampering with hormones?
While proclaimed also as the primary missing ingredient for the menopausal woman, estrogen is strongly recommended by the medical and pharmaceutical industries for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Just about any doctor's surgery you walk into these days will warn women of the inherent risks of going through menopause and, for that matter, the post-menopausal years without the protection of estrogen. Women are further reminded, once again, that menopause is a deficiency disease, which supposedly means that they are lacking estrogen and therefore must have supplemental doses to maintain their health.
As Dr. Lynette Dumble has noted, "Broadly speaking, cardiovascular prevention in women has overwhelmingly focused on hormone replacement. Yet, as Elizabeth Barrett-Connor emphasizes, the Big Trial, the Coronary Drug Project of 1973 that included two estrogen regimens, was conducted in men. As part of the Big Trial design, estrogen doses extravagantly in excess of physiological levels were deliberately administered to men in order to induce gynaecomastia [enlargement of male breasts] as an indicator of successful feminisation. This resulted in thrombosis and impotence and ultimately led to research failure because of treatment discontinuations amongst the study's participants." (10)
According to medical practitioner, independent researcher and author Dr. John Lee, the one notable study (known as the Boston Health Study, conducted with a large sampling of nurses) which formed the entire basis of the positive estrogen-cardiovascular link, was radically flawed. Although there is ample evidence from numerous other studies showing that, indeed, the opposite is true - i.e., estrogen is a significant factor in creating heart disease - these findings have been virtually ignored in the frenzy for profits. He goes on to say that the pharmaceutical advertisements also neglected to mention the fact that stroke death incidence from that study was 50 per cent higher among the estrogen users.
Dr. Lee has compiled a list of side effects and physiological impairments which result from taking estrogen. They include increased risk of endometrial cancer, increased body fat, salt and fluid retention, depression and headaches, impaired blood sugar control (hypoglycemia), loss of zinc and retention of copper, reduced oxygen levels in all cells, thickened bile and promoted gall bladder disease, increased likelihood of breast fibrocysts and uterine fibroids, interference with thyroid activity, decreased sex drive, excessive blood-clotting, reduced vascular tone, endometriosis, uterine cramping, infertility, and restraint of osteoclast function.
With so many side effects and dangerous complications, a woman must think very carefully about the HRT decision. Unfortunately, most doctors will tell her that there is no other alternative. While certainly most doctors are well-meaning and sincerely concerned about their patients, their primary source of education and product information comes directly from the pharmaceutical companies. Since most women also lack essential education and understanding about their options, menopause can be perceived as a rather frightening and perilous time.
Enter Natural Progesterone
For the past 15 years, Dr. Lee has conducted independent research into a natural, plant derived form of progesterone. His non-pharmaceutically-funded research presents a much broader understanding of a woman's hormonal options and offers a totally safe, effective alternative that is free of all side effects. He has found that this natural hormone - used in conjunction with a good diet and lifestyle changes - is capable of eliminating much of the suffering associated both with premenstrual syndrome (PM and menopause. Thousands of women in the Western world now use natural progesterone - generally in the form of a non-prescription cream which is rubbed into the body. They claim that they not only have relief from female symptoms but experience increased vitality, better skin and renewed emotional balance.
Natural progesterone seems to have been totally overlooked by medical science while the erroneous focus has been on estrogen. Considering that it is non-patentable and inexpensive, it not surprising that this is so. It is important, however, to have a much greater understanding and appreciation for this remarkable hormone.
As was previously mentioned, it is progesterone that is responsible for maintaining the secretory endometrium which is necessary for the survival of the embryo as well as the developing fetus throughout gestation. It is little realized, however, that progesterone is the mother of all hormones. Progesterone is the important precursor in the biosynthesis of adrenal corticosteroids (hormones that protect against stress) and of all sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen). This means that progesterone has the capacity to be turned into other hormones further down the pathways as and when the body needs them. The point needs to be emphasized that estrogen and testosterone are end metabolic products made from progesterone. Without adequate progesterone, estrogen and testosterone will not be sufficiently available to the body. Besides being a precursor to sex hormones, progesterone also facilitates many other important, intrinsic physiological functions (which will be discussed later).
The Estrogen Dominance Effect
Female problems seem to be on the rise. Between 40 and 60 per cent of all women in the West suffer from PMS. In addition, women also suffer from a plethora of symptoms, some menopausal and others not. Something quite alarming certainly seems to be happening to women. There is indication that proper hormonal balance necessary for a woman's body to function healthily is being interfered with by a number of factors. Research has revealed that a good portion of women in their 30s (and some even younger), long before the onset of menopause, on occasion will not ovulate during their menstrual month. (11) Without ovulation, no corpus luteum results and no progesterone is made. A progesterone deficiency ensues.
Several problems can result from this deficiency. One is the month long presence of unopposed estrogen with all its attendant side effects, as already mentioned. Another is the generally unrecognized problem of progesterone's role in osteoporosis. Contemporary medicine is still unaware that progesterone stimulates osteoblast-mediated new bone formation. Actually, it is progesterone that stimulates new bone tissue and is capable of reversing osteoporosis at any age. Lack of progesterone means that new osteoblasts are not created and osteoporosis can arise. (12) A third major problem results from the interrelationship between progesterone loss and stress. Stress combined with a bad diet can induce anovulatory cycles. The consequent lack of progesterone interferes with the production of the stress-combating hormones, exacerbating stress conditions that give rise to further anovulatory cycles. And so the vicious cycle continues.
Another major factor contributing to this imbalance between estrogen and progesterone is environmental in nature. We in the industrialized world now live immersed in a rising sea of petrochemical derivatives. They are in our air, food and water. These chemicals include pesticides and herbicides (such as DDT, dieldrin, heptachlor, etc.) as well as various plastics (polycarbonated plastics found in babies bottles and water jugs) and PCBs. These estrogen-mimics are highly fat-soluble, not biodegradable or well excreted, and accumulate in fat tissue of animals and humans. These chemicals have an uncanny ability to mimic natural estrogen. They are given the name "xeno-estrogens" since, although they are foreign chemicals, they are taken up by the estrogen receptor sites in the body, seriously interfering with natural biochemical changes.
Mounting research is now revealing an alarming situation worldwide created by the inundation of these hormone-mimics. In a recently released book, Our Stolen Future, authors Theo Colburn of the World Wildlife Fund, Dianne Dumanoski of The Boston Globe and John Peterson Meyers, a zoologist, have identified 51 hormone mimics, each able to unleash a torrent of effects such as reduced sperm production, cell division and sculpting of the developing brain. These mimics are not only linked to the recent discovery that human sperm counts worldwide have plunged by 50 per cent between 1938 and 1990 but also to genital deformities, breast, prostate and testicular cancer, and neurological disorders. (10)
Dr. Lee has discovered a consistent theme running through women's complaints of the distressing and often debilitating symptoms of PMS, peri-menopause and menopause: too much estrogen, or, as he has termed it, "estrogen dominance".
Now, instead of estrogen playing its essential role within the well balanced symphony of steroid hormones in a woman's body, it has begun to overshadow the other players, creating biochemical dissonance. The last thing in the world a woman's body needs is more estrogen - either in the form of contraceptives or HRT. Then, when the estrogen-dominant symptoms appear, guess what is prescribed? More estrogen! The delicate natural estrogen/progesterone balance is radically altered due to too much estrogen. Progesterone deficiency is then exacerbated even more.
Dr. Lee has been able to balance the estrogen-dominance effect through the use of transdermal natural progesterone cream. Natural progesterone, a cholesterol derivative, is made from wild Mexican yams or soybeans whose active ingredients are an exact molecular match of the body's own progesterone. It is interesting to note that in countries in Asia and South America where women eat either the wild yams or soybeans, the term "hot flush" doesn't even exist in their languages. They also rarely suffer from the host of female problems presently plaguing Western women.
Supplementation with natural progesterone corrects the real problem: progesterone deficiency. Natural progesterone is not known to have any side effects; nor have any toxic levels been found to date. Natural progesterone increases libido, prevents cancer of the womb, protects against fibrocystic breast disease, helps protect against breast cancer, maintains the uterus lining, hydrates and oxygenates the skin, reverses facial hair growth and hair thinning, acts as a natural diuretic, helps eliminate depression and increase a sense of well being, encourages fat burning and the use of stored energy, normalizes blood clotting, and is a precursor to other important stress and sex hormones. Even the two most prevalent menopausal symptoms - hot flushes and vaginal dryness - quickly disappear with applications of natural progesterone.
There is one other very significant benefit of natural progesterone that deserves a bit more attention. While most people are under the assumption that estrogen protects against osteoporosis - one of the biggest selling points for which a woman is encouraged to take HRT - this is definitely not the case.
The early studies on which the estrogen protection assumption was based had gross scientific defects. Canadian researcher Jerilyn Prior, chief endocrinologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and her colleagues, reporting in The New England Journal of Medicine, confirmed that estrogen's role in osteoporosis is only a minor one. In their studies of female athletes, they found that osteoporosis occurs to the degree that they become progesterone-deficient, even though their estrogen levels seem to remain normal. Prior continued her research with non-athletic women. They showed the same results. While both these groups of women were menstruating, they had anovulatory cycles and, therefore, were progesterone-deficient.
Prior then went on to discover that anovulation and a short phase cycle now occur in up to 50 per cent of North American women's menstrual cycles during the final reproductive years. (14) Unfortunately, these major findings went relatively unnoticed in the medical community.
As a result of her extensive review of published scientific evidence in this area, Prior confirmed that it is not estrogen but progesterone which is the bone-trophic hormone; that is, the bone builder. She was even able to identify progesterone receptor sites on osteoblast cells (bone tissue building cells). Nobody has ever found osteoblast receptors for estrogen. The bottom line is that it is in women with progesterone deficiency that bone loss occurs. (15)
These results were verified by a three year study of 63 post-menopausal women with osteoporosis. Women using transdermal progesterone cream experienced an average 7 to 8 per cent bone mass density increase in the first year, 4 to 5 per cent the second year, and 3 to 4 per cent in the third year! Untreated women in this age category typically lose 1.5 per cent bone mass density per year! These results have not been found with any other form of hormone replacement therapy or dietary supplementation. (16)
Dr. Lee believes that the use of natural progesterone in conjunction with dietary and lifestyle change can not only stop osteoporosis but can actually reverse it - even in women aged 70 or more.
At this point, it is important to make the distinction between the natural progesterone that is produced by the body and the synthetic progesterone analogues classified as progestins, such as Provera, Duphaston and Primulut. As you will learn, there is a big difference between the two in their effect in the body, although doctors most often use their names interchangeably. Since natural progesterone is not a patentable product, the pharmaceutical companies have molecularly altered it to produce synthetic progestins commonly used in contraceptives and HRT.
Synthetic progestins, because they are not exact replicas of the body's natural progesterone, unfortunately create a long list of side effects, some of which are quite severe. A partial list includes headaches, depression, fluid retention, increased risk of birth defects and early abortion, liver dysfunction, breast tenderness, breakthrough bleeding, acne, hirsutism (hair growth), insomnia, edema, weight changes, pulmonary embolism and premenstrual-like syndrome. (17)
Most importantly, progestins lack the intrinsic physiological benefits of progesterone, thus they cannot function in the major biosynthetic pathways as progesterone does and they disrupt many fundamental processes in the body. Progesterone is an essential hormone that also plays a part in the development of healthy nerve cells and brain and thyroid function. Progestins tend to block the body's ability to produce and utilize natural progesterone to maintain these life promoting functions.
The hormone story is certainly a very complicated one. Up until now, only one version of the story has been available to the majority of Western women, especially Australian women. Serious doubt has been cast on the efficacy and appropriateness of estrogen and progestins in all the forms they take. Women are certainly suffering from a wide variety of female complaints.
What complicates the hormone story is that the prescribed treatments for these complaints are actually making the problem worse. Without understanding the far reaching side effects of estrogen dominance and progestin, doctors are misdiagnosing the cause of these aggravated conditions. Often, other drugs are then prescribed with disastrous side effects, as the spiral of unnecessary medication increases. What is the ultimate toll, not only on a woman's deteriorating health and emotional well being but also on her financial situation, her relationships and her career?
Without adequate knowledge, education and access to natural products, women have been easy prey to the powerful campaigns of the multinational drug companies that have convinced doctors as well as governments of their claims. It is becoming more evident that women's interests are not always best met through such a biased approach. It is also not unusual for profits to take precedence over health and well being. The last thing a woman needs is to have her natural bodily functions denigrated to deficiency diseases - thus necessitating ongoing medical attention.
It is indeed time for women to take even greater responsibility for their health, their choices and their lifestyles. The greatest weapon against compliance and ignorance is knowledge. It's time to ask poignant questions of your health provider, to demand answers and to be willing to investigate safe, alternative approaches. It is apparent that women will need to participate in educating their doctors about the other choices that exist as well as the ones that they prefer.
Certainly, women have it well within their own power not only to find safe, natural and effective ways to heal themselves but to live long, full lives, preserving their vitality, youthfulness and health. Women deserve the right to appreciate themselves and their bodies through all the stages of life. As women find the way to return to a greater balance within themselves, they will know profoundly the truth of what Dr. Deepak Chopra has said about women: "Feminine wisdom is the intelligence at the heart of creation."Effects of Estrogen Dominance
(Source: Leslie Kenton, Passage to Power, Random House, UK, 1995)
- When estrogen is not balanced by progesterone, it can produce weight gain, headaches, bad temper, chronic fatigue and loss of interest in sex - all of which are part of the clinically recognized premenstrual syndrome.
- Not only has it been well established that estrogen dominance encourages the development of breast cancer thanks to estrogen's proliferative actions, it also stimulates breast tissue and can, in time, trigger fibrocystic breast disease - a condition which wanes when natural progesterone is introduced to balance the estrogen.
- By definition, excess estrogen implies a progesterone deficiency. This, in turn, leads to a decrease in the rate of new bone formation in a woman's body by the osteoblasts - the cells responsible for doing this job. Although most doctors are not yet aware of it, this is the prime cause of osteoporosis.
- Estrogen dominance increases the risk of fibroids. One of the interesting facts about fibroids - often remarked on by doctors - is that, regardless of the size, fibroids commonly atrophy once menopause arrives and a woman's ovaries are no longer making estrogen. Doctors who commonly use progesterone with their patients have discovered that giving a woman natural progesterone will also cause fibroids to atrophy.
- In estrogen dominant menstruating women where progesterone is not peaking and falling in a normal way each month, the ordered shedding of the womb lining doesn't take place. Menstruation becomes irregular. This condition can usually be corrected by making lifestyle changes and using a natural progesterone product. It is easy to diagnose by having a doctor measure the level of progesterone in the blood at certain times of the month.
- Endometrial cancer (cancer of the womb) develops only where there is estrogen dominance or unopposed estrogen. This, too, can be prevented by the use of natural progesterone. The use of the synthetic progestins may also help prevent it, which is why a growing number of doctors no longer give estrogen without combining it with a progesterone drug during HRT. However, all synthetic progestins have side effects.
- Water logging of the cells and an increase in intercellular sodium, which predispose a woman to high blood pressure or hypertension, frequently occur with estrogen dominance. These can also be side effects of taking synthetic progestogen [progestins]. A natural progesterone cream usually clears it up.
- The risk of stroke and heart disease is increased dramatically when a woman is estrogen-dominant.
(Source: Leslie Kenton, Passage to Power, Random House, UK, 1995)
Anti-aging Benefits of Natural Progesterone
- Progesterone is a primary precursor in the biosynthesis of the adrenal corticosteroids. Without adequate progesterone, synthesis of the cortisones is impaired and the body turns to alternate pathways. These alternate pathways have masculine-producing side effects such as long facial hairs and thinning of scalp hair. Further impaired corticosteroid production results in a decrease in the ability to handle stress, e.g., surgery, trauma or emotional stress.
- Many peri- or post-menopausal women with clinical signs of hypothyroidism, such as fatigue, lack of energy, intolerance to cold, are actually suffering from unrecognized estrogen dominance and will benefit from supplementation with natural progesterone.
- Estrogen and most of the synthetic progestins increase intracellular sodium and water uptake. The effect of this is hypertension. Natural progesterone is a natural diuretic and prevents the cell's uptake of sodium and water, thus preventing hypertension.
- Whereas estrogen impairs homeostatic control of glucose levels, natural progesterone stabilizes them. Thus, natural progesterone can be beneficial to both those with diabetes and those with reactive hypoglycemia. Estrogen should be contraindicated in patients with diabetes.
- Thinning and wrinkled skin is a sign of lack of hydration in the skin. It is common in peri- and post-menopausal women and is a sure sign of hormone depletion. Transdermal natural progesterone is a skin moisturizer which restores skin hydration.
- Progesterone serves a role in keeping brain cells healthy. A disorder such as premature senility (Alzheimer's disease) may be, at least in part, another example of disease secondary to progesterone deficiency.
- Progesterone is essential for the healthy development of the myelin sheath which protects the nerve cells. Low progesterone levels lead to recurring aches and pains.
- Progesterone creates and promotes an enhanced sense of emotional well being and psychological self-sufficiency.
- Progesterone is responsible for enhancing the libido.
(Source: John R. Lee, M.D., Slowing the Aging Process with Natural Progesterone, BLL Publishing, CA, USA, 1994, p. 14)
© 1996 by Sherrill Sellman The author presently lives in Melbourne where she conducts a private psychotherapy practice and also devotes time to lecturing, training and writing. She is a contributing writer to holistic publications in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States on topics of interest and concern to her, relating to health, women's empowerment, relationships, and personal and planetary transformation. She can be contacted at Light Unlimited, Locked Bag 8000 - MDC, Kew, Victoria 3101, Australia, Telephone +61 (03) 9840 6496. Fax: +61 (03) 9855 9991 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Archer, John, Bad Medicine, Simon & Schuster, Australia, 1995, p. 191.
Op. cit., p. 217.
Op. cit., p. 192.
Op. cit., p. 211.
Coney, Sandra, The Menopause Industry, Spinifex Press Pty Ltd., Australia, 1991, pp. 164-165.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 June 1995.
Coney, Sandra, op. cit., p. 584.
Archer, John, op. cit., p. 210.
Archer, John, op. cit., p. 211.
(a) Dumble, Lynette J., Ph.D., M.Sc., "Odds Against Women with Heart Disease", presented at Health Sharing Women's Forum, Royal College of Surgeons, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 14 September 1995. (b) Barrett-Connor, Elizabeth, "Heart Disease in Women", Fertility and Sterility (1994), 62(2):127S-132S.
Lee, John R., M.D., Natural Progesterone: The Multiple Role of a Remarkable Hormone, BLL Publishing, California, USA, 1993, p. 29.
Newsweek, 18 March 1996.
Kenton, Leslie, Passage to Power, Random House, UK, 1995, pp. 19-20.
Lee, John R., M.D., "Osteoporosis Reversal: The Role of Progesterone", International Clinical Nutrition Review (1990), 10:384-391.
Lee, John R., M.D., Slowing the Aging Process with Natural Progesterone, BLL Publishing, California, USA, 1994, p. 12.
Progesterone -What its all about
Some of the most exciting work in terms of real solutions to health problems comes from biochemists and scientists who are coming to grips with the healing power of plants.
This new movement understands that nature herself can help without too much of mankind's tinkering.
My 1995 trip to England took me on to Europe where I met a young Danish biochemist deeply involved in this kind of work, a perfect example of anenlightened new breed of scientific researcher. His passion is the power he finds in organically grown plant compounds, "natural remedies" he takes and enhances with modern technology to create a whole new gender of natural remedy: a veritable 'super botanical' for the 21st century.
The beauty of his work lies not only in marrying the best of ancient plant wisdom with the best of our modern age, but in that he is a scientist with a spiritual consciousness, aware of the profound impact people like him can have on the future health of humankind.
Natural progesterone, too, has its genesis in both worlds: the diosgnenin plant compound from the wild yam (discorea villosa and dioscorea mexicana) is converted in a three-stage laboratory process to a molecule that is "nature identical".
(Disogenin is a "plant sterol", a substance closely "related" to human steroid hormones). Nature identical or "bio-identical" means that the molecule is "exactly" the same as the progesterone that is made in the human body. Because natural progesterone is nature identical, the body can use it and "tolerate" it exactly as it would our own progesterone. Diosgenin from wild yams is also used by the pharmaceutical industry as the starting block in the "creation" of synthetic oestrogen and progestogens.
What then is the difference between synthetic and nature identical? Slight "variations" in the structure of the atoms in a molecule.
It sounds simple enough; one set of processing techniques takes you to a nature identical hormone, the other to a synthetic hormone. One matches the hormone in our body exactly: the other is "similar" but not the same.
These "slight variations" lead to big differences in the effect these molecules have on our bodies.
Every year we learn more and more about hormones and how exquisitely "fined-tuned" and "sensitive" they are. We now know that hormones fit into "receptor sites" all over the human body in a process described as a 'key fitting into a lock'.
When this happens it's as though a cell door swings open and the hormone relays its "chemical message" into that cell... a master plan at the edges of human understanding all going on without a single thought from us.
When you think about the perfect design of the human eco-system, it's little wonder that "foreign substances" wreak such internal damage. Most modern 'life-saving' drugs come with lists of "adverse reactions" and side-effects.
Synthetic oestrogens are strongly linked with uterine and breast cancer; synthetic progestogens with blood clots, changes in vision, irregular bleeding.
If nature identical hormones gives such "good results" with few associated problems, why not just "formulate" natural hormones and be done with it?
'It is a sad commentary on the pursuit of profit over women's well being that the pharmaceutical companies take perfectly good natural hormones that our bodies know and can use them, creating "synthetic compounds" with similar hormonal effects but "toxic" side-effects.' - Dr John Lee- Well, that's the rub. Pharmaceutical companies are businesses that exist to return a profit and it doesn't make sound commercial sense for them to work with "nature identical" hormones.
Because the system we've created means it costs vast sums of money to put a new drug on the market, literally millions.
To expend that kind of money on evelopment,research, manufacturing and trialing a new roduct,pharmaceutical companies have to know that they 'own' the "molecular structure" and technology for a certain length of time so they can get a return and profit on their investment.
That's why patents exist. A new molecule can be 'patented', in effect owned for a certain number of years so the company can market and sell it's product without competition.
Natural hormones can't be "owned". Therefore it doesn't make financial sense for pharmaceutical companies to expend the huge resources required to create "nature identical" molecules when, at any time, a competitor could do the same thing and the money would be lost.
That's why HRT and the oral contraceptive pill are so very familiar to us and to the medical profession (you can be sure that pharmaceutical companies spend a lot of money ensuring doctors know all about their products).
That's why the information about "natural progesterone" comes to us from the very small band of doctors who have been prescribing it and from the women who have been taking it over the past two decades.
Natural hormones aren't allocated big advertising budgets, slick promotions and glossy advertisement campaigns to "inform" the medical profession about them. That's why chances are your doctor knows little or nothing about natural progesterone.
It's good news for us now, but sobering to think how many women have suffered needlessly - not to mention died - from decades of "adverse reactions" to synthetic "copies".
"We know that we don't have as many studies on bio-identical hormones as we have on synthetic hormones. We know that the whole reason for that is because of patent issues; the pharmaceutical house has to make a "molecule" that is not bio-identical.'
- Dr Christiane Northrup.
Some good reading and some misconceptions about natural, bioidentical hormones.
In her book The Sexy Years, Suzanne Somers has done a wonderful job describing the perils of the hormonal imbalances that menopause can bring, and she has certainly put natural, bioidentical hormones on the map with media appearances on everything from Home Shopping Network to the Larry King Show. The Sexy Years is a good read, with plenty of personal stories, helpful descriptions of how hormones work, and some interesting interviews with physicians who use bioidentical hormones in their medical practices.
In particular, Somers draws from her friend, Dr. Diana Schwarzbein (author of The Schwarzbein Principle), an endocrinologist who uses natural, bioidentical hormones. Dr. Schwarzbein has drawn heavily from Dr. Lee’s work over the years, and they even borrowed a slightly altered version of his Three Rules for Hormone Replacement for Somers’ book, which you can find in the original on this website (http://www.johnleemd.com/thruforusbih.html).
Pregnancy, Hormones and Health
Somers does seem to have some misconceptions about a few important issues. When referring to natural, bioidentical hormones, she states that, "These hormones are not available in health food stores or from naturalists or herbalists." In truth, estrogen and testosterone are only available by prescription from a doctor, but progesterone cream is easily available at most health food stores and on the web.
Another statement Somers makes is that, “Postmenopausal women should not be mimicking pregnancy since the risks associated with pregnancy (heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and breast cancer) increase exponentially with age.” Scharwzbein reiterates this in her interview, but unfortunately does not explain her theory. While a few pregnant women are susceptible to gestational diabetes and eclampsia (high blood pressure), this doesn’t mean that the hormones of pregnancy directly cause these problems. In fact, the majority of women are radiantly healthy during their last trimester of pregnancy, when hormones are the highest. Pregnancy hormones may cause a flare-up of a breast cancer tumor that was already established, but long term, one of the best-established factors that lowers the risk of breast cancer is pregnancy. In fact, the earlier a woman gets pregnant, and the more pregnancies she has, the lower her risk of breast cancer. For details on hormones and breast cancer, with extensive documentation, please read What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer.
You Don’t have to have Periods to Have Postmenopausal Hormone Balance
It is very true that postmenopausal women do not want to be mimicking pregnancy by using high doses of bioidentical hormones continuously, without a break, and Somers and Schwarzbein make a good case for this in The Sexy Years. As Dr. Lee frequently pointed out, it’s important to take a break from hormones for a week or so each month. That way, if there is any buildup of tissue in the uterus, it can be shed in menstruation.
On the other hand, it is not necessary for a postmenopausal woman to have periods if she is using bioidentical hormones properly. When postmenopausal women use small doses of bioidentical hormones, they rarely, if ever, have periods, nor do they have the risky endometrial buildup in the uterus which is what makes it important to have periods. Estrogen stimulates the buildup of uterine tissue, but there’s no need to take that much estrogen to feel healthy and balanced. Since fat cells create estrogen, women who are heavy may not even need to use supplemental estrogen.
Dr. Lee’s recommendation was always to use 15 to 30 mg of progesterone daily, and the lowest dose of estrogen that would either clear up estrogen deficiency symptoms or show normal levels on a saliva hormone level test. This improves health and well-being, but doesn’t put a postmenopausal woman back into the same hormonal milieu she had when she was menstruating every month.
These misconceptions are undoubtedly due to 1) the use of the oral (pill) form of progesterone (e.g. Prometrium), and 2) the use of blood tests to measure hormone levels.
When you take progesterone in a pill form, most of it goes directly to the liver, where up to 80 percent of it may be dumped, but not before creating a variety of byproducts (metabolites). Thus, it’s necessary to take 100 mg of progesterone in pill form to get 20 mg into your cells. If your liver happens to be working less efficiently on a given day, and excretes less of the progesterone, it’s easy to experience overdose side effects such as sleepiness and bloating. These side effects often have women running for more estrogen to wake themselves up again, but what they really need to do is use progesterone cream, which is a much more efficient delivery method: if you put 20 mg on your skin, virtually all of that will be in your bloodstream within a matter of minutes.
Blood Tests vs. Saliva Tests
The other misconception is that a standard blood test will give an accurate indication of hormone levels. Standard blood tests measure the amount of hormones in the serum, or watery part of the blood. However, the majority of hormones found in serum have been inactivated and are on their way out of the body. Active (bioavailable) hormones a
Blood Tests vs. Saliva Tests
The other misconception is that a standard blood test will give an accurate indication of hormone levels. Standard blood tests measure the amount of hormones in the serum, or watery part of the blood. However, the majority of hormones found in serum have been inactivated and are on their way out of the body. Active (bioavailable) hormones are carried on the red blood cells and these are what matters. Some doctors are now doing hormone testing with red blood cells, but it’s much easier and less expensive to test saliva hormone levels. Active hormones are filtered into your saliva, and these can be accurately measured with a simple at-home test.
Overdosing Creates the Same Old Problems
This misconception about measuring hormones has been particularly misleading among those who use bioidentical hormones because one must take massive overdoses of hormones before they’ll show up at all in a standard blood test. This has led to the practice of using way too high a dosage, particularly of estrogen and progesterone, and that just creates further hormone imbalances. Overdosing, even with bioidentical hormones, is a setup for a long list of familiar side effects, including weight gain, bloating, insomnia, hot flashes and night sweats.
Excess estrogen is particularly problematic, not just because it causes the symptoms above, but also because it’s an “upper,” or stimulating, and it can, in effect, become addictive. In excess, estrogen can create a kind of hyper-talkative, restless, even agitated state that passes for increased energy. The brain gets used to the higher level of “excitement” and when estrogen levels drop, it can cause depression and fatigue. If you’re leading a stressful life, taking more estrogen to pump up your energy is akin to taking drugs such as speed – it may produce a temporary high, but there’s always a corresponding low to follow. The wiser strategy is to manage stress by eating well, getting plenty of sleep and exercise, practicing some form of meditation, supporting adrenal function (see What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause for details), and creating hormone balance.
If you’d like detailed information on how to use natural, bioidentical hormones in a way that creates balance, and is in tune with your body’s natural way of doing things, please read the newly updated and revised edition of What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause.
© Copyright Hormones Etc.
by John R. Lee, M.D. and Virginia Hopkins
Q: What is progesterone?
A: Progesterone is a steroid hormone made by the corpus luteum of the ovary at ovulation, and in smaller amounts by the adrenal glands. Progesterone is manufactured in the body from the steroid hormone pregnenolone, and is a precursor to most of the other steroid hormones, including cortisol, androstenedione, the estrogens and testosterone.
In a normally cycling female, the corpus luteum produces 20 to 30 mg of progesterone daily during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.
Q: Why do women need progesterone?
A: Progesterone is needed in hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women for many reasons, but one of its most important roles is to balance or oppose the effects of estrogen. Unopposed estrogen creates a strong risk for breast cancer and reproductive cancers.
Estrogen levels drop only 40-60% at menopause, which is just enough to stop the menstrual cycle. But progesterone levels may drop to near zero in some women. Because progesterone is the precursor to so many other steroid hormones, its use can greatly enhance overall hormone balance after menopause. Progesterone also stimulates bone-building and thus helps protect against osteoporosis.
Q: Why not just use the progestin Provera as prescribed by most doctors?
A: Progesterone is preferable to the synthetic progestins such as Provera, because it is natural to the body and has no undesirable side effects when used as directed.
If you have any doubts about how different progesterone is from the progestins, remember that the placenta produces 300-400 mg of progesterone daily during the last few months of pregnancy, so we know that such levels are safe for the developing baby. But progestins, even at fractions of this dose, can cause birth defects. The progestins also cause many other side effects, including partial loss of vision, breast cancer in test dogs, an increased risk of strokes, fluid retention, migraine headaches, asthma, cardiac irregularities and depression.
Q: What is estrogen dominance?
A: Dr. Lee has coined the term "estrogen dominance," to describe what happens when the normal ratio or balance of estrogen to progesterone is changed by excess estrogen or inadequate progesterone. Estrogen is a potent and potentially dangerous hormone when not balanced by adequate progesterone.
Both women who have suffered from PMS and women who have suffered from menopausal symptoms, will recognize the hallmark symptoms of estrogen dominance: weight gain, bloating, mood swings, irritability, tender breasts, headaches, fatigue, depression, hypoglycemia, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and fibrocystic breasts. Estrogen dominance is known to cause and/or contribute to cancer of the breast, ovary, endometrium (uterus), and prostate.
Q: Why would a premenopausal woman need progesterone cream?
A: In the ten to fifteen years before menopause, many women regularly have anovulatory cycles in which they make enough estrogen to create menstruation, but they don't make any progesterone, thus setting the stage for estrogen dominance. Using progesterone cream during anovulatory months can help prevent the symptoms of PMS.
We now know that PMS can occur despite normal progesterone levels when stress is present. Stress increases cortisol production; cortisol blockades (or competes for) progesterone receptors. Additional progesterone is required to overcome this blockade, and stress management is important.
Q: What is progesterone made from?
A: The USP progesterone used for hormone replacement comes from plant fats and oils, usually a substance called diosgenin which is extracted from a very specific type of wild yam that grows in Mexico, or from soybeans. In the laboratory diosgenin is chemically synthesized into real human progesterone. The other human steroid hormones, including estrogen, testosterone, progesterone and the cortisones are also nearly always synthesized from diosgenin.
Some companies are trying to sell diosgenin, which they label "wild yam extract" as a medicine or supplement, claiming that the body will then convert it into hormones as needed. While we know this can be done in the laboratory, there is no evidence that this conversion takes place in the human body.
Q: Where should I put the progesterone cream?
A: Because progesterone is very fat-soluble, it is easily absorbed through the skin. From subcutaneous fat, progesterone is absorbed into capillary blood. Thus absorption is best at all the skin sites where people blush: face, neck, chest, breasts, inner arms and palms of the hands.
Q: What is the recommended dosage of progesterone?
A: For premenopausal women the usual dose is 15-24 mg/day for 14 days before expected menses, stopping the day or so before menses.
For postmenopausal women, the dose that often works well is 15 mg/day for 25 days of the calendar month.
Q: What amount of progesterone do you recommend in a cream?
A: Dr. Lee recommends the creams that contain 450-500 mg of progesterone per ounce, which is 1.6% by weight or 3% by volume. This means that about ¼ teaspoon daily would provide about 20 mg/day.
Q: How safe is progesterone cream?
A: During the third trimester of pregnancy, the placenta produces about 300 mg of progesterone daily, so we know that a one-time overdose of the cream is virtually impossible. If you used a whole jar at once it might make you sleepy. However, Dr. Lee recommends that women avoid using higher than the recommended dosage to avoid hormone imbalances. More is not better when it comes to hormone balance.
Q: Wouldn't it be easier to just take a progesterone pill?
A: Dr. Lee recommends the transdermal cream rather than oral progesterone, because some 80% to 90% of the oral dose is lost through the liver. Thus, at least 200 to 400 mg daily is needed orally to achieve a physiologic dose of 15 to 24 mg daily. Such high doses create undesirable metabolites and unnecessarily overload the liver.
Q: Where can I get more information on progesterone and natural hormone balance?
A: For a detailed explanation of women's hormone balance issues, a hormone balance program, as well as detailed descriptions of how to use natural progesterone, the following books by John R. Lee, M.D. are recommended:
What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause
What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About PREmenopause
What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer
Click here for more about these books including sample chapters and purchase information.
Manufactured from cholesterol by a woman's ovaries each month, the hormone called estrogen circulates in the blood, passes easily in and out of all organs and tissues and is eventually metabolised by enzymes in the liver.
Certain tissues in a woman's body, however, contain receptors that latch onto estrogen molecules as they float through her body. During the few hours when estrogen molecules are bound to the receptors, the cells of these "target tissues" are stimulated to proliferate. The cells of the vagina, the uterus and the breast all contain large numbers of estrogen receptors. In the presence of estrogen, they grow.
A few years ago, cell biologist Dr. Ana Soto was working out the biochemical details of estrogen sensitivity and its relationship to breast cancer when something puzzling happened in her Tufts University laboratory.
Tissues growing in plastic dishes containing no estrogens started proliferating."This indicated that some type of contamination had occurred, "Soto remembered. "We made an accidental discovery." Soto traced the contamination to the plastic tubes she was using to store blood serum.
Working with her colleague Carlos Sonnenschein, Soto purified the contaminant and identified it as nonylphenol, a chemical added during the manufacture of plastic to prevent it from cracking. They discovered molecules of nonylphenol were being shed from the tubes into the serum.Soto and Sonnenschein went on to prove that nonylphenol is estrogenic - that is, it mimics the effect of estrogen when added to tissues containing estrogen receptors. In a series of experiments published in 1991, Soto demonstrated
that human breast tissue proliferates in the presence of nonylphenol, possibly placing it on the path to tumour formation. Soto and Sonnenschein's research is now focused on quantifying the estrigenicity of nonylphenol and other substances. These chemicals are being termed xenoestrogens: substances foreign to the human body that, directly or indirectly, act like estrogens.Xenoestrogens are a hot area of research right now among biochemists, epidemiologists, cancer researchers and endocrinologists. Because of their ability to interfere with the normal process of hormonal regulation in women's bodies, xenoestrogens are being implicated in many reproductive disorders, ranging from infertility and endometriosis to breast and ovarian cancer.And, as increasing numbers of chemicals are demonstrated to function as xenoestrogens, scientists are beginning to learn just how amazingly estrogenic the industrialised world is. Nonylphenol, for example, is not only found in plastic but is also an additive in detergents and pesticides. According to Soto, over 450 million pound on nonylphenols are produced each year. Nonylphenol is also an ingredient in spermicides.The banned pesticide DDT is a xenoestrogen. So is the unbanned pesticide endosulphan. So is atrazine, the most commonly used weed killer in US cornfields. So is DES, the drug given to millions of women from 1948 to 1972 to prevent miscarriages (which it didn't). And so are dozens of different combustion products emitted from coal-burning power plants and automobile exhaust pipes.
To understand the impact of xenoestrogens on women's health - we have discovered through our investigation - one has to become a bit of an endocrinologist, chemist, and historian.
A Pentagon and Three Hexagons Like all steroid hormones (primarily reproductive related hormones), estrogen has a "backbone" made up of 17 carbon atoms arranged as three hexagons interlocked with a pentagon. Estrogen can exist in one of several modified forms, and each form has its own chemical name. The most potent form produced by the ovaries is called estradiol.Blood levels of estradiol rise steadily during the first half of a woman's menstrual cycle. All cells of the body are permeable to estradiol. However, most estradiol is carried in the blood on special sex-hormone binding proteins. These carrier proteins regulate and slow down the entry of estradiol molecules into surrounding tissues. This feature turns out to be important because many xenoestrogens are not carried on these molecules and can therefore enter cells more quickly and at low concentration.When estradiol enters the cell of a target tissue such as the breast or the lining of the uterus and is bound by an estorgen receptor, the story becomes more mysterious. Just 10 years ago, scientists learned that these receptors are themselves attached to the coiling strands of DNA where our genes lie like beads on a string.
When attached to estradiol, the receptor triggers a change in gene expression. Depending on the type of tissue, some genes may be turned on; different proteins may be manufactured; the rate of cell division may accelerate. The exact mechanisms of action is still an ongoing subject of research. What is known for sure is that at some point, the receptor is "processed" and the estrogen molecule released.
Meanwhile, in the liver, estradiol molecules carried in by the bloodstream are broken down. There are two different chemical routes that estradiol molecules can take here. The first one alters carbon atom number 2 and converts estradiol into a compound called 2-hydroxyestrone. The second pathway alters carbon atom number 16, producing a metabolite called 16-beta-estriol.The proportion of 2 to 16 turns out to be critical. The 16-metabolite is still estrogenic: it can recirculate through a woman's body and bind to estrogen receptors just like its parent, estradiol.
Moreover, 16 is capable of directly damaging the DNA strand.In contrast, the 2-metabolite is minimally estrogenic and is non-toxic to DNA. Clearly, a low 16 to 2 ratio is desirable. Some xenoestrogens act to skew this balance away from 2 and towards the 16 pathway, as we shall see.
The Dawn of Xenomania...
Now enter xenoestrogens. And to explain their entry, we need a bit of chemical history.
During World War II, legions of organic chemists were put to work by their governments to solve wartime problems. The pesticide DDT, for example, was perfected and developed as a means to control body lice and, therefore, typhus. Herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-F were developed as chemical defoliants for fighting jungle warfare.These new chemicals were synthetic, meaning they are derived from petroleum and manufactured in a laboratory. Whole new classes of chemicals not found in nature were thus created.
Organochlorines, of which DDT and PCB's are two, are made by attaching chlorine atoms to carbon chains, for example. While chlorine and carbon are common elements of the natural world, they are almost never found bonded together.At the end of the war, the US government helped the petrochemical industry to find private markets for their products. DDT was used for mosquito and agricultural pest control. Chemical defoliants were used in national forests to control shrubs. Lawn, garden and household insecticides were developed. Detergents replaced soaps. Plastics replaced celluloid.
...And 50 Years Later
Because they derive from oil, most of these synthetic products are, like steroid hormones, fat-soluble. This means that, rather than leaving the body (as they would if they were water-soluble), these synthetic products accumulate in areas of the body where fat content is high - for example, breasts. Moreover, any of them, like steroid hormones, consist of interlocking hexagonal rings of carbon atoms. Given that these new chemicals shared these properties with steroid hormones, one might reasonably wonder why their potential to wreak havoc with our reproductive systems was not considered sooner.There are doubtless many reasons. Sexism would be one starting point. The prevailing ideology of the Cold War would be another. Rachel Carson was one of the first scientists to raise questions about DDT. Her 1962 book, Silent Spring, was accused by industry chemists of threatening the Free World's food supply.But yet another answer resides in the nature of estrogenicity itself: it is a far sneakier conceptthan even many scientists concerned with the issue had imagined.
First, the estrogen receptor is turning out to be far less specific than anyone imagined. Carbon compounds quite different-looking from estradiol are able to attach to it. Soto points out that scientists cannot predict whether a chemical can attach to estrogen receptors purely from the shape of the molecule. Estrogen receptors are like locks that accept many different keys. DDT for example, has only two hexagonal rings and yet is able to bind directly to the receptor.
Second, xenoestrogens have many modes of operation. Not all of them latch on to estrogen receptors. Some simply stimulate the manufacture of more estrogen receptor molecules. More receptors mean an amplified response to the estradiol naturally floating through a woman's body, which may place her at a higher risk for breast cancer.Still other xenoestrogens act in the liver to accelerate the metabolism of estradiol toward the 16-metabolite and away from the 2 pathway. More 16-beta-estriol means more bio-available estrogen and more damage to DNA. The weed killer atrazine seems to have this effect.
Xenoestrogens and Breast Cancer
The first clue that estrogens might play a role in breast cancer came in 1896 when a British surgeon reported that removal of the ovaries sometimes caused breast tumours to shrink.Since then, many different studies indicate that a woman's risk of breast cancer is related to her lifetime exposure to estrogen. Early first menstruation, late menopause, and late or no childbirth are all considered risk factors. However, these factors explain only a portion of the increasing rates of breast cancer, which in North America has nearly tripled since 1950.The first well-documented study that established a preliminary link between pesticide exposure and breast cancer came only recently....
... In April 1993, 31 years after the publication of Carson's Silent Spring, biochemist Dr. Mary Wolff at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York reported that women diagnosed with breast cancer had significantly higher concentrations of DDT in their blood than women without breast cancer.At the same time, other researchers began reporting their results on how DDT and estrogen affect the growth of breast cells in laboratory cultures. Dr. Leon Bradlow at Cornell University reported at a breast cancer conference in October 1995 that pesticide residues induce "anchorage independence" in breast tumour cultures. This means that tumour cells can continue dividing even when detached from other cells, a feature that allows breast cancer to spread in the body. Wolff and Bradlow are currently collaborating on a project that investigates exactly how xenoestrogens like DDT place breast tissue on the pathway to tumour formation. Soto is presently working on developing an assay that would allow a woman's total body burden on xenoestrogens to be measured. This may provide the most comprehensive indicator to date of the relationship between environmental estrogens and breast cancer.
Xenoestrogens and Ovarian Cancer
Recent studies also link xenoestrogens to ovarian cancer. Because the raw material for estrogen production is cholesterol, the ovary, like the breast, is a repository of fat-soluble contaminants. Dioxin, for example, has been found in the fluid surrounding human eggs extracted for test-tube fertilisation.Studies done in 1989 showed that estrogen increases the rate of growth of ovarian tumour cells by 50% compared to those not treated with estrogen.In the same year, Italian researchers studying the health and habits of women farmers in northern Italy discovered that women farmers exposed to triazine herbicides, such as atrazine, had a three- to- four-times higher risk for ovarian cancer.Both these lines of research suggests that triazine herbicides may be acting as xenoestrogens in the ovaries, a hypothesis that has been supported by more recent research.
Xenoestrogens and Fertility
Xenoestrogens and Political Action
The flurry of research interest now surrounding xenoestrogens did not just develop on its own. Indeed, most scientific investigations do not just happen. Which questions are deemed important, which projects receive funding, which studies are followed up - these are all political issues. In the case of xenoestrogens, many environmental and women's health activists have been at work behind the scenes - and sometimes in the streets - to insist that particular questions be asked and answered. For example, the Endometriosis Association, a women's advocacy group, sponsored the study on dioxin mentioned above.In October 1995, Long Island activists convened their own scientific conference on breast cancer and the environment. In the same month, the American Public Health Association called for the elimination of chlorine in manufacturing, citing its' role in the creation of xenoestrogens and the threat to women's health.There are other signs of change. Breast cancer activists in San Francisco succeeded in adding a panel on breast cancer and the environment to the program at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in February 1994. Green peace and the Women's Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) headed by Bella Abzug, recently met with women's health activist in Austin, Texas, to launch a joint initiative called "Women, Cancer and the Environment".
However, many of the existing reports suffer from small sample sizes, difficulty determining actual exposures, and lack of control groups.
Further research on the precise actions of herbicides in the ovaries is also needed.In the meantime, what should the fate of triazine herbicides by? Germany banned the agricultural use of atrazine in 1991. In the Midwestern United States, atrazine continues to run off farm fields and into ground and surface water.
Much of what is known about xenoestrogens' impact on fertility and reproduction comes from animal studies. Wildlife biologist Dr. Theo. Colburn had conducted long-term and intensive studies of animals living in the Great lakes Basin. This are is highly contaminated with organochlorines from chemical industries and pulp and paper mills, which use great amounts of chlorine bleach. He research documents that many animal species living near water - eagles, mink, fish and various shore birds - are unable to reproduce successfully due to high body burdens of various xenoestrogens.Colburn is currently at work on elucidating what she calls "the human/wildlife connection". She is particularly interested in considering a possible link between estrogenic pollutants and falling sperm counts in men. She also suspects xenoestrogens could be contributing to the 400% increase in ectopic (outside the uterus) pregnancies between 1970 and 1987.
A separate line of research is focused on xenoestrogens and endometriosis. This disease causes pieces of the uterine lining to attach and grow outside the uterus, causing pain and often infertility. Exposure to PCB's has been shown to cause endometriosis in female monkeys.In November 1995, researchers reported that monkeys exposed to dioxin also develop significantly higher levels of endometriosis. Dioxin is a contaminant in many pesticides and is also formed during many industrial processes that use chlorine. Strangely enough, unlike other xenoestrogens, dioxin seems to counteract rather than magnify the effects of estradiol. Some researchers believe that dioxin may blockade the estrogen receptors, preventing estrogen molecules from attaching.The US Environmental Protection Agency is planning further research on the possible link between dioxin and endometriosis in women.
Ana Soto's accidental discovery and her subsequent research shed light on possible environmental intervention to prevent breast cancer. Soto said she hoped that her work will help develop a more ecological view of human health, understanding that pollutants in water, soil, air - and even plastic tubes - eventually find their way into our bodies. "Molecular biology is not enough. We can't understand the additive effects of xenoestrogens by only looking at genes... Banned pesticides are still found in the fish that we eat."
Sandra Steingrabe is a visiting scholar at North-eastern University with a PhD in biology. She is the author of "Post Diagnosis", a book of poetry on women's cancers, and is currently writing a book on cancer and the environment to be published by Addison Wesley in 1996.
Kathryn Patton has participated in cancer research projects at the University of Washington Medical Centre and is considering a career in oncology.
Reprinted from Sojourner: The Women's Forum. Subscription is $21 per year for 12 issues. 42 Seaverns Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts USA 02130.
2004 © Infertility Workshop. All rights reserved. Any duplication in whole or in part is strictly prohibited.
Consumers have been encouraged to believe that white means clean, and that substances like chlorine bleach are not only safe, but beneficial.
It is obvious that tampons used to absorb menstrual blood do not need to be white no woman we have surveyed sees a need for bright white menstrual pads or tampons. Not only are "whiter than white" chlorine bleached products unneeded, but their production and use causes tremendous health and environmental damage.
Chlorine is a chemical element, a heavy greenish yellow gas used as a bleach, oxidizing agent and disinfectant. It is used to make plastics, pesticides, solvents and other chemicals, and to treat sewage. Commercial chlorine chemistry began in the early 20th century.
Chlorine is the common link and root cause of many global environmental problems widespread dioxin contamination, PCB pollution, DDT poisoning, human health effects from Agent Orange exposure, and ozone destroying CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons).
Chlorine is such a dangerous environmental toxin because it binds to organic matter to produce chemicals called organochlorines almost all of which are foreign to nature. The majority of organochlorines are very stable; in other words they will not break down in the environment for hundreds of years. This persistence is combined with the tendency of these chlorine based poisons to bioaccumulate, meaning that over time they build up in the body fat of humans and other animals.
One hundred and seventy seven (177) different organochlorines have been found in the fat, mother's milk, semen, blood and breath of the average human population in Canada and the U.S. Each person has a unique level at which this build up becomes critical and triggers a wide range of health problems. Well known effects of chronic organochlorine contamination include hormonal disruption, infertility and lowered sperm counts, immune system suppression, learning disabilities, behavioral changes, and damage to the skin, liver and kidneys. Newborns, infants, children, childbearing women and the elderly are even more vulnerable to these health impacts.
The entire planet is now blanketed with these poisons. Even human, animal and marine life at the North and South poles -- thousands of miles from the sources of chlorine pollution -- show signs of chlorine based toxic contamination.
Ozone destruction caused by organochlorines is causing epidemics of skin cancer, cataracts and infectious disease due to immune system disorders.
Dioxin, another organochlorine, is produced via a combination of chlorine compounds and organic matter. The deadliest substance known to humankind, dioxin is known to impair reproduction and the immune system at doses measured in parts per trillion. No safe level of chlorine use/dioxin exposure can be considered safe, and the greatest risk is to developing children and fetuses. The subtle reproductive and health effects occur at doses low enough to present no blatant effects, and is insiduously spreading slowly throughout populations.
Epidemic problems from dioxin exposure are occurring in over 13 species of fish and wildlife in the Great Lakes, including infertility and birth defects. The most profound effects are showing in the offspring of exposed species. Babies born to mothers in the Great Lakes region who ate 2 meals of Great Lakes fish per month were born sooner, weighed less and had smaller heads than infants whose mothers did not eat the fish.
Other studies have shown a link between tampons which contain dioxin and cancers of the female reproductive tract.
Flaxseed has been around for centuries, however its nutritional benefits have only been popularized over the past few years.
Flaxseed has been around for centuries, however its nutritional benefits have only been popularized over the past few years. Flaxseed is well known for its high content of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as for being an excellent source of fibre. What most people don’t know is that flaxseed an excellent source of vegetarian protein as well as the single most concentrated source of the phytoestrogen group, “lignans.”
Phytoestrogens are estrogenic compounds found in plants. These phytoestrogens are broadly defined to include isoflavones, coumestans and lignans. All three have naturally occurring plant estrogens that create a balancing effect on hormones, although both lignans and isoflavones are far more predominant in the human diet. Many people would be more familiar with the isoflavones found in soy, as lignans are relatively new on the scene.
Secoisolariciresinol diglycoside (SDG) is the plant lignan that is most notably found in flaxseed. It is classified as a phytoestrogen because it is a plant-derived, nonsteroid compound that is known for estrogen-like activity. The level of SDG in flaxseed can vary between 0.6 percent and 1.8 percent. SDG has both estrogenic and antioxidant activities. It is said that lignans can influence energy levels and sleep patterns, provide immune support, aid in digestion, and that they are potentially anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, and anti-carcinogenic.
Early research suggests lignans may protect against cancers, including breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer. One of the breast cancer risks factors is described as excess exposure to the hormone estrogen. Observational studies have found that breast cancer patients and those with a high risk of breast cancer excrete less mammalian lignans than people with a lower risk of breast cancer. One study found that women with high enterolcatone levels in their blood (the end result of the conversion of lignans) had a lower risk of breast cancer.
The plant lignans found in flax are known to interfere with estrogen metabolism in animals and humans by mimicking estrogen, thus tricking the body into thinking estrogen is present so it stops overproducing it.
It is important to note that lignans must be complimented by the presence of “good bacteria” in the intestinal tract and colon in order to effectively complete their conversion. Ingested plant lignans are converted to mammalian lignans by gut and colon bacteria. These mammalian lignans have two metabolic fates. Either they can be excreted directly in the feces, or after being absorbed by the gut they enter enterohepatic circulation, which means that they are partially reabsorbed, conjugated mainly with glucuronate and then excreted in urine and bile. The amount of lignans ingested and utilized can be detected in the urine (in the forms of enterolactone and enterodiol).
Although fibre content remains quite constant in flaxseeds and flaxseed powder this is not the case with lignan content. In one tablespoon of flaxseed you will find approximately 8 mg of lignans, where in the same amount of flax powder the lignan content can vary between 70 mg and 300 mg. If you are looking for a source of lignans, the powders are your best bet.
There is much more research needed on the subject of phytoestrogens and lignans, but preliminary studies do indicate positive effects of lignans in the human diet. For those of us who choose to be proactive about our health, the addition of flaxseed and flaxseed powders to our daily regime is a simple way to add a tasty wholefood supplement, complete with protein, essential fats, fibre and lignans. What could be simpler?
Dec 23, 2005 1:23 pm US/Mountain
(KUTV) Can tea be a cure for hot flashes? In this Healthy Living Report learn why some women are turning to the East for relief.
For centuries, millions of Japanese women have relied on a tea concoction to help them with hot flashes.
It’s a tea called Keishi Bukyro.
Japanese women have been taking this remedy made up of mushrooms and other herbs for 1,800 years.
“In Japan, this is the real stuff,” said Dr. Greg Plotnikoff
The kind of stuff Dr. Greg Plotnikoff wants to bring to America from the land of the rising sun. He’s conducting a study on the substance at the University of Minnesota.
“Sleeping was a problem. I'd wake up, I don't know how many times a night, I'd wake up,” said Linda Levine.
And Linda was a willing volunteer for the study.
Dr. Plotnikoff prescribed Keishei Bukyro in pill form, ten times a day.
It was a double-blind study, which means no one knows for sure who had the cure or the placebo.
Like all the other women, Linda kept a daily diary. And she said it improved her life.
“The study drug actually helped me feel better. My mood was better, my family noticed, my children noticed,” Linda said.
The results of this study will be released in February. If all goes well, Keishi Bbukyro could hit the market in the United States within the year–probably in pill form.
(© MMV, CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
I need two minutes of your time . . .
Please, please take a look at this and take action. This is an extremely
important woman's health issue.
It will take two minutes of your time and just might make a huge difference
in the quality and in fact the length of your life.
Among other benefits, bioidentical hormones protect against osteoporosis and
memory loss due to aging. Those are both major medical risks for me. I
need this medication.
Please pull together and take two minutes for you or a woman you love, then
pass it along.
Peace, health and blessings to ya!
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A WOMAN ~ AND WOE UNTO THE CORPORATION THAT
INTERFERES WITH WOMEN WORKING TOGETHER.
Recently, Dr. Erika Schwartz, author of several books including "The 30-Day
Natural Hormone Plan" sent an important message to her e-mail community
entitled "Your Right to Choose Bioidentical Hormones Is Under Attack!"
Currently, the FDA is reviewing a proposal submitted by Wyeth, a
pharmaceutical company trying to ban the production of bioidentical
This is ridiculous!
Unlike synthetic hormones such as Premarin or Prempro (both manufactured by
Wyeth) which have been proven to be unsafe, bioidentical hormones are far
safer in individualized doses.
In addition, numerous studies have shown that they are effective at
relieving menopausal symptoms and providing the estrogen that many women
need to feel their best in the second half of life.
(Note: not all women need hormones. But for those who do, bioidentical
hormones are the best way to go-and I have recommended them for many years
with great results.)
Dr. Erika has made it easy for your voice to be heard.
Simply go to
and complete a brief, electronic form. Please take two minutes to support
this important effort, so you can and others can get the benefit of
bioidentical hormones for years to come.
Christiane Northrup, M.D.
P.O. Box 199
Yarmouth, ME 04096
If you received this e-mail message from a friend and would like to receive
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