The New Hormone Replacement TherapyDecember 2002
By Terri Mitchell
Protection against osteoporosis
Vitamins D and K, calcium and load-bearing exercise help maintain bone. Estrogen is also beneficial. Some phytoestrogens have bone-building effects. Phytoestrogens in flaxseed don’t seem to work, but other lignans do. So do genistein, daidzein, biochanin, formononetin, coumestrol, and others. Typically found in soybeans and other plants, these phytoestrogens maintain bone as well as estrogen drugs without the side effects. It appears, however, that different phytoestrogens affect different types of bone differently. In a study on daidzein and genistein, daidzein maintained both cancellous and cortical bone, whereas genistein only maintained cortical. Synthetic estrogen (17b-ethinylestradiol) also only maintains cortical. (Cancellous bone is the spongy bone inside the cortical bone). Based on these studies, a mixture of phytoestrogens is probably the best bet for staving off osteoporosis. Biochemical studies on how phytoestrogens build bone are in agreement with studies in people. The findings of a study of 650 Chinese women, are similar to the findings of other studies where those who ingested the most phytoestrogens had strongest hip and spine bones. Studies also show that using phytoestrogens to maintain bone doesn’t increase the risk of endometrial cancer.
Genistein and cancer cells
Despite the overwhelming benefits of phytoestrogens, some people have become leery because some researchers have reported that one of the soy phytoestrogens, genistein, can act like estrogen. First, it’s important to realize that acting estrogenic can be a good thing, depending on the tissue. In bone, for example, estrogenic type activity maintains bone. In immune cells, it increases the ability of natural killer cells to kill cancer cells. Genistein does both of these things. But in breast tissue, estrogen is not desirable because it can promote the proliferation of cells.
Second, it’s important to remember that different phytoestrogens act differently. Most do not have any estrogenic activity whatsoever. Some, like genistein, can have weak activity in certain tissues.
The perception that phytoestrogens promote, rather than impede, cancer was created by experiments in one type of human breast cancer cell. These cells, known as MCF-7 human breast cancer cells can be made to grow in test tubes using nano amounts of genistein. There must be no other estrogen in the cells, and only the tiniest amounts of genistein can be used to make the experiment work. (It should be noted that the same amount of genistein impedes growth in a different type of human breast cancer that has no estrogen receptors and is not estrogen-responsive.) In these cell experiments, if the amount of genistein added to the cells is greater than the tiniest amount, it will impede growth, not promote it. And if the cancer is not already there, genistein will not cause it.
One research group has gone one step further, and transplanted the MCF-7 tumor cells into mice. They report that increasing amounts of genistein enhance tumor size. This contradicts the cell studies which show that increasing amounts of genistein reduce cell growth. Another group has done a very similar study using the same type of cells in mice. They report that increasing amounts of genistein block cancer growth and induce cell death. Neither study has been independently verified by outside researchers. Unfortunately, the negative findings on genistein have been extrapolated to all isoflavones and phytoestrogens in general, leading to the false impression that these beneficial plant compounds are dangerous. A new study has been done in a mouse that has the human equivalent of a genetic defect (neu, HER2) that causes some breast cancers. It shows that genistein can significantly delay cancer onset, and that an isoflavone mixture can lower metastasis by 25% (genistein didn’t in this study).
Studies in monkeys, the closest animal model to humans, show that soy phytoestrogens impede estrogen-driven cell proliferation. Researchers who have been studying for decades the effects of different types of estrogens on monkeys state flatly: “Soybean phytoestrogens are not estrogenic at dietary doses.”
The preponderance of evidence on soy phytoestrogens to date agrees with observational studies in humans showing that women who eat large amounts of phytoestrogens have the least estrogen in their bodies, and the lowest rate of breast cancer.
Other “Hormone Replacement” estrogens
Synthesized hormones that have the same chemical structure as the body’s own hormones appear to be free of some of the side effects associated with hormones that are foreign to the human body. Natural progesterone cream, for example, doesn’t lower “good” HDL-cholesterol like the synthetic progesterone in “Prempro” does. Natural progesterone also lowers blood pressure instead of elevating it, and helps heart function instead of hindering it. The same type of heart benefits are found in phytoestrogens as well.
In the future, real hormone replacement therapy will be possible. It will involve understanding not only a hormone’s individual effects, but its combined effects with other hormones. Then, and only then, will real “hormone replacement” be achieved. In the meantime, modern technology has made it possible for people to get the benefits of phytoestrogens in a concentrated and purified form. The preponderance of the evidence is that these plant compounds have multi-system benefits, including protection against menopause and other effects of aging. Women in other cultures prove it—phytoestrogens work. Note: For those women who have not found effective relief from menopausal symptoms, despite using varying combinations of phytoestrogens and DHEA, refer to the updated Female Hormone Replacement Protocol.
*Estrogen refers to that made by the body.
**For more on this, see the Our Stolen Future website.
***Figures from IARC CancerBase, Globocan 2000, see www-dep.iarc.fr
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