Phytoestrogens are substances that mimic estrogen in the body. The substances occur naturally in many plants. Some plant foods contain a significant amount of these substances. Doctors often recommend phytoestrogens to women suffering from menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and cramping. Phytoestrogen-rich foods include soybeans, flax seeds and walnuts. Several herbs rich in phytoestrogens can be taken internally as syrups, extracts, tea or capsules. Primary phytoestrogenic herbs include black cohosh, licorice root, ginseng, Dong Quai, evening primrose and red clover.
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) is frequently used to alleviate the symptoms of menopause, as well as to ease menstrual pain. It is sold commercially in Western Europe, where it is a common remedy for women.\ However, extensive use of black cohosh extract has been shown to damage the liver, and it is contraindicated in women suffering from breast cancer.
If you like remedies in the form of a dessertlike tea, you may choose licorice root as a phytoestrogenic medicine. Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza sinensis or Glycyrrhiza glabra) is dried and used in the form of syrup, tea or lozenges. In addition to its use in soothing menopausal symptoms, licorice root has been long used as a cough remedy. However, it is toxic when used in excess.
Ginseng root (Panex ginseng) grows in many parts of the world and has been used as a traditional medicine by the Native Americans, Chinese and Koreans. You can find ginseng in almost any health food store; it is believed that it energizes the user. Ginseng also is used to treat sexual dysfunction as well as menopausal symptoms. In fact, ginseng’s botanical adjective, “Panex.” literally means “cure-all.”
It is sold in the form of powder, extract or can be drunk as a tea. Some people experience side effects such as insomnia, agitation and high blood pressure, however.
If you are familiar with alternative remedies for menopause, you will have seen the name Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis). Dong Quai, also known as Chinese angelica, is an aromatic herb traditionally used in many parts of Asia to help reduce menopausal hot flashes and menstrual cramps in women. It also is used to ensure an easy pregnancy and delivery. The medicinal components of Dong Quai are found in the root of the plant.
You can use evening primrose oil to help combat the symptoms of menopause. Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) is a North American biennial with yellow flowers. The seeds of this plant contain an oil that is taken internally.
Red clover (Trifolium pratense) has been administered as a blood thinner and for respiratory problems in traditional medicine, especially in Russia and China. Red clover extract is rich in isoflavones (compounds that act as phytoestrogens), such as genistein and daidzen, which are also found in soy foods. It is on the FDA’s Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list. However, if you are taking hormones, blood thinners or aspirin on a regular basis, you should not take red clover extract.
References and ResourcesWomen Living Naturally: PhytoEstrogens
"The Anti-Estrogenic Diet..."; Ori Hofmekler and Rick Osborn; 2007
"Women's Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine..."; Tori Hudson; 2007
NYU Langone Medical Center: Phytoestrogens
"Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause"; Boston Women's Health Collective; 2006
"The Complete Book of Herbs and Spices"; Sarah Garland; 2004 ;
Resources"Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician's Guide to Herbal Medicine"; Volker Schulz et al; 2004
NYU Langone Medical Center: Red Clover
Herbs For Menopause: Ginseng
"Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician's Guide to Herbal Medicine"; Volker Schulz et al; 2001