ALTERNATIVES TO HRT: ‘NATURAL’ PROGESTERONE AND OESTROGEN

Posted on July 17, 2011, under Women's Health.

You need to be aware that progesterone creams contain a powerful pharmaceutical hormone that is made in a laboratory. Because the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) won’t allow the manufacturers of the creams to make medical claims, they are sold as cosmetics, not as hormone replacements. It is because these creams contain a pharmaceutical agent that the UK’s Medicines Control Agency will only let them be sold under prescription, and rightly so. My main concern is that women are being duped into thinking they are buying a natural herbal remedy containing wild yam. They are not: they are buying hormone replacement – just a different hormone (progesterone instead of the usual HRT combination of a form of oestrogen plus progestogen). And they may not be buying anything truly to do with wild yam, which has a very respectable reputation as a herbal treatment for menstrual and menopausal problems. Although for centuries, herbalists have indeed used wild yam in a tincture form, the effect of the herb in its pure state is very different from that of the synthesized progesterone. This wild yam is taken orally and has traditionally been used as an anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory herb. As is the case with so many effective herbs it is not known precisely how it acts on the body. Since the essence of herbal medicine is that all the ingredients help towards the overall therapeutic effect, diosgenin alone cannot be responsible for the wild yam’s beneficial qualities. Herbs work because they contain a host of substances – active substances, balancing substances and substances that cope with any side effects of the active substances. They are holistic and truly ‘natural’. But the ‘natural’ progesterone that is being hyped is no more ‘natural’ than a number of the plant-based oestrogen preparations that form the basis of some HRT products.
These oestrogens are ‘natural’ in the same sense that plant-based progesterone is classed as ‘natural’. The oestrogens too are synthesized in the laboratory from soya beans and yams. They still have side effects, however. We need to be clear that these hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, which are synthesized in a laboratory from plants, are not natural to us. They may be chemically identical to what our bodies produce but they are powerful drugs, hence the need to put them on prescription. Plant-based progesterone is termed ‘natural’ because it has the same molecular structure as the progesterone molecule found in humans. This idea of different substances being chemically identical can be very misleading. For example, coal, diamond and graphite (the ‘lead’ in your pencil) are all chemically identical and yet they have very different properties and functions. They have the same molecular structure, but you wouldn’t expect to produce much heat by putting diamonds on the fire.
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