If you have menopause symptoms like hot flashes and mood changes, you might be wondering what treatments are available. Many women use estrogen replacement therapy to reduce symptoms and side effects of menopause. However, some people wonder if phytoestrogens, also known as plant estrogens, are a good alternative to hormone therapy. We’ll explore this question and recent research on phytoestrogens in this article.
Estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) is a common treatment option for women with menopause symptoms. As you reach menopause, your hormone levels start to decline, including estrogen and progesterone. This is what causes your periods to stop. However, low hormone levels can also lead to menopause symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, mood changes, and vaginal dryness. Lower estrogen levels during menopause can also increase your risk for other health conditions, like heart disease, osteoporosis, and strokes.
Estrogen replacement therapy is a treatment where you take medications to increase the estrogen levels in your blood. This can alleviate many of the symptoms and health risks of menopause. In fact, ERT is considered one of the most effective treatment solutions for menopausal hot flashes.
There are many kinds of estrogen replacement therapies or modalities to choose from. Medications can come in patches, pills, injections, and many other forms. You also typically have the choice between synthetic and bioidentical versions.
Our providers at HerKare typically use bioidentical hormone therapy to help with menopause symptoms. Bioidentical hormones are identical to the type of estrogen your ovaries naturally produce. Scientists use estrogens found in plants and alter them to match human estrogen. By contrast, synthetic estrogens are not the same molecular structure as natural estrogen, which means that your body uses them slightly differently. Many people prefer bioidentical hormones because they are molecularly identical to the natural hormones that your body produces on its own.
Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like chemicals found in plants. In fact, bioidentical hormones often start out as phytoestrogens extracted from different sources like wild yams, cactus, and soy plants. Professionals in medical labs then convert these to bioidentical forms of estrogen and other hormones.
Phytoestrogens are similar to the estrogen you make in your ovaries but do have some differences. For instance, phytoestrogens can bind to the estrogen receptors in your body. However, they do typically have weaker effects compared to human or bioidentical estrogen.
There are many sources of phytoestrogens, including flaxseeds, tea, fruits, and vegetables. Soy is a food that is high in phytoestrogens. Specifically, soy offers high levels of isoflavones, which is the most potent type of phytoestrogen.
Many people believe soy has amazing benefits because cultures that typically have high soy diets also tend to have lower rates of heart disease, longer lifespans, fewer menopause symptoms, and other positive health markers. However, soy is still being studied and its effects on the body are complicated. There are still many questions when it comes to soy, including whether it’s beneficial or safe to eat it in large quantities.
As far as how soy compares to estrogen replacement therapy for menopause symptoms, the evidence is inconclusive. We’ll get into some of the recent research done on phytoestrogens, but keep in mind that a lot of the evidence regarding soy and hot flashes is conflicting.
The big question many have is whether you can simply eat more foods with phytoestrogens (or take phytoestrogen supplements) instead of starting estrogen replacement therapy. Scientists are still researching phytoestrogens and the role they play. However, a lot of the research has been disappointing. Here are some things you should know about the results of phytoestrogen studies for menopause symptoms:
As we mentioned, research is still ongoing, but a lot of the studies have conflicting results. Some studies have found positive effects from phytoestrogens, with some women noticing improvement in their hot flash symptoms. However, other studies have found no difference between phytoestrogens and placebo. Also, even the positive studies often don’t offer similar results. For instance, while some have found over a 50% reduction in the number and severity of hot flashes with phytoestrogens, others have found small reductions of just one hot flash per day for women who suffer from on average 10 to 12 each day. Therefore, a lot of the evidence for phytoestrogens is up for debate.
Another potential issue with taking phytoestrogens is that they can actually be anti-estrogenic. This basically means that they may block estrogen receptors or reduce how much estrogen your body produces.
For one, phytoestrogens bind to estrogen receptors, which can block them from the real estrogen in your blood. Since phytoestrogens have much weaker effects than human estrogen, this could affect the cells in your body and your overall health.
What’s more, too many phytoestrogens could lead to lower estrogen levels overall. To understand why, let’s go over a quick crash course on how your body produces estrogen: The hypothalamus is part of your brain responsible for controlling sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone. When it senses that you have low estrogen in your blood, it sends a signal to the pituitary gland, which releases follicle stimulating hormone. This hormone reaches your ovaries and causes them to increase estrogen production.
However, phytoestrogens can actually disrupt this process. In some cases, your hypothalamus may not realize that your body needs to produce more estrogen because it believes that the phytoestrogens are human estrogen. Therefore, many women may experience even lower estrogen levels when eating a diet high in phytoestrogens or taking phytoestrogen supplements.
Because of the lack of evidence and conflicting research results, many scientists now believe that the benefits of phytoestrogens have been overstated. Currently, estrogen replacement therapy is still the go-to treatment option for women with hot flashes and menopause symptoms. ERT has been shown time and time again to be effective at reducing hot flashes, night sweats, and other symptoms of menopause. This form of hormone therapy has also been well studied for decades. As such, many health care providers recommend using estrogen replacement therapy for your menopause symptoms unless there is a reason you can’t, such as a history of breast cancer, liver disease, or having a high risk for blood clots.
Of course, every woman is different, so it’s important to talk to our providers about your options. If you’re currently taking phytoestrogen supplements, let our providers know. Our team can discuss the benefits and risks to help you determine whether to keep taking them. Our goal is to help you improve your health as a whole and feel your best.
Our professionals at HerKare are here to help you find personalized solutions to improve your health. We offer health care for women at every stage of life. If you’re experiencing menopause symptoms, visit one of our convenient clinic locations to discuss your options and find treatment solutions that work well for you. Make an appointment today to get started!