Estrogen -- the hormone that essentially makes women “female” -- can alleviate negative effects during menopause, the time of life when a woman’s hormonal balance shifts. Several factors can accelerate the shift, like excess stress, disease or certain medications, leading some women to take estrogen supplements, which are strongly regulated and require prescriptions. Supplements that contain a form of plant estrogen may mimic estrogen's effects. These are sold over the counter and may help some women. Many such supplements have not been scientifically proven effective as estrogen replacement, however. Always consult your doctor before starting any nutritional supplements.
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Soy based over-the-counter supplements are derived from the soybean plant. Soy extract is used to make soy milk and as an ingredient in Asian cuisine. Products from companies such as Amerifit contain 200 milligrams of specially blended phytoestrogen, one classification of natural enzymes known as “isoflavones” derived from soy as well as other natural plant sources like red clover and black cohosh. While women have taken soy supplements for many years, according to CNN.com, a 2011 study conducted by the University of Miami revealed that soy’s isoflavone content is relatively low. For some women, the soy supplements have not had any effect whatsoever on symptoms like hot flashes.
During menopause, estrogen and progesterone are the two hormones most affected and most likely to become imbalanced. Doctors have been known to prescribe horse-derived estrogen. Recently, doctors such as Dr. Greg Sperber of NuHerbs.com report that patients taking supplements with chaste tree berry extract, a “light” phytoestrogen, experience some degree of menopausal relief. Extract derived from theses berries are reported by Menopauserx.com to act as a “fake” progesterone and aid in acting positively on neurotransmitters in the brain, elevating mood in menopausal women. The chasteberry extract is used by some to counteract negative symptoms associated with their monthly periods, as well.
Red Clover OTCs
Red clover is the chief ingredient in some over-the-counter estrogen supplements from companies such as Source Natural which offers 1,000 milligrams of phytoestrogen per daily dose. Like soy, red clover OTCs contain naturally occurring plant chemicals that mimic estrogen’s role in the body and balance hormone levels in menopausal women, and like soy, researchers remain mixed on whether or not red clover provides any real benefit to counteracting menopause’s side effects. According to the University of Maryland, large studies yielded insignificant results. However, Dr. Ray Sahelian reports on his website that smaller studies under more stringent conditions yielded more impressive results.
The recurring theme among researchers is that these supplements, like others, aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and that women interested in taking them should first consult their physicians. In relation to natural estrogen remedies, none have been shown to be particularly harmful over the short term. However, in the case of soy and red clover, intestinal discomfort for long term users is common.