The science behind the clinical use of herbs and essential oils to help heal diverse health issues is on a huge upswing. Just one example is the use of essential oils as adjunctive (additional) therapies for breast and prostate cancer patients.
I have been strategically using herbs and essential oils as adjunctive care for cancer patients for many years. To cite all the peer-reviewed articles (science based) that demonstrate efficacy of herbs and essential oils against cancer cells would take many pages. At the end of this article I list a number of citations as examples, in case you want to take your own look-see or share these citations with your doctors.
But a new study came out in May 2017 that “shouts out loud” about herbs as a powerful tool in medicine. This study reveals a common herb that effectively and statistically (beyond chance) minimizes many issues and symptoms that can occur with menopause.
Menopause officially begins after a solid year of the loss of menstruation. When a woman has not had her period for a year, she’s officially menopausal.
Sex hormones (like estrogen, testosterone and progesterone) do a lot to watch our physiologic backs. So when we are in menopause and hormones are waning, specific health risks and various life-dampening symptoms can start to occur.
A number of women sail through menopause without apparent issues. But many women suffer mild, moderate and harsh issues: extreme fatigue to severe insomnia, hot flashes, brain fog, weight gain, hair loss, tanking libido, painful intercourse, dry and itchy skin, and the list goes on.
An article published in the medical journal Menopause talked about a rigorous study that used an herb to treat many (not all) of these symptoms. It was a triple-blind, placebo-controlled investigation from Tehran. Ninety postmenopausal women, aged 45 to 60 years, were randomly assigned to 8 weeks of treatment with gel capsules filled with either placebo or this powerful medicinal herb.
Women in both groups had their menopausal symptoms assessed by a standardized questionnaire at onset of this study, and then again at 4, 8, and 10 weeks out. In most cases this common herb worked. Women felt a lot better.
The official name of this herb is Foeniculum vulgare. Most of us know it as fennel. (Did you know that fennel is part of the carrot family?) In this study, 100 mg of fennel extract taken once daily was effective in reducing common symptoms of menopause. It’s good to see the power of food and herbs vindicated.
Furthermore . . .
There’s more of a take-home to this story.
Many women do not understand that a healthy menopause, hopefully adding to a healthier older age, is not just about reducing menopausal symptoms. Why? There are many “silent” changes that occur secondarily to waning hormones. But they don’t usually cause symptoms.
This means many tissues in your body may be faltering, but this damage or aging does not occur with loud symptoms. Examples are increased risk of heart disease, of kidney disease, cognitive decline, vocal chord aging, loss of lung and gut health. These deadly changes can and do occur without the typical symptoms we have come to think of as synonymous with menopause.
Herbs can help reduce menopausal symptoms. But they are not as powerful as hormone “balancing” and “replacement” to halt or reduce these dangerous changes.
For many years now, I have been trying to inform women about the benefits of bioidentical hormone replacement. It’s been scientifically and clearly demonstrated that for healthy women, who initiate hormone replacement within a safe 10-year window of menopause, it is often more dangerous to “not” take hormone replacement than to age naturally.
There are even safe strategies to initiate hormone therapies outside of this window, when a woman is in her 70’s, 80’s or even older, but you must work with very knowledgeable practitioners trained in these clinical nuances based on physiology, science, and clinical acumen. There are not many of these practitioners around. Often, you need to create a team that can work together to help you watch your physiologic and hormonal back. Often if you ask your own doctors and even gynecologists if you are a candidate for hormone replacement, you may get the wrong answer.
Misinformation is rampant in the field of hormone replacement. And this holds true for doctors. I still often hear of female physicians fearful about getting breast cancer from taking hormone replacement. They do not understand the literature. Most of the time (not all the time) taking estrogen replacement and balancing hormones reduces your risk of breast cancer. This research has been replicated and I have been writing about it for years in my blogs and books.
The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study came out with scary headlines in July 2002. For about 10 years afterwards, many doctors and women became severely frightened about hormone replacement and the risk of breast cancer and blood clots.
But early re-analysis (within several years of the first scary headlines) of the initial WHI reports, showed that these conclusions were a statistical fiasco and should not be extrapolated to most women.
In October of that same year, The Cache County showed that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease was reduced from 30 to 50% by taking estrogen replacement for over 10 years. This was a very scientific study, called a prospective study. It started with thousands of healthy people and followed who got dementia over time and what factors were brain tissue and function protective. The biggest brain protector in women? Estrogen replacement.
Reanalysis (going back over the statistics to take a better look) showed that women in the estrogen-only arm in the WHI had 25 to 33% (depending on the study you read) less risk of getting breast cancer. It turned out that in the combined hormone arm, when women were exposed to synthetic progestins (added to estrogen) this made pre-existing breast cancer cells grow. It was the progestins that increased the risk of breast cancer.
Many doctors confuse the differences between synthetic progestins and naturally women-made (by her own body) progesterone. By the way, many birth control pills that are used by many millions of young women worldwide contain synthetic progestins. That’s a whole other story.
All women are terrified, rightly so, of getting breast cancer. But they misunderstand that balancing and replacing hormones (and addressing nutrients and gut health that keep hormones safe) reduce the risk of getting breast cancer more than aging naturally! Many doctors do not understand this.
I had breast cancer decades ago. Most, okay, all doctors would say I would never be a candidate for hormone therapies. But knowing how to use hormones, nutrients, and gut rebooting as part of my holistic protocol, and understanding the nature of my health background and tumor type, it has been safer for me to be on balanced, individualized hormone therapy than not.
Yet figuring all this out was not easy. I had to hack my own health out of the mountainside. I was exposed to a drug while my mother was pregnant with me. Due to this in-utero exposure, throughout my adult life I grew tumors and cancer for many years. I lost -1/2 organs in 15 major surgeries while in this tumor-producing storm.
Finally, when I figured out the link between my tumors and my DES exposure in the womb, I was able to strategize an answer. Detailed research unveiled that DES tamps down protective tumor suppressor genes. These genes are supposed to kill cancer cells that can and do arise daily in all of us.
My life was on the line and no doctor could help me; they could remove an organ with a tumor, or recommend chemo, but they had no idea why I kept growing tumors or how to stop them. With further intense research I discovered a non-estrogenic metabolite, 2-methoxyestradiol, which could be used to healthfully rev up (reboot) these genes and to fight cancer. I added this hormone metabolite to my hormonal mix along with other protectors, including breast protective essential oils and herbs.
I am now 24 years out from breast cancer. I have been on bioidentical hormones for over 17 years. I have to get the scripts from medical doctors that are my colleagues not my doctors as no doctor would prescribe hormones for a breast cancer survivor, as most do not understand these hormonal nuances.
People are always asking how I can look and act so young while being so old. The answer is by being on these hormonal, nutritional, and herbal rechargers. This combined natural program has allowed me to have the “youth” in my older age that I couldn’t achieve when I was young.
When I was younger, I was ill and older. Now being older, I am younger. Hormone health is a huge part of achieving this.
Reducing menopausal symptoms is not enough. You want to keep enjoying and benefitting from hormonal signals that keep so many tissues healthy. These include your hippocampus, where your memory and motivation live. This includes your waistline health, muscle mass, cognitive zing, and especially your heart. For example, women in the WHI that had earlier menopause had higher risk of heart failure. This is consistent studies finding elevated rates of heart disease with having both ovaries removed. In the WHI, when hormone therapy was initiated in recently menopausal women, the risk of heart disease was significantly reduced.
Health hormones protect your heart. And protect you against heart attack and heart failure.
Herbs are good to reduce symptoms. But they’re not enough. Nor is hormone replacement taken for only a few years to reduce a few symptoms.
Take home: the purpose of balanced hormones is to protect your brain health, gut health, and all of you as you age. You want to healthfully slow down the Mac Truck of aging and addressing your hormones is part of this.
Herbs and essential oils are efficacious for many health improvements, especially hormonal and breast protection. But symptom reduction alone is not the goal.
Of course, it’s all about balance, one hormone to another, and how your food, mood, and lifestyle support you or deplete you—your whole gestalt: hormones, body, mind, and spirit health.
Now you know. Fennel is a very woman-friendly, hormonally-active phyto- compound. But symptom reduction is not the whole story. Whole body, brain, and breast protection is more the accurate and helpful goal.
Read Safe Hormones, Smart Women and stay tuned for my revision launching in the next two years, renamed Safe Hormones. Buy a book and gift it to your doctor.
May your balanced hormonal force be with you!
PS. Bonus Recipe.
Here’s a fantastic summertime fennel salad recipe adapted from the amazing site Drizzle & Drip, who in turn adapted it from Polpos.
Hormone Balancing Fennel & Radish (and optionally Jicama) Salad
Serves 4 – 6
- 1 cup ricotta or one cup of cashew cream
- Pinch of sea salt to taste
- 1 teaspoon of dried organic parsley
- Pinch of black pepper and or some smoked paprika, to taste
- 3-½ Tbsp. of olive oil
- 1 large fennel bulb
- ¾ cup regular red radishes. I like to combine several small red radishes with a watermelon radish and a touch of jicama, but it’s up to you.
- Three leaves of basil
- 1 small handful of fresh parsley (not Italian)
- Juice of one fresh organic lemon
- ½ cup of raw organic cashews
- Juice of fresh lemon
- Pinch of Salt
- Dash of tarragon (optional)
- Blend thoroughly until you do not hear any nuts hitting the sides of the VitaMix and you have a very smooth refreshing cream. The thicker the better. If it comes out a bit thin, you can add more nuts, or place in the fridge for two hours as it will solidify.
Season the ricotta or cashew cream with salt and pepper(s) and add dried parsley and olive oil. Spread about 1 Tbsp. on each plate that you will place the shredded veggies on top of.
Using the larger slices of the grater, or on a mandolin, or using a food processor slicer, slice the fennel and radish as “finely” as possible. Place in a bowl. Add well-diced basil and parsley, the rest of the oil and the lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste, toss gently to combine. Do not toss too much. Just enough to gently blend. Place on top of cashew cream and/or ricotta and eat right away.
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