Hormone Replacement Therapy For Women


       Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) had become a common recommendation for women entering menopause or having had hysterectomies. Because of such therapy increasing the risk for a variety of health problems, HRT has lost favor with both doctors and patients.  This being the case, what can women do to deal with the symptoms associated with menopause?

       The loss of normal estrogen activity in a women’s body can lead to bone loss, heart disease, hot flashes and a variety of other health problems and uncomfortable symptoms. Initially, medical doctors were prescribing only estrogen replacement as a way of dealing with these problems.  This approach, however, was found to increase the risk for uterine, cervical, and breast cancer.  Because of this, doctors began adding the hormone progesterone to the HRT mix as they came to realize that progesterone also plays an important role in the maintenance of bone density and acts as a counter balance to estrogen.  The body’s production of progesterone virtually stops after menopause whereas various body tissues continue to produce some estrogen.  Estrogen slows down bone loss while progesterone facilitates the growth of new bone.

       The problem that HRT presents is that the estrogens (Estradiol, Estrone, Estriol) and progesterone (progestin’s in their synthetic form) are synthesized in a way that results in a molecular structure different from what the body itself produces or what can be found in plant sources.  The result is that the body does not utilize these hormones in the same way as naturally produced hormones and thus the increased risk for cancer and other health problems.  What complicates the situation even more is the presence of what are called  zenoestrogens in the environment which are picked up by the body and add to the bodies overall pool of estrogen.  Zenoestrogens are estrogen like molecules found in a variety of chemical compounds such as synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, household cleaning agents, etc.  These zenoestrogens fill estrogen receptor sites in the body and contribute to a condition called estrogen dominance.  When you add the consumption of estrogens found in dairy and meat products, along with birth control drugs, it becomes easy to understand that estrogen dominance is a growing problem and a problem that can lead to a variety of health problems including breast and uterine cancer.

        The Physicians’ Desk Reference provides a long list of negative side effects connected with HRT.  These include nausea, breast tenderness, depression, liver disorders, fluid retention, gallstones and blood clots to name just a few.  Several medical journals have reported studies that HRT can actually double a woman’s risk of breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

       For the women who are concerned with the risks involved with hormone replacement therapy and yet want to protect against the loss of bone density and other health problems connected with loss of estrogen and progesterone, there are alternatives.


        Soy beans have been shown to contain chemical compounds called isoflavones such as genistein and diadzein. Isoflavones act as phytoestrogens (phyto = plant) or weak forms of estrogen that will be picked up by estrogen receptor sites in the body.  If you are estrogen dominant, these phytoestrogens will compete for estrogen receptor sites and by filling some of them as weak estrogens, will help to lower overall estrogen levels.  On the other hand, if you are low in estrogen, these phyto-estrogens, by filling empty estrogen receptor sites, will increase total levels of estrogen. Phytoestrogens will therefore serve to balance estrogen levels in the body.  Other foods containing significant amounts of phytoestrogens are flaxseed, nuts, whole grains, apples, fennel, celery, parsley and alfalfa.

        Phytoestrogens have significant advantage over synthetic hormones as they do not cause the health risks associated with hormone replacement therapy.  It has been shown that women in cultures that have a high intake of foods containing phytoestrogens, do not experience anywhere near the level of menopausal systems and osteoporosis as is evident in cultures like in America where a processed and refined food diet is eaten which is very low in these important plant chemicals.  Isoflavones have also been shown to be a very positive dynamic in the prevention of breast cancer.  Recently a substance called ipriflavone has been synthesized from isoflavones which when taken as a supplement has been shown to dramatically improve bone mass.

       With the knowledge that phytoestrogens from isoflavones are a very real alternative to hormone replacement therapy,  it may be appropriate  to add soy-containing foods to the diet along with more whole grains, flax seed and other isoflavone containing foods.  Soy can be added by using tofu, soymilk, soy cheese, soy nuts (roasted soybeans), and any number of the many meat substitute products that are now available where soy is used. There also are available a variety of soy based supplements with standardized amounts of the isoflavones. We have a variety of these kinds of products at Milk ‘N Honey.

       Some research suggests that we should be careful as to how much we eat in the way of soy products.  Soy beans are high in phytic acid which will block the uptake of certain minerals in the intestinal tract. On the other hand, phytic acid has been shown to have an anti-tumor effect in the body.  Soy beans contain enzyme inhibitors which block the action of some protein digesting enzymes.  First soaking and then thoroughly cooking soybeans will greatly reduce the level of phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. Fermentation of soy to produce products such as tofu will do the same.   Soy protein isolate (SPI) is a key ingredient in many soy based products.  Various chemicals along with high heat are used to isolate the protein from soy.  Unfortunately, high heat can denature some of the proteins in soy. 

       Lastly, it should be noted that while isoflavones in soy have been demonstrated to have a favorable effect on menopausal symptoms, some research indicates that they can lead to under active thyroid function. This research involved SPI and not specific menopause products where the isoflavones have been extracted from soy.  Soy containing infant formulas has come under fire because of their isoflavone content.  It is felt that such products provide too high a level of hormone like molecules to young children. 

       For those wishing to avoid soy based products but still deal with the problems associated with menopause, there are other products that have been shown to be effective.  The herb black cohosh provides a non-hormonal approach to relieving the symptoms of menopause.  Black cohosh appears to balance the chemical activity that goes on between various glands associated with estrogen production.  Black cohosh has demonstrated the ability to relieve hot flashes and mood swings.  Chaste berry extract promotes progesterone activity and provides relief of premenstrual pain. These herbs can be taken separately or in formulas.  One such product is AM/PM Menopause formula from Enzymatic Therapy Company.  This product contains black cohosh, chaste berry and other herbs that are effective in helping women through menopause.

       A product from a company called Himalaya USA provides excellent support to the menopause experience.  The product is called Menocare and contains a blend of herbs that have both phytoestrogens and phytoprogesterone. A recent study involving this product showed a 96.2 percent reduction in hot flashes and a 100 percent decrease in night sweating.  The key combination of herbs in this formula is ashwagandha, haritaki licorice and shatavari.

       Many of our customers at Milk ‘N Honey have obtained excellent results with a product called Pro-Fema. This product, from Pure Essence Labs, contains soy isoflavones but also contains black cohosh and a wide selection of other herbs and nutrients that provide a complete formula for promoting woman’s health during and after menopause.


        As mentioned above, the term estrogen actually refers to three different hormones: Estrone, Estradiol and Estriol. All three undergo various conversions in the liver.  Estrone can convert into two forms.  One form becomes a very biologically active form which is associated with cancer development.  Its other form can actually inhibit the growth of malignant tumors.

       A plant nutrient called diindolylmenthane (DIM), derived from cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, has been found to increase the form of Estrone that helps to prevent cancerous growth.  Research has shown that women that have a higher level of this protective type of Estrone have reduced breast cancer risk.  Eating more cruciferous vegetables will increase DIM levels in the body and contribute to greater protection from cancer.

       Men can also benefit from an increase in levels of DIM.  Men produce some estrogen and the same process goes on in men's bodies, as in woman’s bodies, relative to how estrogen is metabolized.   For those wishing not to eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables, there is a product from Enzymatic Therapy Company called EstroBalance which will provide the body with an ample supply of DIM.  Another product from Enzymatic called PMS Symptom Free also contains DIM.   

       The three estrogens; Estriol, Estrone, and Estradiol occur at the approximate level of 90, 3 and 7 percent in the female body. The pharmaceutical Premarin (horse {equine} estrogens), which are derived from the urine of pregnant mares, consists of 75-80% Estrone, 6-15% Equilin and 5-19% Estradiol plus two additional equine estrogens.  Because of such a significant difference in the makeup of human estrogens and horse estrogens, many unwanted side effects have occurred using standard hormone replacement therapy.

       In response to this dilemma, the Solaray Company is marketing a product called Estro-3.  This product provides naturally occurring Estriol, Estrone and Estradiol identical in molecular structure to those same hormones produced in the human body.  Estro-3 is a proprietary blend of licorice root extract, pomegranate seed and hops that provides 1mg of Phytoestriol, 40mcg of Phytoestrone, and 20mcg of Phytoestradiol.  Phyto means plant derived.  These plant derived hormones are totally compatible with human physiology and won’t produce the negative side effects experienced with a product like Premarin.


        Bone loss is a major concern for menopausal women.  Progesterone is important to the manufacture of new bone in the body.  Natural progesterone can be added to your hormone replacement program by using extracts from Wild Mexican Yam.  There are a number of topical creams available and when used on a regular basis will provide the body with natural progesterone which is absorbed through the skin and picked up by receptor sites in the body.  There are several companies marketing these creams. One very effective progesterone cream is Renewed Balance from AIM International.

       An important dietary consideration in reducing bone loss is to lower the consumption of foods containing the mineral phosphorous.  The body must maintain a three to one calcium to phosphorous ratio in the blood.  If it has to, the body will extract calcium from the bones in order to maintain this ratio. The American diet is very high in phosphorous. Animal protein is high in phosphorous.  Processed and refined foods tend to be high in phosphorous as many additives are phosphoric based compounds.  Soda waters are “phosphoric heaven.”   With all that phosphorous coming into the body, there is a constant struggle to maintain the proper calcium to phosphorous ratio in the blood.  Much bone loss can be traced to the body having to rob calcium from the bones to maintain this ratio.

       It has been observed that cultures with more whole food and plant based diets, and therefore less phosphorous, have much less osteoporosis than we Americans. Yet these cultures consume less calcium in their diets than we Americans. It’s interesting to note that Americans take more calcium supplements than any other culture in the world and yet have more osteoporosis than any other culture.  

        It should be obvious that our diets play a major role in preventing bone disease. It is recommended that a post-menopausal women take in 1500 mg’s of calcium per day.  In order to utilize calcium, Vitamin D must be present as well.  Additional minerals such as magnesium, boron and silica play a role in the production of bone tissue.  At Milk ‘N Honey we carry a variety of products that will help create and maintain bone health.