The information in this section is designed to give you an introduction to potential benefits of herbs and plant products used in cooking and herbal medicine and is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medications prescribed by a licensed physician in the treatment, cure, diagnosis or mitigation of a disease or condition. Persons with potentially serious medical conditions should seek professional care!
From the Greenbush Natural website at http://www.greenbush.net/morthanyouev.html
Chemicals in plants that contain a steroidal nucleus are considered to be phytosterols. Phytosterols include cholesterol, which is found in rare trace amounts in plants, and many compounds that are unique to plants and not found in animals. The sterols occuring in plants are very similar to the steroidal hormones found in humans and other animals. The extent to which the ingestion of plant sterols can impact animal sterols is not entirely certain. Many plants now found to be high in steroidal molecules very similar to, those observed in animals, have been used for centuries, if not millenia for hormonal, menstrual, and obstetrical conditions. Pomegranates were a symbol of fertility to the classical greeks, and probably long before, and indeed pomegranates are high in phytosterols. In fact pomegrantes are quite unique in that they contain actual estrone, one of human estrogens. Pollen grains for the Date Palm were used to promote fertility in women in ancient Egypt, and Dates as well, have been found to contain estrone. Some of the plants high in phytosterols have names like Crampbark, or Ladies Mantle, or Papoose root indicating their long history of use for female complaints. Since sterols are fat soluble, they are high in plant oils, particularly Soy oil, Palm oil, Chestnut oil, and Sesame oil. (~1,000 to 5,000 mg sterols per 100 grams crude oil) Processing and refining these oils is damaging to the phytosterols. Phytosterols are also relatively high in Figs, Corn, Peas, and Rice Bran. The Nightshade family (Solanaceae) and the Legume Family (Leguminaceae) also contain small amounts of phytosterols. An increased intake of phytosterols has been associated with decreased cholesterol and decreased risk of some cancers, most notably breast cancer.
There is much confusion in the literature regarding phytosterols. There are some plants which are purported to be "hormonal" or "estrogenic", but contain no phytosterols. The confusion arises because plant constituents other than phytosterols sometimes exert an estrogenic, or progesteronic effect . Estrogen is unique in this as most other hormones and adrenocorticoids require precise molecular shapes to bind to receptors. Numerous substances, however, seem to be able to complex with estrogenic receptors. Additionally, some botanicals have been found to act on the brain and effect hypophoseal hormone release without containing steroidal constituents. For example, porphyrin constituents in the Wild carrot, Daucus carota are shown to stimulate the pituitary to release gonadotropins. Other constituents are smooth muscle antispasmodics to the uterus, and others effect circulation to the uterus and pelvis. Some authors use the term phytoestrogen to refer to any constituent that has an estrogenic effect, while others reserve the term for those estrogenics that are specifically steroidal in nature . As we shall see, many different chemical constituents, not only the phytosterols, can effect hormonal metabolism and action of the reproductive organs in animals. We will also examine what action the sum total of all the constituents, in any individual botanical species has on the human organism. We will seek to note a particular essence or specific indication of plants studied. The chemicals are only an indication of the energy the plant posesses.
Phytoestrogens are certain plant constituents that have an estrogenic or estrus producing effect on animal tissues. Many studies on phytoestrogens measure an increase in uterine weight as a parameter of estrogenic effect, or expediation of sexual maturity in young mammals. Other studies look for increased ovulation, increased lactation, or an increase in urinary metabolites of estrogen as signs of estrogenic activity. Phytoestrogens are used in botanical medicine for a wide variety of female complaints including menstrual irregularity, dysmennorrhea, and menopausal symptoms. A few plants contain actual estrone and estradiaol, two estrogens occuring in animals, but most plants contain related steroidal compounds such as diosgenin and B-sitosterol, or other chemical constituents having an estrogenic effect, such as the isoflavones6, and the coumestans discussed below. Pharmaceutical steroids are more appropriately termed gestagens, and progestagens, as they are synthetic, and not naturally occuring steroids . Diethylstilbesterol, or DES for example, is a synthetic drug bearing resemblance to naturally occuring plant coumestans, and is associated with teratogenicity (increase occurance in ovarian cancer in offspring). Naturally occuring plant coumestans have no such known side affect.
Plant steroids that are identical to animal steroids are quite rare in plants, but do occur in the following:7
ESTRONE is found in ESTRIOL is found in: Punica granatum - Pomegranates Humulus lupulus - Hops Elaeis guineensis, Phoenix spp - Dates Glycyrrhiza glabra - Licorice Malus sylvesris - Apple Phaseolus vulgaris - Green Bean Salix caprea - Willow Phaseolus vulgaris - Green Beans ESTRADIOL is found in: and trace amounts in the grains oat, rice, and barley. Phaseolus vulgaris - Green Bean Humulus lupulus - Hops
Diosgenin , and B-sitosterol are perhaps the most well known steroids occuring in plants. Diosgenin occurs in numerous Dioscorea species and is of note due to the use of diosgenin, as a raw material in the manufacture of steroidal pharmaceuticals. Dioscorrea or the Wild Yam has been used as a botanical medicine for obstetrical and gynecological complaints for centuries and is believed to have an estrogenic effect. Diosgenin is also found in Chamlerium luteum and Aletris farinosa. Related plant constituents include Botogenin and smilagenin. It is beleived that the diosgenin is transformed to smilagenin within the intestinal mucosa.
B -sitosterol is very common, in at least trace amounts, in a wide number of plants. It occurs in concentrations high enough to produce estrogenic activity in Glycine max - soy, Serenoa repens - Saw Palmetto, and Trifolium pratense - Red Clover
DADZEIN BIOCHANIN FORMONONETIN
OTHER BOTANICALS AND CONSTITUENTS WITH ESTROGENIC ACTIVITY - Allium sativum - Garlic Panax ginseng - Korean Ginseng Foeniculum vulgare - Fennel seeds Pimpinella anisum - anise seeds
NATURALLY OCCURING HUMAN STEROIDS STEROIDAL SKELETON CHOLESTEROL ALDOSTERONE
SYNTHETIC ANTIESTROGENS TAMOXIFEN CLOMIPHENE SYNTHETIC ANTIPROGESTATIONAL
RU 486 NATURALLY OCCURING ANTIANDROGEN NATURALLY OCCURING ANTISPERMATOGENIC B SITOSTEROL GOSSYPOL
Jill Stansbury ND
Compositae Family Yarrow Achillea has been used as an antiseptic and hemostatic for centuries. Two hemostatic principles, Achilletin and Achilleine have been isolated in recent times giving credence to Achillea's age old usage. On the uterus however, Achillea may act as a hemostatic or an emmenagogue depending on what is appropriate.19 Achillea improves uterine tone which may serve to increase the flow in atonic situations, and reduces uterine spasms which may serve to reduce a heavy flow in cases of menorrhagia.20 Several studies have demonstrated this spasmolytic capability of Achillea.21,22. Achillea also has anti-inflammatory properties23,24making it useful for pain and a variety of pelvic conditions. Achillea contains coumarin, chamazulene, apigenin, and the steroidal B-sitosterol.
Alchemilla has long been used for meno- and metrorrhagia. The plant is high in tannins giving it a hemostatic effect. When used in the last half (luteal phase) of the menstrual cycle, Alchemilla is helpful in correcting a heavy menstrual flow. Alchemilla is reported to be a progesteronic herb and useful for pelvic congestion especially when associated with a menstrual headache. It is astringent, sedative, and contains salicylates.
Like the well known Dioscorrea villosa, Aletris contains Diosgenin, and is used commercially as a starting material in the synthesis of steroids. Diosgenin is a phytosterol with estrogenic activity making Aletris useful in hormonal insufficiency, balancing hyperestrinism, and a variety of gynecological complaints. One particular indication is amenorrhea from uterine engorgement.
A number of studies and scholarly reports have attested to Angelica's usefulness in gynecological complaints including infertility, PMS, dysmenorrhea, metrorrhagia, amenorrhea, chronic miscarraige, and menopausal complaints, as well as allergies and respiratory complaints.
Angelica sinensis acts strongly on the femal reproductive organs, but the action is not thought to be hormonal, and phytosterols have been isolated. Rather, Angelica is beleived to increase metabolism within the uterus and ovaries. Cellular activity within the female reproductive organs is stimulated and the utilization of gulcose and the synthesis of DNA is observed to increase in these organs.33
Angelica sinensis acts as a smooth muscle relaxant overall, but will stimulate the uterus breifly before relaxing it. This curious action is likely the result of two chemical constituents in Angelica having polar actions on the uterus. Animal studies (rabbits, cats, dogs) have shown an increase in excitability of the uterus, but contractile rhythym was calmed to become slow, and strong, as opposed to fast, irregular, and weak. For this action, Angelica is often of use in dysmenorrhea and uterine spasms. Numerous constituents in Angelica are credited as having an antispasmodic effect including butylidenphthalide, ligustilide, and butyphthalide. Additionally, Angelica contains ferulic acid which is credited with an analgesic effect of value in dysmennorrhea. Ferulic acid is antispasmodic to the uterus and may also calm cardiac arrhythymias. Angelica also contains nicotinic acid which is believed to have vasodilating action.. In treating dysmenorrrhea, Angelica may make menses heavier, so it is wise to warn patients of this possibility. The heavier menstrual flow may be due to the vasodilatory effect of nicotinic acid, or may be due the ability of ferulic acid and lugistilide in the volatile oil to inhibit platelet aggregation. Many herbalists reccommend that Angelica be stopped during the menses if menorrhagia accompanies the dysmenorrhea. A separate formula such as Viburnum and Cinnamon may be used during the menses, treating with Angelica during the rest of the cycle.
Chemical constituents having antihistamine, anticholine, and antiserotinin effects have also been reported which is in keeping with the reported anti-allergy effects. Angelica has also been credited with immune enhancing, and anti-tumor activity. Other species including the European Angelica archangelica common to herb and ornamental garderns, and the Japanese Angelica acutiloba have similar, though not identical properties.
Capsella is a nutritious plants useful in gynecologic hemorrhage and menorrhagia. Useful for menstrual-induced anemia due to the combination of nutrients and correction of heavy flow.
Caulophyllum is an oxytocic emmenagogue useful for both uterine spasm and uterine atony. Caulophyllum contains the alkaloid methyl cytisin, and saponins caulosaponin, and caulophyllosaponin. Caulophyllum is best used in small frequent dosages, as large doses may cause nausea, sorethroat, headache, and an elevation in blood pressure. Specific indications for this botanical are uterine spasms worst the first day of the menstrual flow, oligomenorrhea, and infertility46,47,48,49. Caullophyllum may also be useful in cases of breast tenderness and abdominal pain due to ceongestion and fluid retention. Caulophyllum has extensive historical use and is an ingredient in the classic "Mother's Cordial". My own experience has observed Caullophyllum to be useful as a partus preparator when the uterus is weak due to multiple childbirths or atony. It is also useful for menstrual cramps, especially when there is poor pelvic and uterine tone. It may also improve the uterine tone in cases of subinvolution and uterine prolapse. Caullophyllum seems to be of value in cases of tissue laxity, especially where there is a heavy deep aching sensation in legs and pelvis. Caullophyllum is noteworthy in its ability to increase the overall muscle tone of the uterus, but to have an antispasmodic effect on hypertonic spasms of the uterus. The alkaloid Methlycystisine is thought to be antispasmodic, while saponins containing hederagenin are thought to provide the increased tone
Chamalerium, which is synonmous with Helonius, was used by the native americans and , in turn, the early settlers. It was used as a digestive tonic and for uterine atony and malposition. Chamaelerium contains steroidal saponins giving it estrogenic activity50,51,52. It is useful for threatened abortion 53 and is safe during gestation often being reccommended from conception through the first trimester in those with a history of miscarriage. Although Chamaelerium is said to stimulate a sluggish uterus , it is not thought to be abortifacient or even emmenagogue. Rather Chamaelerium will bring a laxed, overworked, or atonic uterus up to proper tone, but will not likely stimulte to the point of hypertonicity. Chamaelerium is specifically indicated for a sense of fullness and distension in the uterus, with heaviness and downward sinking and radiating pains..54,55
Cimicfuga has been used historically in numerous musculoskeletal complaints from trauma to rheumatism. Cimicfuga was used by the native americans, and the early american eclectic physicians picked up on its use. Cimicifuga is a vascular and neuralgic antispasmodic. It also has spasmolytic and anti-inflammatory effects on the uterus. 56, 57It is useful preventing miscarraige and premature labor.58 Cimicifuga contains the antiinflammatory salicylic acid, making it useful in pain of an inflammatory origin , as well as a variety of gynecological complaints. Cimicifuga is also thought to have an estrogenic effect via a reduction in release of LH by the pituitary,59 and via a weakly estrogenic isoflavone constituent, formonetine60. The specific indications are for nervous people with heavy limbs and crampy uterine pains across the pelvis radiating down the thighs.61 Since Cimicifuga is also used for arthritic and rheumatic complaints, menstrual and pelvic pain having a stiff, sore, radiating character are specifically covered by this remedy.
Like Panax Ginseng, Eleuthrococcus has adaptogenic and immune enhancing properties64. It is useful for those who suffer from weakness of the entire organism, be it physical or mental. It has long been used for the elderly, but is also appropriate for those with fatigue and poor stress response. Use in those who are unable to meet environmental, familial, career, or personal demands. There is growing evidence that Eleuthrococcus acts directly on the hypothalmus to regulate body hormones65,66. GLYCYRRHIZA GLABRA Leguminaceae Family Licorice
With respiratory, gastrointestinal, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, glucose balancing, and hormonal activities, who cannot help but be impressed by Glycyrrhiza? This extremely useful and versatile herb contains estrogenic saponins67,68 and is considered to be amphoteric. Some authors list Glycyrrhiza as progesteronic as well as estrogenic. It contains a cortisone-like constituent and also inhibits the breakdown of cortisone in the liver69. A concommitent pseudoaldosterone action may cause retention of fluid and and elevation of blood pressure70. A Japanese study showed positive results in the treatment or oligomenorrhea due to elevated androgens relative to estrogens.71
Humulus has been classified as a bitter tonic and a nervine in classical herbology. Women who harvest hops strobiles sometimes develop menstrual cycle derangments, and indeed, humulus has estrogenic constituents, including a trace of estradiol.72 It is best used in the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle and continued long-term. Recent research has shown that hops may help the body to metabolize natural toxins.73 The yellow powdery resin produced by the Hops stobiles contains lupulin, a reported nerve calming agent useful in cases of insomnia, headache, and emotional PMS due to anxiety and mental stimulation . Lupulin and other consituents including humulones and lupulones give Humulus an antispasmodic effect. Hops is particularly indicated for dysmennorhea and insomnia due to nervous origins.
Hypericum is a nervine, sedative, antiinflammatory botanical high in flavinoids hypericine and carotene, Tannins, Vit C, Volatile oils. Presently Hypericum is the subject of fervent research for it's antiretroviral activity with pharmaceutical companies preparing to market Aids remedies derived from this herb. Hypericum is also a useful antidepressant owing to its' abilit to inhibit MAO74, 75, 76. As a women's herb it is useful for pelvic problems especially when due to nervous tension. Hypericum has been reccomended for a tight sensation in the pelvis. The 1983 British Pharmacopea says Hypericum is specifically indicated for menopausal neuroses.
Leonurus is a well known childbirth and post partum botanical having galactogogic and uterine tonic properties. 77 Leonurus is a hypotensive nervine78 useful for headache, insomnia, and vertigo as well as gynecologic and obstetrical conditions. It is specific for pelvic pain with concommittent heart palpitations, anxiety attacks and stress 79,80, 81 . Leonurus injections were recently shown to improve blood viscosity by decreasing platelet aggregation, fibrinogen content, and erythrocyte deformation .82 Leonurs contains phytosterols, flavinol and iridoid glycosides, and the alkaloid leonurine.83,84,85,86,87
Lithosperma is a phytoprogesterone 88 useful in balancing hyperestrinism and balancing irregular menstrual cycles. Stoneseed and Gromwell, a related species (Lithospermuaofficianale) have demonstrated hormanal inhibition due to direct action of the hypothalamus89. Use short term in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, or full cycle to supress high estrogen levels.
Medicago is a very nutritious botanical high in Vitamins A, C, Niacin, Riboflavin, Folic acid, Ca, Fe, K, and bioflavinoids. Medicago has an amphoteric action on estrogen balance90,91 due to its content of plant steroids.92 It is thought to provide some estrogenic activity when the body's hormone levels are low, and compete for estrogenic binding sites when the the body levels are high.
Mitchella is one of four ingredients in the old herbal "Mother's Cordial" reccommended for fertility and as a partus preparator. It has been referred to as a uterine tonic for its' ability to increase uterine circulation yet reduce congestion, and improve laxity of uterine tone yet reduce spasm.93 It has long been reccommended for the prevention of spontaneous abortion in those with a prior history.94
Pulsatilla was highly regarded by both Felter and Scudder, and was well used by both the eclectic physicians and by european herbalists. Pulsatilla is also a leading homeopathic medicine. In herbal traditions, not unlike the homeopathic indications, Pulsatilla is indiczted for menstrual complaints in women who are intolerant of fatty foods, have a coated tongue, cold extremities, and a feeble pulse. 95 Furthermore, it is indicated for those inclined to weep from theie pain and for amenorrhea following getting the feet wet. Hormonally, Pulastilla is said to exhibit a progesteronic effect.96 Since Pulsatilla has great potential for toxicity when given in large dosages, Pulsatilla is only used botanically in small doses of 1-10 drops at a time. GI irritation is the first sign of toxicity, so Pulsatilla should be discontinued promptly if there are any such symptoms.
Pomegranates are an ancient symbol of fertility and indeed, the ripe fruit does have an estrogenic activity. In fact, pomegranates contain actual estrone (1.7 mg/100 mg ripe seeds)97, not just related phytosterols as is the case with most steroidal plants. Medicinal pomegranate preparations are not readily available.
Salvia is an under used phytotheraputic botanical agent, as are most of the culinary botanicals. Salvia is carminative, antispasmodic, digestant, and incidentally quite high in zinc. As a hormonal agent, it contains phytosterols having an estrogenic action.98,99,100 Energetically, Salvia is drying and cooling and of particular value for menopausal hot flashes. As a drying herb, it is also useful for reducing mucous secretions and milk production, as well as reducing body heat and sweating. Early herbals list Salvia to be specifially indicated for bright red abundant uterine bleeding, and for cramps that are worse heat and better cold.
Serenoa inhibits the formation of dihydrotestosterone due to its liposterol content, and is highly regarded in herbal medicine for the treament of prostatic enlargement due to both adenoma and benign hyperplasia.101,102,103,104. By the same mechanisms, Serenoa may be useful in women with hirsuitism and androgen excess such as with polycysitic ovaries.
There are twelve or more species within the smilax genus, many of which contain hormonally active substances. including the phytosterols sitosterol, stigmasterol, and pollinastanol, and the saponin glycosides sarsaponin, smilacin, and pollinastanol.105,106,107 Smilax is also considered to be an alterative agent and a detoxifying botanical. Smilax is credited with binding endotoxins with the GI tract,108 and both Pliny and Dioscorides advocated the use of smilax for both the treatment and prevention of poisoning. In China, another species of Smilx is used as an antidote to mercury poisoning.
Feverfew has been shown to inhibit inflammatory mediators including leukotrienes, thromboxanes, and prostaglandins. It additionally decreases the release of serotonin from platelets and reduces the blood vessels response to vasoconstrictors such as serotonin, histamine, adrenalin, and bradykinin. These capabilities make Tanacetum a useful anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and vasoconstrictive agent.109,110,111
Verbena is considered specific for uterine conditions due to nervous fatigue. It is useful for gynecological and hormonal imbalance associated with depression and anxiety, especially a crisis or severe illness.112,113,114 With these specific indication, it might be considered for hormonal problems related to a past history of sexual abuse.
Viburnum opulus, as the common name crampbark implies, is renowned as an antispasmodic, partuclarly useful for uterine cramps. Crampbark is a uterine sedative115, and has been reccomended for spastic expulsive uterine pains radiating from the back to the thighs.116,117,118,119 Viburnum opulus was listed in the US Pharmacopeae in the late 1800's. As a uterine antispasmodic, Viburnum opulus is thought to be the most potent of the various Viburnum species. Viburnum opulus contains more of the antispasmodic constituent scopoletin,120 than other species tested. V. opulus also contains more antispasmodic volatile oils than the other species. The smooth relaxing activity of the antispasmodic constituents is also credited with a hypotensive effect.121 My own experience with this botanical has been entirely positive. It works well and rapidly for simple menstrual cramps. When Viburnum fails to releive dysmenorrhea, the discomfort is probalbly not due to muscle spasm, but due to inflammation or irritation of uterus, ovaries, endometrial cysts etc. V. prunifolium, as noted below, contains an antiinflammatory constituent as well, and may be better indicated for these latter types of complaints. For dysmenorrhea, V. opulus seems to work best taken up to hourly whenever cramps are experienced or anticipated. If the menstrual cycles are regular. V.opulus may be used 3-4 times during the day prior the expected onset of the cramps, in order to have a preventative effect.
Vitex is balancing to the female hormones due an action on diencephalo-hypophyseal axis rather than an estrogenic effect. Vitex is believed to act on the brain to reduce secretion of FSH while increasing the secretion of LH.122This action serves to stimulate the corpus luteum. and raise progesterone levels 123 When used longterm, Vitex has the capability to normalize menstrual cycles alleviating hypermenorrhea, polymenorrhea, and symptoms of PMS. Some authors have claimed Vitex to contain phytoestrogens and progesterones124, although widespread agreement on this has not been seen and it is most likely that Vitex is progesteronic in action, but contains no steroidal constituents Flavonols have been isolated and may be the hormonally active constituents. The hormonal balancing action of Vitex may be entirely attributable to the effect on diencephalo-hypophoseal system alone. It is known that anemia, anorexia, obesity, thyroid disease and other conditions of faulty metabolism and nutrition can cause derangements in the menstrual cycle due to aberancies in the hypothalamic-pititary control mechanisms. 125 Vitex may be corrective to amenorrhea and menstrual irregularities in such circumstances. The progesteronic action of Vitex makes it useful for premenstrual fluid retention and acne.
UTERINE TONICS - Calophylum thalitroides Cimicfuga racemosa Chamelirum luteum Mitchella repens Rubus ideaus Senecio aureus Vitex agnus castus
UTERINE SEDATIVES - Viburnum opulus Valeriana Dioscorea Piscidia Humulus Anemone pulsatilla
UTERINE STIMULANTS / EMMENAGOGUES - Artemesia absintinum Artemesia abrotanum Artemesia vulgare Caulophyllum thalictroides Gratiola officianlis Mitchella repens Mentha pulegium Ruta graveolans Sabina
OXYTOCICS - Gossypol
UTERINE VASCULAR DECONGESTANTS - Collinsonia canadensis Achillea millefoliumUTERINE HEMOSTATICS/ASTRINGENTS Achillea millefolia Alchemilla vulgaris Capsella bursa pastoris Geranium maculatum Cinnamomum saigonicum Secale cornutum
GALACTAGOGUES - Cardus marianum Foeniculum vulgare Pimpinella anisum Galega officinalisANTIGALACTAGOGUES Salvia officinalis
PHYTOESTROGENICS - Aletris farinosa Caulophyllum thalictroides Cimicifuga racemosa Glycyrrhiza glabra Humulus lupulus Trifolium pratense Salvia officianlis Smilax spp.
PHYTOPROGESTERONICS - Dioscorrea villosa
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