An Ounce Of Prevention Is Worth A Pound Of Cure!

Archive for October, 2011

The Soy Renaissance

In addition to its many nutritional benefits, soy may offer relief from common discomforts associated with menopause. Learn more about this super food and how it might help you.

In last week’s newsletter, I touched on the value of dietary soy, especially for women’s wellness. Although the health benefits of soy have been questioned, I believe a negative reputation has been encouraged by lobbyists for the meat and dairy industries. That said, I’m not a “soy nut,” and I do think that traditional diets with meat, dairy or fish protein can be healthy.

Much of the health value of soybeans is actually found in an interesting series of soy components called isoflavones. Isoflavones are a category of natural substances called phytoestrogens (phyto = plant). These plant compounds are believed to have hormone-like effects, but there is more to these potent and versatile natural substances. Phytoestrogens have many biological effects, and they may be best viewed as “adaptogens,” or biological-response modifiers, rather than simple estrogens.

The most abundant and common source of isoflavones are soybeans, which contain the isoflavones genistein, daidzein and glycetein. Phytoestrogens are found in red clover, lignans, fruit or grain fibers and phytosterols. Phytosterols are present in beans, cereals and grass sprouts. Active occurring phytoestrogens are transformed by bacteria in the colon or body enzyme systems into isoflavones or related compounds with estrogen-balancing effects.

Population studies of menopausal women provide convincing evidence that isoflavone-rich soy foods may reduce the occurrence or severity of hot flashes and other discomforts of menopause. Women following traditional soy-enriched diets in Japan have been found to have much higher levels of phytoestrogens in their urine than women in Western societies who follow the Standard American Diet. Along with this finding of high isoflavone intake are reports of significantly less menopausal discomforts, especially a low occurrence of hot flashes, in Japanese women.

The beneficial effects of soy have been attributed to the presence of the isoflavones genistein and daidzein; and these isoflavones have been concentrated and added to many dietary supplements for menopause and PMS management. More than 20 recent clinical trials have tested the ability of soy isoflavones, taken in concentrated forms (pills or soy protein isolates), to reduce hot flashes in menopausal women. While results have been mixed, approximately half of study participants reported improvements in hot flashes in just a few weeks. I believe variations in dosage may account for variations in results.

Soy isoflavones have varying levels of potency in terms of an estrogen-like action. However, they are all weak estrogens or modulators of estrogen’s effects on the body. I have been impressed by the benefits of using isoflavones of different origins together in dietary supplements. With these combinations, additive benefits are seen, and lower dosages of each isoflavone can be used together for greater effects (synergy). In particular, a combination of soy isoflavones and red clover isoflavones may be more effective for hot flashes.

There is a long history of precedent for the safety of soy foods. There are no studies in humans showing significant adverse effects of soy isoflavones, even when taken in relatively large doses (100 mg or more). Reviews of medical and scientific literature suggest that isoflavones in soy may exert significant protective effects in both animals and humans. (See Holt, S., “The Soy Revolution,” Dell Publishing, N.Y., N.Y., 2000). Soy isoflavones are known to function as potent antioxidants and free radical scavengers.

Many women question whether or not plant estrogens (phytoestrogens) cause cancer. Scientists have attempted to address the safety of phytoestrogens in relationship to cancer, but there are many different types of these plant compounds. Certain phytoestrogens have beneficial effects on the body, especially when body estrogen levels are high (independent of actions on estrogen receptors). However, there is no evidence that phytoestrogens used in popular dietary supplements can lead to cancer.

Soy isoflavones appear to be quite safe when used in doses with an existing precedent for safety (up to approximately 80 mg to 100 mg of total soy isoflavones in dietary supplements). While it’s unlikely that anyone would consume more than a total daily intake of 150 mg of isoflavones even if he or she ate a heavily soy-enriched diet, isoflavone supplements are available in a wide range of doses. I would like to stress that continuous use of soy supplements with high doses of soy isoflavones should be avoided.

The complex, beneficial actions of isoflavones and other components of soy make soy foods an extremely valuable dietary addition. For a more complete account of the positive impact of soy on health, please feel free to read my books (“The Soy Revolution,” Dell Publishing, N.Y., 2000; “Soya for Health,” Mary Ann Liebert Publishers, N.Y., 1997; and “Combat Syndrome X, Y and Z”, www.stephenholtmd.com, N.J., 2002).

Be Healthy!
Stephen Holt, MD

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History of Herbal Medicine

Herbs have been used from the beginning of man and were the first herbal
medicine
used by man. While allopathic medicine (the use of minerals to
treat disease) is only about 500 years old. The use of herbal medicine dates back several thousands of years B.C. The Chinese, Sumerians, and Egyptians all used plants for medicinal purposes. In the Old Testatment times, several herbs are mentioned, aloe is one of them.

One third of the medicinal plants and herbs listed in modern pharmacopoeia were known and used by the Egyptians. Here is a list of the herbs that were used, garlic, flax seed, fennel, juniper, sycamore, pine, senna, thyme, celandine, cinquefoil, black hellebore, tamarisk, celery, mandrake, henbane, willow, mulberry, myrrh, saffron, thyme, and onion, to name a few.

The knowledge of herbal medicine during the Middle Ages can be tribute to the monks, who not only copied the ancient manuscripts, but also cultivated their own herbal gardens in monasteries and used the herbs for many common disorders. In England during Elizabethan era, herbalism experienced a golden age, from which most of our herbals derives.
After the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, a large number of books on herbs were printed. In 1551, William Turner published his book, Newe Herball with illustrations on a variety of medicinal plants. John Gerard published his herbal book, The Herball or General Historie of Plantes, in 1597. The next noteworthy English herbalist was John Parkinson who in 1640 wrote Theatrum Botanicum, an encyclopedic work covering 3,000 plants and their medicinal uses. The English Physician Enlarged was written in 1653 by Nicolas Culpepper. He was the most controversial of the English herbalists.

In the 18th century William Salmon’s The English Herbal or History of
Plants, published in London in 1710, and An History of Plants and Trees,
Natives of Britain, Cultivated for use, or Raised for Beauty, by John Hill was
published in London in 1756. The introduction of naturopathy in America can be
attributed to Samuel Thompson. Samuel Thompson along with herbs used Thompson used diet, steam baths and massage. His motto was “To make every man his own physician.” Many people followed his theories after he died. Many doctors continued to use His ideas of relaxation, stimulation, and astringents because they were satisfied with the results.

For centuries the American Indians and native of other
countries have used all kinds of herbs, roots, barks in the healing art, and they still use them today. As more and more settlers arrived in the New World from Europe, their knowledge of herbs was combined with that of the herbals of the Native Americans and produced a distinctly American folk medicine. The Orthodox medical establishments in Europe and America started to move away from natural methods of healing and replied more on chemicals, leeches, and bloodletting.

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