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Posts tagged ‘menopause’

Folate (Folic Acid) Reported To Help Reduce Pre-Menopa​usal Breast Cancer Risk

Specific Vitamins & Minerals Continue To Be Studied For Cancer Risk Reduction And Supporting Optimum Health…

Increased intakes of folate (folic acid) may reduce the risk of breast cancer, but the benefits may be linked to a woman’s menopausal state, suggests a new study.

Pre-menopausal women with the highest average intakes of folate from the diet are at a 40 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer, according to new findings published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The study was conducted with women in China where there’s no mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid, during the course of the study. In the US, grain products have been fortified with folic acid since 1998.

As a result, only 13 percent of the Chinese women had folate levels that matched or exceeded the US recommended dietary allowance, wrote researchers from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and the Shanghai Cancer Institute.

“Thus, it is possible that the relation with folate intake among pre- menopausal women may be due to a difference in folate insufficiency versus sufficiency.

“In support of this possibility, the present study appeared to have a threshold effect for folate intake that was achieved between the first and second quintiles of intake, with no added benefit beyond that level, ” the researchers explained.

Over one million women worldwide are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, with the highest incidences in the US and the Netherlands. China has the lowest incidence and mortality rate of the disease.

Hormone-sensitive estrogen-receptor (ER) positive and progesterone-receptor (PR) positive tumors are said to be the most common type diagnosed among breast cancer patients in the US. These tumors are stimulated to grow by the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Study Details

Data from Shanghai Women’s Health Study (1997-2008) for 72,861 participants aged between 40 and 70 was used to assess potential relationships between intakes of folate, niacin, and vitamin B6 and B12 and incidence of breast cancer.

During the course of the study 718 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed. After analyzing the numbers, the researchers report no link between vitamin B6 and B12 intakes and the risk of breast cancer in both pre- and post-menopausal women.

Only folate intake was associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer and this was limited to premenopausal women. Specifically, average intakes of 404 micrograms per day were associated with a 42 percent reduction in the risk of breast cancer, compared with average intakes of 194 micrograms per day.

Source: American Journal of Epidemiology

2011, Volume 173, Issue 10 (Pages 1171-1182)

“Dietary B Vitamin and Methionine Intakes and Breast Cancer Risk Among Chinese Women”

This article is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact your doctor or healthcare professional for medical and nutritional consultation.

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Nutrients for Women’s Wellness, Part 2

Ginkgo biloba in China

Image via Wikipedia

There are many areas of health that are important to women, including hormonal balance, mood, stress response and more. This newsletter is Part 2 of a two-part series covering specific nutrients that may be helpful for these critical areas of women’s wellness.

Ginkgo Biloba

It is surprising how often the benefits of ginkgo biloba have been underestimated. The potent and versatile health-giving properties of ginkgo have been demonstrated in many clinical trials, using different extracts of the leaves, fruit and seeds of the ginkgo tree. There are many benefits of ginkgo that are quite relevant to the management of PMS and menopause, including the promotion of healthy circulation, brain function and normal stress response.

Ginkgo biloba is a complex mixture of organic acids, plant fiber, phytosterols, flavonoids, terpenoids and carotenoids. The chemistry of the contents of ginkgo is quite complex, and this makes its biologic actions quite varied. While recent studies have evaluated specific extracts of ginkgo, many herbalists believe the benefits of ginkgo are a result of the interaction of the various natural components of the whole herb.

Of major relevance to the management of PMS and menopause is the ability of ginkgo to promote beneficial changes in memory, fatigue, concentration and mood. Other benefits include its ability to manage certain causes of dizziness, especially those related to problems with the balance mechanism within the ears. One published study of special relevance shows the demonstrated ability of ginkgo to reduce “breast congestion” and other troublesome symptoms in PMS (Tamborini A, et al, Rev Fr Gynecol Obstet; 88:447-457, 1993). Gingko may also have a beneficial effect on libido.

I believe that ginkgo biloba is a very important component of any natural, dietary supplement formula for menopause and PMS.

Ginseng

Ginsengpflanze

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Ginseng comes in several forms, and it has a long history of use as a general tonic in Eastern medicine.

Ginseng may have some benefits for mood and energy. In one carefully conducted study of the use of Panax ginseng in more than 300 women with menopausal symptoms, improvements in mood were noted. In a separate study, Korean ginseng was found to improve symptoms of sleeplessness, moodiness and fatigue when used in a relatively high dose of 6 grams per day.

In excessive amounts, ginseng can cause insomnia, anxiety, diarrhea and breast pain. The use of Panax ginseng has been associated with vaginal bleeding following menopause, but it is not entirely clear that this reported effect is actually due to ginseng itself. It’s important to note that the quality of ginseng may vary depending on the source, and it is available in extracted forms that have not yet been fully evaluated.

Flower Essence Therapy, Vervain and Golden Root

Rescue_Remedy

Image by hjw223 via Flickr

Flower essence therapy is associated with the English physician, Bach, who wandered the hills of Wales in his search of remedies to restore balance in life. Flower essence therapy is a form of homeopathy. It is stated that flower essence therapy can relieve stress, and it is believed that it can be used with other herbal or botanical supplements for health. Extracts from the flowering parts of plants are used in flower essence remedies, and although these are not considered direct treatments for menopause symptoms, they may help balance underlying emotions.

The flower essence remedies are given as tinctures that are often diluted in a base of alcohol. There seems to be no limit to how long flower essence treatments can be used, but there is not much scientific evidence of their effectiveness for the management of discomforts associated with menopause or PMS.

Two other herbs have been used variably to assist with symptoms of menopause and PMS, but the evidence for their effectiveness remains questionable. One is vervain (Verbena officianalis), which is said to support function of the adrenal glands, thereby promoting normal stress response. The second is golden root (Rhodiola rosea), which is often used in a standardized extract. This herb may have stress-relieving and immune-supporting properties, with some positive effects on mood and mental balance. The evidence for the use of golden root for menopausal relief is somewhat anecdotal, and it is probably better reserved for the specific management of stress disorders.

Miscellaneous Nutrients

Other dietary supplements of emerging interest for PMS and menopause include flaxseed, diindolylmethane (DIM) and DHEA (oral or topical). DHEA is a universal hormone precursor with emerging evidence to support anti-aging benefits, but it is best used under medical supervision. The substance DIM is found in certain vegetables and it may increase certain forms of “friendly” types of estrogen in the body, including hydroxy and methoxyestrogen.

In addition to support from nutrients and herbs, women can also benefit greatly from restful sleep, which is a key factor in well-being for individuals of all ages.

Be Healthy!
Stephen Holt, MD

Nutrients for Women’s Wellness, Part 1

Vitex agnus-castus: Habitus

Image via Wikipedia

There are many areas of health that are important to women, including hormonal balance, skin health, breast health, libido and more. This newsletter is Part 1 of a two-part series covering specific nutrients that may be helpful for these critical areas of women’s wellness.

Antioxidants for Anti-Aging

While most women have heard of antioxidants, many are still unaware of how they work or how to take them. Basically, antioxidants work against the unwanted oxidation of body tissues. While oxygen can be the body’s best friend, it can occur in a reactive form that damages tissues through the process of oxidation. Reactive forms of oxygen are called free radicals.

I believe that antioxidant usage is a key anti-aging tactic. Oxidative damage to tissues has been associated with almost every known chronic disease. Moreover, oxidative damage to genetic material and other cell structures is believed to be a principal cause of abnormal tissue changes that may lead to poor health and premature aging.

There are two specific antioxidants that may be especially beneficial for women. The first is green tea, which is brimming with antioxidant polyphenols, and offers versatile, well-documented health benefits. Second, I am impressed with scientific data showing the powerful effects of ellagic acid, found in raspberries and pomegranates.

Many skin care products today contain antioxidants intended to produce anti-aging effects on the skin, yet the topical application of antioxidants may be only marginally effective at improving skin health and appearance. Instead, I recommend women take antioxidants orally.

L-Theanine: Relaxation from Green Tea

While many of green tea’s benefits have been attributed to its antioxidant polyphenol and related catechin (e.g., epigallocatechingallate, EGCG) content, the use of green tea and other herbal teas, such as German chamomile, can also cause feelings of relaxation.

The compound in green tea believed to be responsible for its soothing properties is the amino acid L-theanine. This amino acid has shown an ability to cause muscle relaxation and contribute to restful sleep, without a direct sedative or hypnotic effect. It’s believed that L-theanine may support the balance of various brain chemicals that serve as messenger molecules (neurotransmitters). Following the oral ingestion of L-theanine, brain activity shows measurable changes toward relaxation.

The frequent presence of anxiety or stress in PMS and perimenopause makes L-theanine an ideal addition to supplement formulas for women. In addition, L-theanine may help support healthy blood pressure.

Chasteberry (Vitex agnus castus) for PMS, Menopause & Libido

Vitex agnus castus (Chasteberry) is an herb that has been grossly underestimated as valuable for women’s health. Laboratory studies show that extracts of chasteberry can both bind to estrogen receptors in the body and may stimulate progesterone receptors. In other words, chasteberry is a hormonal biological response modifier with several potential actions (Table 1).

Multiple hormonal actions

May raise progesterone levels in blood

May increase levels of luteinizing hormone

May help correct consequences of progesterone deficiency

Inhibits the stress hormone prolactin

Has an antiandrogenic hormone effect 

Approved by German E commission for management of menstrual irregularities and mastodynia (breast pain)

Table 1. Vitex (chasteberry): Characteristics and actions of an underestimated herb for menopause and PMS.

It has been argued that the major benefit of chasteberry is related to its ability to enhance the actions of progesterone. When taken in low doses, Chasteberry may decrease follicle-stimulating hormone and increase lutenizing hormone levels in the blood. These changes in the blood levels of pituitary hormones can result in increases in blood levels of progesterone. This helps to explain why chasteberry may reduce hot flashes, help with vaginal dryness and contribute to better mood.

Chasteberry has also been used to promote libido in women, and it seems to have a clear effect on inhibiting the actions of the stress hormone, prolactin. Prolactin is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. These actions on prolactin make the use of chasteberry unwise in pregnancy and for people taking medications that promote dopamine responses (e.g. L-Dopa).

It could be noted that chasteberry is an herb that acts quite slowly in the body, and it may take as long as three months of continuous use before it exerts its beneficial effects for menopause and PMS.

Evening Primrose Oil for Breast Health, PMS & Menopause

It’s believed that evening primrose oil is beneficial for breast health, PMS, breast pain (mastalgia) and menopausal discomforts. Its beneficial effects may be due to its gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) content. This fatty acid is a precursor of a group of molecules called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are considered, in simple terms, to be friendly types of hormones or messengers that support the body’s inflammatory response. GLA is known to be a precursor of prostaglandin E1.

Some studies have indicated that women with PMS may be unable to readily convert precursor molecules into GLA. It’s proposed that a deficiency of GLA may aggravate PMS.

Some of the desirable effects of GLA can also be achieved by omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA (docosahexanoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentanoic acid). Omega-3 fatty acids offer benefits for breast health, cardiovascular health, brain function and immunity. Every woman should consider taking a fish oil or other omega-3 supplement containing DHA and EPA, in enteric coated or targeted delivery forms, for health.

Be Healthy!
Stephen Holt, MD

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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