Although it is not typically referred to as herbal hormone replacement therapy, there are plant components that have a hormone like effect on the body. The ones we know the most about are called “phytoestrogens”, which, as the name suggests, have an estrogen-like effect on the body.
Another term that is sometimes used for advertising purposes is “natural hormone replacement therapy”. Pay attention when selecting a treatment plan, because this term can technically be used to describe many different types of therapies.
Traditional estrogen replacement therapy is made from the urine of pregnant mares. You may see reports about studies concerning “equine estrogens”, which simply means estrogen that comes from horses. Since the source of the estrogen is “natural”, this type of therapy may be referred to as “natural hormone replacement therapy”.
If you are actually interested in herbs and plants that provide relief from the symptoms of menopause (or herbal hormone replacement therapy), then you may not be interested in equine estrogens. But, technically, they are natural.
In the mid 1970’s, researchers learned that women who took equine estrogens to relieve the symptoms associated with menopause were much more likely to develop cancer of the endometrium (the lining of the uterus), than were women who had not taken hormones during menopause. This research led pharmaceutical companies to add a synthetic hormone called progestin (similar to the progesterone produced by the ovaries) to the equine estrogens. This type of combination HRT should not be referred to as natural hormone replacement therapy, but since the initial source of progestin is a plant, some may refer to it as natural.
Theoretically, equine estrogens caused the endometrium to thicken, but if a woman’s periods had stopped, then the lining was not shed. Progestin caused the lining to be shed, thus reducing the risk of endometrial cancer. The problem with progestin is that it increases the risk of breast cancer. The Women’s Health Initiative recently reported that combination HRT increases a woman’s risk of blood clots and stroke. They concluded that the health risks of HRT outweigh the benefits.
Some doctors have expressed confusion about why women care about the source of the hormones used in HRT. But, it is understandable. We are exposed to all sorts of chemicals and synthetic products throughout our lives. We know that some of them cause cancer. We know that some of them shorten our life spans. We know that some of them are unavoidable. Its no wonder that, whenever we can, we choose to avoid products that may endanger our health.
Thus, we seek natural hormone replacement therapy or herbal hormone replacement therapy, in an effort to relieve our symptom, while protecting our long-term health.
Bio-identical HRT, which is sometimes referred to as natural hormone replacement therapy, has received some attention, due mostly to a book written by a 40 something actress. Bio-identical HRT simply means that the hormones a woman takes are designed to be molecularly identical to her own hormones. Is it natural? The sources are natural, but the hormones are modified in the laboratory. Some are created in the laboratory. Is it safer than equine estrogens and progestins? No one knows. There have been no large-scale studies, because, until recently, the therapy was rarely used. It is more expensive than traditional HRT and it is not available from many doctors.
If you truly want all natural hormone replacement therapy, it does not exist. If you want herbal hormone replacement therapy, then you can try products that contain soy isoflavones or other phytoestrogens. You can try increasing soy in your diet. You can try wild yam supplements or red clover.