~ A Natural Approach to Menopause, Part 2
A Chinese Remedy for Menopause
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) is a traditional Chinese medicinal herb that has long been used to manage gynecological conditions. Few clinical trials of sufficient size and rigor have been conducted, so Western scientists tend toward skepticism regarding the use of this time-honored botanical for the relief of menopause symptoms. However, tantalizing research indicates that dong quai root contains a number of bioactive compounds that may help reduce menopause-related hot flashes, prevent cancer, boost immune function, and improve bone health.78-82
Not surprisingly, Chinese re-searchers have taken it upon themselves to validate claims for dong quai’s potential healing properties. Although one randomized, controlled clinical trial failed to find a significant difference between dong quai and placebo in relieving hot flashes,83 it should be noted that Chinese healers never prescribe dong quai alone. It is always administered in combination with one or more other herbs. In fact, a Chinese study of one such traditional herbal combination that included dong quai, among other botanicals, concluded that hot flashes and other menopausal complaints were reduced by 70%.80,84
Another recent study examined the effects of a combination of dong quai and chamomile in treating menopausal symptoms. This randomized, placebo-controlled study of 55 women found a significant difference in relief of hot flashes, insomnia, and fatigue between the treatment and placebo groups. Effects materialized in the treatment group within the first month of taking the herbs. “Treatment . . . seems to be effective for menopausal symptoms without apparent major adverse effects,” according to the researchers.85
A recent study of dong quai’s purported anxiety-relieving effects found that the essential oil of this Asian herb was about as effective as the prescription anti-anxiety drug diazepam (Valium®) in stress tests performed on laboratory mice.86 Another recent experiment showed that dong quai extract significantly halted replication of cancer cells in the laboratory, and induced apoptosis (programmed suicide) in the cells.81
In Chinese medicine, dong quai is often used in combination with other herbs to treat bone injuries. Seeking to understand how it affects bone health, scientists in Pennsylvania cultured human bone precursor cells with varying amounts of dong quai extract. They found that the extract stimulated proliferation of bone cells, while enhancing protein, collagen synthesis, and the activity of an enzyme associated with bone building.82
Cancer-Preventive Cruciferous Vegetables
Epidemiological evidence strongly suggests that abundant consumption of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, from the Brassica genus, correlates with lower breast cancer incidence. A recent study in China concluded: “Greater Brassica vegetable consumption . . . was associated with significantly reduced breast cancer risk among Chinese women.”87
The bioactive chemicals in cruciferous vegetables that are responsible for cancer protection derive from a family of chemicals called gluco-sinolates. When consumed, gluco-sinolates are converted to highly beneficial compounds, including sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol (I3C). These compounds are believed to inhibit numerous types of cancers, including breast and cervical cancers, by a variety of mechanisms.88,89 In a recent article published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, scientists noted: “Mounting preclinical and clinical evidence indicates that indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a key bioactive food component in cruciferous vegetables, has multiple anticarcinogenic and anti-tumorigenic properties.”90
I3C appears especially effective in protecting against hormone-dependent cancers such as breast, cervical, and prostate cancers, due to its favorable influence on the body’s balance of estrogens.91-95 I3C further affects health by undergoing a natural conversion in the body to yet another potent anti-cancer compound, diindolylmethane (DIM). In addition to stopping hormone-dependent cancer cells in their tracks, DIM inhibits breast cancer cells that are not hormone dependent, through a number of mechanisms.
For example, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, recently discovered that DIM causes breast cancer cells to boost production of interferon gamma, an immune system component that plays an important role in preventing the development of primary and transplanted tumors.96 This finding is only the latest in a long line of discoveries regarding the healing properties of cruciferous vegetables. It is likely that researchers will continue to unravel the many ways in which cruciferous vegetable compounds work to prevent and destroy different types of cancer.
Menopause marks an important life transition for women, one potentially fraught with challenges to health and quality of life.
While many women wish to avoid the risks associated with estrogen drugs, they are keenly interested in finding relief from hot flashes, depression, irritability, insomnia, breast pain, and possible declines in cognition and bone and cardiovascular health.
Fortunately, the wisdom of ancient folk medicine combined with the objective application of modern science may now help women obtain effective, reliable relief from these menopausal conditions, without significant side effects.
References . . .
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