Life Extension Magazine April 2006
As We See It
The Estrogen Dilemma
By William Faloon
Over the past five years, it has been hard to find anything positive about estrogen drugs. In one scientific study after another, estrogen drugs have been shown to increase the risks of heart attack,1-6 stroke,2-7 dementia,8-11 and several prevalent forms of cancer.11-28
The media has turned these horrific estrogen studies into headline news stories. Understandably, most women now refuse to take estrogen drugs. To add fuel to the fire, the maker of Premarin® ran television commercials promoting the benefit of its estrogen drug in alleviating menopausal symptoms. These Premarin® commercials, however, itemized all of the lethal diseases caused by estrogen drugs, leaving one to wonder what purpose the manufacturer had in running such ads.
While estrogen drugs have been justifiably vilified, the media has ignored a plethora of new studies showing that phytoestrogens (estrogen-like plant compounds) may protect against the most common disorders faced by aging women, including breast cancer,29-35 osteoporosis,36-41 and cardiovascular disease.42-45
Phytoestrogens Reduce Lung Cancer Risk
When the Journal of the American Medical Association publishes a study about a nutrient, be it positive or negative, the media usually reports on it. Not so with a study published in September 2005 that showed that those who consumed the most phytoestrogens reduced their lung cancer risk by an astounding 46%.46
Non-smokers mistakenly think they are not at risk for contracting lung cancer. Yet there are more than 30,000 lung cancer deaths each year in non-smoking Americans.47 The fact that so many smokers contract lung cancer deceives the public into ignoring the high prevalence of lung cancer that exists throughout the population.
The conclusion from this latest study published by the American Medical Association was that these data “provide further support for the limited but growing epidemiologic evidence that phytoestrogens are associated with a decrease in risk of lung cancer.”46
Interestingly, while doctors debate whether phyto-estrogens can prevent breast cancer, few experts connect phytoestrogens with lung cancer. Yet several published studies now show that consumption of phytoestrogens is associated with reductions in lung cancer incidence.46,48-50
Why Phytoestrogens Are Popular Today
Studies on the dietary habits of large population groups (epidemiological data) suggest that consumption of phytoestrogens can be protective against the development of breast,51-54 prostate,55-57 and other cancers.58,59 Other studies show that phytoestrogens reduce vascular disease risk60-64 and help maintain bone density.35-41
Newly published studies reveal the specific mechanisms by which phytoestrogens protect against the most feared diseases of aging.30,65-68 This explanatory laboratory data, which support the favorable epidemiological studies, are leading a growing number of re-searchers to publish favorable review articles about the health benefits of phytoestrogens.69-79
Women consume various phytoestrogen preparations seeking symptomatic menopausal relief. Some studies show positive effects in relieving menopausal miseries, while other studies show no benefit.80-82 This conflicting efficacy data relating to menopause can be explained by the individual needs menopausal women have for estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, pregnenolone, and other hormones.
Testing a single phytoestrogen compound is unlikely to benefit enough menopausal women to yield statistically significant results in a controlled study. An ideal investigation would test each study participant’s blood, and then restore levels of all the hormones lost to aging to more youthful ranges. Conventional medicine remains caught up in testing one hormone compound on a group of women, even though it is an established fact that each individual’s hormone replacement needs differ markedly.
A Complex Predicament
As women enter the menopausal years, they face a difficult decision. The body’s natural production of estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, and other critical hormones needed to maintain health and vigor rapidly declines. While individual effects of menopause vary, most women suffer because their glands no longer produce the hormones needed to regulate critical physiological processes. Depression, irritability, and short-term memory lapses are common menopausal complaints, along with hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia.
An overwhelming body of scientific evidence shows that commonly prescribed estrogen drugs (such as Premarin® and Prempro®) increase the incidence of heart attack, stroke, breast and ovarian cancers, and other diseases.1-28 More and more women are switching to “natural” estrogen drugs in the hope of deriving estrogen’s anti-aging benefits without the lethal side effects of commonly prescribed hormone drugs.
Recognizing that even natural estrogen drugs stimulate breast cell proliferation, proponents of natural estrogen replacement advocate consumption of cancer-preventing fruits and vegetables, along with supplements such as indole-3-carbinol,83-97 resveratrol,98-108 gamma tocopherol,109-113 melatonin,114-120 genistein,121-144 and others. The potential cancer-preventive effects of these supplements are substantiated in the scientific literature, but it is not known for sure if these nutrients confer absolute protection against estrogen drug-induced cancers.
Those who advocate the use of natural estrogen drugs argue that young women who secrete higher levels of estrogen do not have high incidences of breast or ovarian cancers. The overlooked factor is that younger women have fewer DNA gene mutations than older women, making younger women less vulnerable to the carcinogenic effects of estrogen than older women. As women’s breast and other cells age, they acquire more mutations in genes that regulate cellular proliferation.145,146 This makes aging women’s cells more vulnerable to the stimulatory (carcinogenic) effects of estrogen, be it bioidentical estrogen drugs like Biest and Estrace® or horse urine-derived estrogens such as Premarin®.
New Hope for Aging Women
The debate about the safety of bioidentical estrogen replacement therapy continues unabated. Yet a remarkable number of new studies indicates that proper consumption of plant-based phyto-estrogens and lignans may provide menopausal relief while also protecting against osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers.36,38,40,80-82,131,147-154
In this month’s issue, we summarize new findings about phyto-estrogens in order to provide a scientific rationale for women of all ages to enjoy the youth-restoring benefits attainable with proper female hormone balancing.
As a member of the Life Extension Foundation, you gain access to in-depth analyses of complex medical issues that are understandable to the lay reader. If you had to rely on the media or hurried doctors for this type of information, you would get only a small part of the story. Life Extension members have the benefit of discovering the collective experiences of physicians and scientists who have utilized safe, natural hormone replacement approaches for many decades.
For longer life,