Thursday, May 3, 2012

Guest Post: Phytotherapy

Hello loyal readers! I am going to be at a conference for the next 3 days, and coincidentally I was approached this week by a doctor who is interested in us writing for each other. The universe works in wonderful ways sometimes! Dr. Leta Vaughan APN, CNM has been working with women and promoting healthcare for over 30 years. Dr. Vaughan is board certified and advocates an effective combination of balanced nutrition, exercise, and supplements to enhance a woman’s changing lifestyle needs.

Thank you Dr. Vaughan! It is so wonderful to see doctors that are concerned with diet and lifestyle.

What the heck is Phytotherapy? 
Dr. Leta Vaughan APN, CNM

770,000 people are injured or die each year in hospitals from adverse drug events (ADE)  Just because a pharmaceutical drug has been studied in a laboratory, regulated by the FDA and prescribed by a doctor, it still has risks.  
Phytotherapy is the use of medicinal plants to heal and restore balance and is becoming more popular in the United States. Eastern medicine has utilized botanical medicine for centuries and as more and more people are looking for alternatives, phytotherapy has gained in popularity. Much of this studying of plants over the years has led us to the pharmaceuticals we are now so familiar with. Modern pharmaceutical manufacturers change the plant’s chemical compound in order to specialize and enhance its actions. But using plants in their pure form are much gentler and easier on the body. Phytotherapy has the potential to prevent illness as well as treat. 
The word phytoestrogen literally means “plant estrogen.” But phytoestrogens are not estrogen. They do not behave the same way as our body’s own estrogens or like estrogen replacement drugs (ERT).  
The National Cancer Institute  defines the word “phytoestrogen” as an estrogen-like substance found in some plants and plant products and states “phytoestrogens may have anticancer effects.” 
Phytoestrogens are part of the phytohormone class, which means they structurally resemble the body’s native estrogen. Their chemical structure is such that it allows them to weakly bind to an estrogen receptor, potentially blocking excess estrogen, or, when estrogen is low, quieting the
system’s need for estrogen. But they are not estrogen. 
The phytoestrogens used and recommended today in botanical and nutritional medicine do not increase endogenous estrogen production in the body. There are no studies confirming that phytoestrogens increase the risk for cancer. In fact, new research suggests that phytoestrogens
commonly used in nutritional and botanical medicine may protect women from breast
and other cancers. 
Phytoestrogens  may also decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke, and protect your bones. A 2007 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine confirmed that the phytoestrogen genistein protects against bone loss. All of this while calming the symptoms of menopause! More benefits of phytoestrogens are being discovered and discussed every day so keep in touch for further exciting information. 
Your endocrine system is the command center for all of your hormones and consists of
many small organs such as the pituitary gland, thyroid, adrenal glands and ovaries as well
as diverse tissues such as the gut, breast and skin. These various glands secrete active
hormones that take messages throughout the body to the brain, liver, heart, bone, skin and
blood vessels as well as the reproductive organs. Plant molecules can also communicate
these messages. 
Responses within your cells that originate from the plant world are known as phytocrine. Phytocrines are the bioactive molecules in plants that share features with our own hormones and “connect” with our endocrine system. 
Adaptogens are plant foods recognized for their rebalancing effect on the body. An adaptogen doesn’t have a specific effect on the body as such. What it does is support the body in healing where the body needs it; an adaptogen goes to the weak areas of the body, and helps strengthen them. In doing so, adaptogens restore homeostasis in the body. 
When combined with a healthy lifestyle  and diet, phytotherapy has the ability to reverse hormonal imbalance in menopause. Utilizing herbs for menopausal symptoms has gained popularity and information is readily available across the web. 
Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) a plant native to Eastern North America, has been used by women all over the world for generations to help with hot flashes.


Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is rich in phytoestrogens including lignans, coumestans, and isoflavones and is used for relief of general menopausal symptoms.

Chastetree (Vitex agnus-castus) has active molecules that may affect our neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine, which acts in the brain and other parts of the body. Recent studies are showing that properties of this herb may mimic the soothing actions of progesterone and help with psychic and somatic symptoms of PMS.

Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) is a member of the pea family and is native to Asia. Much like red clover, it contains phytochemicals that function in a protective fashion. These include five major
isoflavanoids that can bind weakly to estrogen receptors, quieting the body’s need for estrogen during times of hormonal imbalance. Kudzu also has been linked with anti-aging properties.

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) has strong Native American roots and contains natural monamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI’s), which are known to have antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties.


Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an herb with aphrodisiac and mood-stabilizing properties. Recent studies suggest this Ayurvedic herb can act in an adaptogenic fashion when androgen levels are low, activating the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis to increase the production of androgens.


Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) is native to North America and has been used for both menopause and menstrual-related symptoms. Research suggests that it acts as a functional mimetic of progesterone.
Soy (Glycine max), like red clover and kudzu, is a member of the legume family and contains phytoestrogens. It has been extensively studied and found to be supportive for improved insulin regulation, weight loss, bone health, and nail, skin and hair health. It has also been shown to decrease frequency and severity of menopausal discomforts, particularly vaginal dryness, hot flashes and night sweats. 
Different women have different symptoms as well as different combinations of such
so what works for one may not be as effective for another. Recommendations are for
combined use with herbs and many products contain formulas specific to particular
symptoms. It is important to look for reputable companies and talk with a provider who
is comfortable and experienced in herbal remedies. 
Other key points:

  • Use consistently and monitor your progress. Nothing works if you do not follow the program
  • Discuss with your provider other medications you may be on as some may impede and /or enhance herbal effects.
  • Once you find a supplement that works, continue to use the same preparation.

Women’s health advanced practice nurses and certified nurse midwives http:// are trained in holistically approaching healthcare symptoms
and take the time to talk and listen to your needs. 
To find one in your area check Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health or The American College of Nurse-Midwives 
Follow me @biohormonesinc

Dr. Leta Vaughan APN, CNM has been working with women and promoting healthcare for over 30 years. Dr. Vaughan is board certified and advocates an effective combination of balanced nutrition, exercise, and supplements to enhance a woman’s changing lifestyle needs.

** It's me, Jess....I just want to add that you don't need to be going through menopause to benefit from using the plants and their extracts above. Women at every age can benefit from incorporating these plants into their diet through teas and/or herbal supplements.

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