A great natural alternative or addition to medical treatments aimed at improving hormonal balance.
This website is dedicated exclusively to phytoestrogens, plant chemicals that act, to a certain extent, like mammalian hormones and subtly influence the wellbeing as well as the sexual behavior of animals (including those of the species home sapiens) ingesting these plants.
Phytoestrogens, together with synthetic substances released into the environment, are grouped together as environmental estrogens. While phytoestrogens have been around longer than mankind, the awareness for environmental estrogens, including phytoestrogens, is a rather new phenomenon. Attention to environmental estrogens was brought about biologists who have noticed that the males of a number of species living in a highly polluted environment experienced a marked decline in fertility as well as a lack of development of the primary sex organs.
Environmental estrogens in general are not the topic of this domain. While there is plenty of evidence on how environmental estrogens are harming the males of some species that live in polluted waters, the jury is still out on whether, for example, environmental estrogens are responsible for the declined sperm counts of human males in the Western world.
While environmental estrogens are considered negative in almost any context, the effects of phytoestrogens are usually associated with health benefits. Phytoestrogens can help easing a number of symptoms experienced by women when they enter menopause, and they are credited with a protective effect on the heart, as well as against cancer. (See the sidebar for information on foods and herbs containing phytoestrogens.)
However, suspicion has been voiced that phytoestrogens may act as hormonal disruptors on the males of our species.
To evaluate this suspicion, it is helpful to consider why plants develop phytoestrogens in the first place. After all, plants themselves are, to the best of our knowledge, not guided by hormones in the same way as higher animals are.
Red clover, for example, contains comparatively stronge phytoestrogens. As cattle farmers have learned by experience, and as has been proven by science, herds that are pastured on red clover fields will experience a significant decline in fertility because the pythoestrogens of the red clover interfere with the hormonal balance of bulls.
In nature such things don't happen accidentally but are a result of evolution and natural selection. Obviously, containing phytoestrogens is a however slight advantageous mutation over the absence of phytoestrogens, as phytoestrogens somehow keep the population of predators, in this case herbivores, at bay. In principle, it is the same mechanism that has made many plants poisonous and the majority of plants unfit for human consumption. Therefore, some biologists have speculated that phytoestrogens are an intended (by plants) interruption to the hormonal balance of the males of herbivorous species.
However, the success of phytoestrogenous plants in interrupting the procreation of mankind has, by and large, been a failure. Biologists explain that this is the case because male mammals have long adapted to the fact that a large number of foods contain phytoestrogens.
While some men are overly careful not to eat food that is especially high in phytoestrogens, such as soy products, conventional wisdom suggests that as long as one consumes an ordinary versatile diet, a man's sex life will not be influenced measurably by the phytoestrogen contents of some food. The phytoestrogen contents of certain herbal extracts may be higher… and indeed be high enough to be therapeutically active.
But there is, so far, no conclusive information available on whether such herbal extracts indeed interfere with male sexual appetite or performance. The human endocrine system is so complicated a system of forces and counterforces that one should beware of jumping to conclusions just because they seem logical at a certain level of knowledge.
To illuminate the complexity of the endocrine system, consider the following: while certain sufficiently high levels of the androgen hormone testosterone are usually correlated to sexual appetite in both men and women, some phytoestrogenic herbal extracts, such as damiana, are considered aphrodisiacs, at least, for women.
The following chain of thought has been offered to explain this phenomenon: the phytoestrogens of such herbal extracts occupy estrogen receptor sites of the female body. These receptor sites are thereby closed to the woman's own estrogens. The woman's own estrogens are considered stronger than phytoestrogens. That estrogen receptor sites are occupied by weak phytoestrogens instead of the woman's own stronger estrogens tilts the balance between androgens and estrogens in favor of androgens. As the theory goes, the women will therefore feel more sexual appetite.
Endocrine research regularly comes up with surprising findings that contradict previous theories. While testosterone is considered the quintessential male hormone (after all, the testes produce a lot of it), it is neither exclusive to men, nor does its action on the human male body follow the simplistic idea that more testosterone should mean increased sexual appetite and better erections.
Sure, a definite testosterone deficiency will hamper the development of the male sexual organs, and men with testosterone levels below normal are likely to lack interest in sex. Testosterone medications also include the warning that priapism (involuntary erections lasting for many hours) is a possible side effect. For previously testosterone-deficient men who go on a testosterone replacement therapy, this is. It doesn't mean that men who have normal testosterone levels could trick their organs into preparedness mode. Contrary to common belief, testosterone supplementation will usually do nothing to improve the sex life of men who basically are testosterone-healthy… apart from the placebo effect, which will occur in those who are convinced that the testosterone will help.
There can be no question that there are indeed plant foods or herbal extracts which will interfere with the hormonal balance of men (and women) and may disturb normal sexual function of men. But phytoestrogen may at the end not be the culprit. For example, a known hormonal disruptor is chocolate… and it's not because of phytoestrogenic characteristics. Chocolate is anyway an underestimated drug. With a few chocolate bars, you can reliably kill your neighbor's dog. (It won't work with your neighbor's wife, though.)