Book Review

Natural Woman, Natural Menopause

Marcus Laux, Christine Conrad
Harper Collins

Laux and Conrad begin by describing their audience: the 2 million women coming into menopause each year and the 40 million presently in menopause or postmenopause. It is for women confused by conflicting information about the risks of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), medical professionals who want a better way to treat patients and patients who want to teach their doctors how to treat them better, as well as others. The authors’ define natural hormones, coining the term bioidentical plant-derived hormone products: plant extractions that exactly replicate the body’s own hormones. Along with bioidentical plant-derived hormones, the authors advocate a special eating plan, an exercise plan, and supplementation with herbal products and nutrients.

The authors take aim at traditional HRT and the overprescrib-ing of synthetic hormones Premarin® and Provera,® claiming that there may be as many as eight million women on synthetic hormones. They estimate that as many as half of all women on Premarin/Provera stop therapy after one year because they are unable to tolerate side effects. Women who stop Provera because of its intolerable side effects often continue Premarin, which then exposes them to endometrial cancer. The authors comment that many women feel caught in the middle and they offer a solution, which involves natural healing principles. These begin with the balancing of plant-derived hormones – estrogens, progesterone, testosterone and dihydroepiandrosterone – and include diet, supplementation, exercise and care of the skin. To implement these principles, the authors insist that women revolutionize their thinking on menopause. They encourage women to pass through menopause naturally and not just accept whatever hormone comes their way. This book provides a complete plan for healthy menopause.

The authors try to dispel misunderstandings about estrogen, emphasizing that it is not a single entity but a family of hormones consisting of estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3). Premarin contains 48% estrone and 52% horse estrogens. The authors emphasize that estrogen is essential to living: it fulfills 300 known functions in the body. Almost all studies linking estrogen to cancer have been related to Premarin. The horse estrogens in Premarin, equilin and equilenin, along with synthetic additives, are believed to be dangerous and potentially cancerous. Additionally, the authors contend, the imbalance between estrogen and progesterone could lead to cancer; in cases of estrogen dominance, cancer cells may develop. The authors warn the Premarin user to be aware of the dangers of the drug and its potential for harm.

To help the reader understand the significance of plant-derived hormones, the authors show the connection between plants and humans. The bulk of the food we consume comes from plants, which pass on their chemical powers to us. The authors claim plants contain substances that can help heal infections, kill parasites, and defend the body against cancer. They then offer specific herbal remedies said to have phytohormonal properties, to soothe the passage of menopause.

So that a woman can help her doctor better treat her, the authors go on to describe where natural hormones come from. They state that, as early as the 1930s, chemists became convinced hormones could be produced from plants. This is because a material found in plants is similar to cholesterol, the starting material for physiologic products of hormones. From this starting material, chemists produce natural progesterone structurally identical to what the human body produces. Chemists learned to produce natural estrogens and testosterone from this same starting material. The authors discuss why natural hormones cannot be patented and suggest that the easiest way to obtain natural hormones in a finished dosage form is from compounding pharmacies.

The natural hormone therapies most often recommended by the authors are progesterone alone, estriol plus progesterone, triestrogen plus progesterone, and estradiol plus progesterone. Progesterone is described as a precursor hormone, used by the body to create other hormones, so that the body can balance deficiencies or excesses. Synthetic progestins are unable to duplicate this function. The authors list numerous benefits of natural progesterone and side effects of synthetic progestins; and define triestrogen as one part estrone, one part estradiol, and eight parts estriol. However, they contend that the beauty of triestrogen is that it can be adjusted to suit the needs of an individual patient. The authors are particularly fond of the estriol plus progesterone regimen because of its possible cancer-protective property.

The second half of this book is devoted to the recognition of triggers causing hormone imbalances and the treatment of such. The authors give examples of triggers: genetics, stress, anovulatory cycles, PMS, birth-control pill use, premature menopause, and surgical menopause, as well as others. They state that a key to proper treatment is for the patient to have a doctor she feels comfortable with who is comfortable prescribing natural hormones. Specific tests are listed for determining patient imbalances and making dosage recommendations. However, the authors state that, after taking a good history and listening to a woman’s hormonal symptoms, her doctor should be able to prescribe natural hormones. A number of over-the-counter progesterone creams are available without the advice of a physician. The authors also recommend an herbal product called Remifemin™ to supplement over-the-counter progesterone cream in treating menopausal symptoms. However, if these therapies are not successful, the authors claim there are many other alternatives. They suggest contacting a compounding pharmacy where natural hormones can be put into a variety of delivery systems, enabling patients to choose what they want, as well as what works best for their body. They list categories of symptoms and offer specific prescribing and dosing information for the bioidentical plant-derived hormones.

The authors discuss hormone balancing through food and suggest advising women on how to use dietary changes to mitigate hormonal symptoms. A plant-based diet is the centerpiece for the authors’ Natural Woman plan. The diet includes vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, seeds, nuts and sea vegetables and food with no additives, colorings, or preservatives. Meat should be eaten sparingly and junk food and fried food should be avoided. Caffeine, refined sugar, table salt, alcohol, diet drinks, chocolate, excessively spicy foods, and cigarettes should be avoided.

Nutritional supplements and exercise are vital to the plan. Supplements protect against a strenuous environment; but they are intended to supplement, not replace, a healthy diet. The authors recommend numerous multivitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants. Digestive supplementation is also recommended. Taking digestive supplements is a way to ensure that the patient is getting the most from her meals. The exercise recommended is a weight-bearing, resistance program. The authors contend that strength training with weights is the best overall program and dispel common myths associated with weight training. They offer a lot of options, from a week’s worth of proper workouts at a gym to suggestions as to how one can stay at home and work out. Although they emphasize strength training, they implore women to include a cardiovascular component to their workout regimen.

The authors end by summarizing their Natural Woman plan and ask the reader to help put a halt to the dangerous trend of putting all women on synthetic HRT drugs, with their side effects and cancer risks, and to spread the word about the new methods of natural HRT and the Natural Woman plan.

Reviewed By:  Gina Ford, RPh
In:  Jan/Feb 1998