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Red Clover: The Ideal Women's Herb?
by Don Chaddock

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) has been cultivated since ancient times but has only recently received attention for its anti-cancer properties and ability to ease menopausal symptoms. Studies show it is safe, effective and even the FDA has red clover on its GRAS (generally regarded as safe) list.

Phytoestrogens
Red clover is rich in phytoestrogens which are thought to help decrease hot flashes and inhibit osteoporosis as well as prevent some forms of cancer. These plant-based chemicals act similarly to estrogens in the body. A high intake of phytoestrogens is thought to explain why hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms rarely occur in cultures in which people eat a plant-based diet. (1)

Cardiovascular Benefits
Arterial elasticity, called arterial compliance, is an important cardiovascular risk factor in menopausal women. Diminished elasticity could lead to hypertension and may cause the heart to work harder to pump blood. As people age, their arterial elasticity decreases. This is often measured with a test called arterial pulse-wave velocity. The higher the velocity measurement, the lower the subject's elasticity. (2)

Recent studies show that red clover may help reduce this risk, especially in menopausal women. Researchers in Australia discovered that women taking isoflavones, an active component of red clover, showed 23% improvement in arterial elasticity when compared to placebo. The researchers concluded that red clover supplementation may be a new therapeutic approach for improved cardiovascular function after menopause. (3)

Balancing Hormone Levels
Aside from helping to keep blood vessels pliable, the herb has also been shown to suppress hot flashes associated with menopause and -- through its phytoestrogens -- help minimize menstrual cramps by balancing the body's hormone levels. (4, 5) If a woman is experiencing low estrogen levels, phytoestrogens will cause an increase in estrogen since they do exhibit some estrogenic activity (although actually estrogens are 50 times more potent.) If estrogen levels are high, phytoestrogens will cause a decrease in estrogenic effects since they block the more powerful estrogen from attaching to receptor sites. (6)

Cholesterol
Reuters Health announced in a September 1999 article that red clover extract may improve "good" cholesterol levels in postmenopausal women. According to the article, a study of 50 women ranging in age from 50 to 64 were randomly assigned to receive either 25 mg, 50 mg, or 75 mg doses of the herb. Researchers discovered that those receiving the 50 mg dose showed the most improvement -- 28% increase in HDL (good cholesterol). Triglycerides and LDL (bad cholesterol) remained unchanged. (7)

Cancer and Isoflavones
According to The Natural Pharmacy, numerous studies show that the isoflavones in red clover may help prevent cancer. (8) Current research shows there are four isoflavones that play important roles: biochanin, formononetin, genistein and diadzein. Red clover has all four while many other isoflavone-containing supplements have only two or less. These isoflavones are phytoestrogens which bind to estrogen receptors in the body to help inhibit estrogen-driven cancer. (9)

Isoflavones have been shown to reduce the risk of various forms of cancer. (6) Cultures which maintain a diet high in phytoestrogens show a decreased frequency of breast, colon and prostate cancer. (1)

Experimental studies indicate that phytoestrogens are extremely effective in inhibiting mammary tumors, not only because they occupy estrogen receptors, but also via other unrelated anticancer mechanisms. Since phytoestrogens are only 2% as strong as human-produced estrogen, when they occupy a receptor site the overall effect is significantly less estrogenic stimulation. (6)

Osteoporosis
Ipriflavone, a synthetic isoflavonoid, has been used for the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis in Japan, Hungary and Italy as a drug. It is sold in the United States as a dietary supplement. Genistein and diadzein, two isoflavones in red clover, are believed to act similarly. The mechanism of action appears to be via enhancement of calcium metabolism. (10)

Conclusion
Red clover extract appears to be a safe, natural and effective means of protecting against cancer, improving cardiovascular function, increasing arterial elasticity, improving good cholesterol and easing the symptoms associated with menopause. While it shows promise as a supplemental preventive for osteoporosis, more studies need to be conducted.

References:
1. Aldercreutz H, Mazur W. Phytoestrogens and Western Diseases. Ann Med. 1997; (29): 95-120.

2. Dean W. Biological Aging Measurement: Clinical Applications. Center for Bio-Gerontology, Los Angeles, CA. 1988; 313.

3. Nestel PJ, Pomeroy S, Kay S, Komesaroff P, Behrsing J, Cameron JD, West L. Isoflavones from red clover improves systemic arterial compliance but not plasma lipids in menopausal women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1999 Mar; 84(3): 895-8.

4. Graedon J, Graedon T. Red Clover: Trifolium pratense. The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies. St. Martin's Press. 1999. Available at www.healthcentral.com.

5. Duke, J. The Green Pharmacy. Rodale Press. 1997; 328.

6. Murray M, Pizzorno J. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Prima Publishing. 1998; 636-7.

7. Reuters Health. Red clover extract may improve "good" cholesterol levels. Sept. 27, 1999. Available at www.healthcentral.com.

8. Lininger S, ed. The Natural Pharmacy. Prima Publishing. 1998; 301-2.

9. Quillin P. Beating Cancer With Nutrition. Nutrition Times Press. 1994; 112.

10. Murray M, Pizzorno J. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Prima Publishing. 1998; 720.

SOURCE: Vitamin Research Products (vrp.com).

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