Red Clover Halts Bone Loss in Menopausal Women

red clover reduces bone loss in menopausal women

Photo by Jorick Homan

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is a flowering plant that grows throughout Europe and North America, often in fields and along roadsides. The red clover plant produces bean-like pods, and it in fact shares the same family as many bean plants. It may technically be a bean plant, but the young plant is typically used as a rotational “cover” crop for farmers and sometimes as feed for animals.

Yet the flowers and leaves of red clover also contain many medicinal qualities, and the plant has been used in European, Early American and Asian medicines (including Ayurveda) for many purposes. These include muscle cramps, fevers, bleeding and women’s issues.

Well, that latter use is now being proven out by modern scientific research.

Bone loss in menopausal women

One of the central issues for menopausal women is a sometimes debilitating loss of bone density and bone mass. This can take place as a result of a drastic reduction in estrogen production – which can take place as a woman’s reproductive hormone production slows dramatically.

Allopathic pharmaceutical medicine’s strategy to fight this is hormone replacement therapy – or HRT. This consists of spiking the body with synthetic or “bio identical” (typically derived from horse urine) estrogen and progesterone.

The concept is to artificially replace what a woman’s body naturally slows production of during the menopausal years: Hormones.

Nature versus allopathy on hormone replacement

Let’s step back and think about this carefully for a moment: Consider the smart design of the human body as it ages. It just so happens that as a woman’s reproductive organs begin to become less viable for motherhood, those hormones that stimulate the release of eggs and changes in the cervix are slowed down. This effectively signals to each of those reproductive organs that the body’s reproductive time is over. A very smart process.

Yet allopathic medicine assumes that the body is stupid. That it must have messed up as it slows estrogen and progesterone production. So – in an honorable attempt to heal – allopathic medicine seeks to fix the body by replacing what it naturally slows down.

This effort requires an assumption that both the body and nature are stupid. It assumes that allopathy is smart and we need pharmaceuticals to fix the ill-designed body by replacing what it stopped doing for a reason.

Today we can see from the scientific evidence that the assumption that the natural body is stupid and it needs pharmaceutical medicine has created a mountain of new health issues. For example, the large 2002 Women’s Health Initiative Study found that hormone replacement therapy is associated with increased cancer risk and increased risk of heart disease.

The distinction of nature’s approach

How does traditional, natural medicine differ in approaches to this issue? First, traditional medicines assume that nature and the body are both smart. This means accepting that menopause and its related decrease in reproductive hormones are natural responses that are balanced by other natural inputs.

As a result, the natural traditional approach assumes that any negative symptoms of menopause are the result of unhealthy dietary and lifestyle choices: Perhaps a poor diet and the lack of plant-based foods in the diet, along with overly-processed foods and a lack of plant-based fibers. After all, as the evidence laid out in The Ancestors Diet proves, the human body is genetically and anatomically designed for plant-based foods. And plant-based medicines.

Despite allopathy’s immediate dismissal of this notion, research is increasingly finding that certain plant-based foods do in fact act to balance the need for estrogen, progesterone and luteinizing hormone. We’ve discussed some of these in other articles (see links below).

These plant-based foods are called phytoestrogens, because they will attach to estrogen receptors fixed on the cells – and thus modulate and ameliorate issues related to menopause including hot flushes (or hot flashes), insomnia and bone loss. These include numerous types of beans, lentils, soybeans, seeds, nuts and whole grains. The most dramatic benefits have come from plant-based isoflavones such as genistein and daidzein from soy beans and other foods.

We can add to this another natural plant-based medicine – or food, depending upon how you look at it: A plant that can significantly and naturally slow the process of bone loss among menopausal women: Red clover.

In fact, the research finds that red clover actually results in completely halting bone mass associated with menopause. Let’s take a look at the study.

Red clover increases bone mass in menopausal women

Researchers from Denmark’s Aarhus University medical school and hospital conducted a study on 60 menopausal women. This randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study was conducted over a three-month period. Half the women were given 150 milliliters of a red clover extract every day. The red clover plant extract was standardized to 37 milligrams of isoflavones, which included 34 milligrams of aglycones.

The other half of the women were given a placebo for the three-month period.

The researchers measured the women’s changes in bone mineral density (BMD), bone mineral content (BMC), and an index called the T-score. This is measured at the botton of the spine and at the femoral bone.

The researchers also measured what is called bone turnover along with markers for inflammation within the blood stream and blood pressure to test for side effects related to liver or heart health.

At the end of the three-month period, the researchers found that the women in the placebo group continued to lose bone mass and density, measured by bone mineral density and bone mineral content, along with bone turnover markers. Their T-scores also showed continued bone loss.

However, the group of women who took the red clover extract did not show any bone loss after three months. The red clover completely stopped their bone loss.

The red clover group also experienced no increase in inflammation or blood pressure.

How does red clover work?

As mentioned above, on every cell of the body lies some estrogen receptors. The main two types of estrogen receptors are called ER-alpha and ER-beta. These lie on the cell membranes and the most prevalent of these is the ER-beta receptor. This receptor is the predominant estrogen receptor on bone cells.

When estrogen attaches to an estrogen receptor it stimulates estrogen pathways – productive activities within the bone cells that regulate bone cell turnover. But when no estrogen attaches to the receptor, bone cell turnover increases, resulting in the loss of bone mass.

Phytoestrogens are also technically called selective estrogen receptor modulators or SERMs. This is because they also can attach to the estrogen receptors. They basically mimic estrogen. And because they mimic the effects of estrogen when they attach, they allow the bone cell to act responsibly. This results in less bone loss. Naturally.

Not only that, but these phytoestrogens also lack the kind of negative side effects that are seen in hormone replacement therapy.

In fact, bone loss has been actually shown to be reversed in some research with phytoestrogens. Technically, this is known as an enhancement of bone formation and a suppression of bone resorption.

This of course indicates that in fact, these estrogen receptors – at least the ER-beta receptors – are not just estrogen receptors. They are also SERM receptors.

Red clover contains several types of SERMs or phytoestrogens. These include the isoflavones genistein, and daidzein, as well as coumestrol, formononetin and biochanin A. Each of these can act upon estrogen receptors on different cells and tissues, either in a major way or a weak manner. But when acting in a weak manner, they still keep the cell operating through the estrogen pathway that prevents the typical menopausal symptoms seen among modern women who may lack a good plant-based diet.

Note: Check with your doctor before taking herbal medicines or concentrated plant-extracts. Some herbal medicines may conflict with pharmaceutical medicines, and may not be indicated with other conditions.

REFERENCES

Anne Cathrine Thorup, Max Norman Lambert, Henriette Strøm Kahr, Mette Bjerre, and Per Bendix Jeppesen, Intake of Novel Red Clover Supplementation for 12 Weeks Improves Bone Status in Healthy Menopausal Women, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2015, Article ID 689138, 11 pages, 2015. doi:10.1155/2015/689138

Rossouw JE, Anderson GL, Prentice RL, LaCroix AZ, Kooperberg C, Stefanick ML, Jackson RD, Beresford SA, Howard BV, Johnson KC, Kotchen JM, Ockene J; Writing Group for the Women’s Health Initiative Investigators. Risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women: principal results From the Women’s Health Initiative randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2002 Jul 17;288(3):321-33.

Das S, Crockett JC. Osteoporosis – a current view of pharmacological prevention and treatment. Drug Des Devel Ther. 2013 May 31;7:435-48. doi: 10.2147/DDDT.S31504.

MacLean C, Newberry S, Maglione M, McMahon M, Ranganath V, Suttorp M, Mojica W, Timmer M, Alexander A, McNamara M, Desai SB, Zhou A, Chen S, Carter J, Tringale C, Valentine D, Johnsen B, Grossman J. Systematic review: comparative effectiveness of treatments to prevent fractures in men and women with low bone density or osteoporosis. Ann Intern Med. 2008 Feb 5;148(3):197-213.

Lagari VS, Levis S. Phytoestrogens in the prevention of postmenopausal bone loss. J Clin Densitom. 2013 Oct-Dec;16(4):445-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jocd.2013.08.011.

Case Adams is a California Naturopath with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies. “My journey into writing about alternative medicine began about 9:30 one evening after I finished with a patient at the clinic I practiced at over a decade ago. I had just spent the last two hours explaining how diet, sleep and other lifestyle choices create health problems and how changes in these, along with certain herbal medicines and other natural strategies can radically yet safely turn ones health around. As I drove home that night, I realized I needed to get this knowledge out to more people. So I began writing about health with a mission to reach those who desperately need this information. The strategies in my books and articles are backed by scientific evidence along with wisdom handed down through traditional medicines for thousands of years.” Case connects with the elements by surfing, hiking and being a beach bum.

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