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Pueraria mirifica: Just for Menopause
Or the Herb of the Decade?
An Interview with Dr. Garry Gordon
By Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D.
During the past several years, many physicians have chosen to move away from drug therapy for perimenopause and menopause, and many women have sought alternative natural therapies. As a result, I have received countless calls from my friends and colleagues concerning perimenopause, the natural transition leading to menopause. The calls have been mostly from men whose wives were suffering through this natural cycle of life. Menopause is not a disease although its many perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms can be alleviated by restoring nutritional and biochemical balance with nutrients and herbs.
Common sense tells us that menopause is a natural event just as puberty is. Neither is a disease. The National Institute of Aging and the North American Menopause Society agree with this common sense assessment. Puberty is the advent of natural hormone increase and menopause is the advent of natural hormone decline and imbalance. However, menopause is not an estrogen-deficiency disease as some would have us believe. As the baby boomers age, about 2 million American women enter this transition each year, and their menopausal issues can last for years.
The men who called—sometimes they were frantic calls—were not only were feeling the discomfort of their wives’ symptoms, but they were—shall we say—affected by their wives’ sudden mood changes. The men were often near tears and they pleaded desperately, “Isn’t there something that will help?” they asked. Isn’t there something that will help relieve the severity of the symptoms at least during the worst times?” they pleaded. I promised them that if I ever learned of a safe and effective dietary supplement that would help their wives through perimenopause and menopause, I would surely let them know.
When I finished chatting with my longtime friend, Dr. Garry Gordon about fish oil, I had intended to move on to his research with genetic switches and RNAi. However, Dr. Gordon casually mentioned the outstanding results he was achieving with menopause using a rediscovered Thai herb. He told me how safe it was and how extremely effective. I said, “Hold everything! Tell me more!” as I remembered my promise to so many of my friends.
Garry F. Gordon, M.D., D.O., M.D.(H), received his doctorate of osteopathy in 1958 from the Chicago College of Osteopathy in Illinois. He received his honorary M.D. degree from the University of California Irvine in 1962 and completed his radiology residency from Mt. Zion in San Francisco, CA in 1964. For many years, he was the medical director of Mineral Lab in Hayward, CA, a leading laboratory worldwide for trace mineral analysis.
Dr. Gordon is co-founder of the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM). He is founder/president of the International College of Advanced Longevity (ICALM) and a board member of the International Oxidative Medicine Association (IOMA). In addition, he is associated with the Gordon Research Institute, located in Payson, AZ.
Garry Gordon, M.D., D.O., M.D.(H)
Passwater: The last time I interviewed you; we spoke mostly about fish oil and blood viscosity. I was, as always, impressed with the depth of your understanding of all health matters, regardless of whether we were discussing the latest medical technology or natural alternatives to mainstream treatments. I admit that fish oil was fairly basic, but your in-depth knowledge as demonstrated in your best-selling book on fish oil (The Omega-3 Miracle—The Icelandic Longevity Secret (written with Herb Joiner-Bey, Freedom Press, 2005) required me to interview you on the subject for the benefit of our readers.
I was planning to next chat with you about your state-of-the-art revolutionary research using nutrients to turn off the “bad” genes that cause various diseases. But, out of nowhere, you casually introduced me to an all-natural, hormone-bio-similar herb that I had never heard of. Tell me about it.
Gordon: The plant is called Pueraria mirifica (PM) or Thai kudzu. There are records going back at least 700 years to a time when locals in Thailand’s Northern Kingdom brought PM to the most revered monks, for clarity of thought and to allow long life. The monks recorded the virtues of PM on palm leaves (please see Figure 1), in Lanna (the language of the Northern Kingdom).
In 1931, these palm leaves were translated into modern Thai by Luang Anusarnsoondhorn. He wrote: “If aging men take this medicine that person will became strong like a young man.” And went on to warn, “The ingredient in the medicine is very easy to find, but the specification of the right plant, is very difficult.”
Passwater: How did you come to first know about this remarkable plant?
Gordon: I deliver a lecture every year to alternative medicine physicians in Japan. And after one particular seminar, I continued on to Bangkok to attend the birthday party of an old friend, Dr. Sandy Schwartz. You may remember meeting him at an American Academy for Medical Preventics seminar back in the ’70s.
Passwater: Yes, he was with Dr. Bob Atkins at the Atkins Medical Group then.
Gordon: Yes. Well, Dr. Schwartz relocated to Asia 18 years ago, after his wife’s passing. When he settled in Thailand, he instinctively knew there was something there for him to bring to people in need. Don’t forget: Thailand is a paradise in itself.
Dr. Schwartz had had meetings with the Thai Ministry of Health and the Secretary General of the Thai FDA, Dr. Pakdee Potisiri, an American-educated former chairman of CODEX, Dr. Schwartz found that PM enjoyed great support from the Ministry at every level. The more Dr. Schwartz learned about PM, the more convinced he became of its need to be made available to help others. We spent most of the time talking about PM and health, and Dr. Schwartz arranged for me to meet with many of these same people.
Exploring further, I found that the lowest rate of breast cancer in the world was in Thailand’s northern region, where PM is taken by many of its people daily. (Please see Table 1) I simply had to learn more.
With my first discussions, I knew there was something great here. I also learned that Dr. Alex Schauss was working as a consultant to the Thai officials and had made nine trips there. I’ve now returned three more times, and I continue to learn that there’s more and more that this miracle plant can do.
Passwater: The difference in breast cancer rates is indeed striking. In the United States, it is more than 10 times (141.1) that of the Chang Mai Province in Thailand (13.7) where PM is widely consumed. It’s been used for more than 700 years and still very few outside of Asia have ever heard of it. How is it that it’s been kept a secret until now?
Gordon: Well, as I told you, the development of this plant as a viable product has been handled by Dr. Schwartz and Smith Naturals, the company he founded in Bangkok. “Smith” is actually a Thai word meaning “success.” Dr. Schwartz has been working with Bio-Botanica to manufacture a world-class standardized extract. Until the completion of a Phase I and Phase II trial, and under Dr. Schauss’ direction, toxicity testing and more, they opted to keep it quiet, until it was ready. Dr. Schwartz said, “We’re 8,000 miles from anyone who even understands what we’re doing, so that was relatively easy.”
A standard toxicity test is called LD50. This is the dosage that would kill 50% of laboratory animals given that dose for 14 days. The number is expressed as a weight of material given (usually expressed in grams for safe substances such as water) per kilogram of body weight. The LD50 for water is 16. For Pueraria root, the LD50 of the dried powder is 7. When the same root was made into this standardized extract, the LD50, done in that the same Thai Ministry of Health lab, the LD50 exceeded 40, with no animal deaths.
At first, Thai researchers and business people sold all of the crude material they could find, into the Japanese market, and Smith Naturals wanted to keep well-distanced from those crude products. Not only was the material not standardized, there were no constraints on the mixing in of other species. Since Miroestrol cannot be properly measured by HPLC, only the other phytoestrogens were quantified, and unsatisfactory results were noted. Breast enhancement cream, in particular was marketed in the United States without standardized PM, and the market stayed small.
Passwater: Does this plant grow anywhere other than Thailand?
Gordon: No. It grows only in high elevations in two provinces (Chiang Mai and Sararaburi) in Thailand (figure 3), and studies by the Thai government have shown that transplanted roots transmutate to a different non-active Thai kudzu species, of which there are at least 13. Only PM has a unique phytoestrogen, miroestrol. Miroestrol is bio-similar to estriol, a female hormone that is much weaker than estrogen (17ß estradiol). Miroestrol is only found in true PM, which can be identified only two weeks out of the year, when it flowers. (Please see figures 4 and 5) Much of the product being used is misidentified and has none of the benefits of PM.
Passwater: The term “kudzu” has been used a few times to describe several plants. It comes from the Japanese word for “vine.” Do people generally understand the difference between those kudzus and Thai kudzu, which is so rare?
Gordon: No. In fact, in the United States what we commonly call “kudzu” is viewed as a weed that is hard to get rid of. Although common American kudzu is being researched for reducing the craving for alcohol in alcoholics, it has absolutely no miroestrol and thus absolutely none of the estrogenic effect we have been discussing. The Thai kudzu again has many varieties, and only the variety called Pueraria mirifica, which contains miroestrol, offers the unique benefits I am describing.
Kudzu covers the entire species of Pueraria. Kudu as we know it in the U. S., is P. lobata (Pueraria montana var. lobata). There are hundreds of Pueraria species globally. In Thailand alone, there are the following 13:
1. Pueraria alopecuroides Craib
2. Pueraria candollei Graph. Ex. Benth
3. Pueraria candollei var. mirifica A Shaw. & Suvat.
4. Pueraria imbricata van der Maesen sp. nov.
5. Pueraria lobata
6. Pueraria lobata var. ontana
7. Pueraria lobata var. thomsoni
8. Pueraria var. phaseoloides
9. Pueraria var. Javanica
10. Pueraria var. subspicata
11. Pueraria wallichii
12. Pueraria rigens
13. Pueraria stricta
Only PM has a both a miroestrol and a deoxymiroestrol peak. They can’t be detected and measured using only a simple HPLC analysis. It requires a more sophisticated validation by LC/MS/MS and using a photodiode detector. (Please see figure 6)
Passwater: You mentioned that miroestrol is “bio-similar to estriol. By “bio-similar” do you mean that miroestrol has the same natural biochemistry as estriol, as opposed to miroestrol being identical in chemical structure as estriol?
Gordon: First, I have to give credit for this information to Dr. Youssef Mirhom, professor emeritus, pharmacognosist and chief scientific officer at Bio-Botanica. Estriol itself is not a hormone secreted by the ovary, but a deactivation product of estrone and estradiol in the human liver by 16-alpha-hydroxylation. Miroestrol is a phytoestrogen (a plant estrogen), and has the same chemical properties, as well as physiological properties as estriol; however, it has a weaker estrogenic effect. And Professor Sayan Sawatsri M.D., gets the credit for the following valuable bit of information—miroestrol has about 3,000 times the estrogenic activity of soy isoflavones.
Passwater: I have just read in a 1960 issue of Nature, one of the scientific journals on PM that you gave me, along with the PM efficacy studies, that PM is much more than 100 times as rich in estrogenic activity as red clover—perhaps as 1,000 times more powerful. (“Miroestrol: An estrogen from the plant Pueraria mirifica.” Cain, James C. Nature Dec 3 1960 v158, p774) Let me ask: How does miroestrol affect estrogen receptors?
Gordon: It occupies the estrogen receptors more safely. If the estrogen level is high, miroestrol will compete with receptors weakening the effect of the hormones. If the estrogen level is low, miroestrol will exert its estrogenic effect of potentiation.
Passwater: That could explain PM’s effect on reducing breast cancer incidence, making Thailand, particularly in the north, a country with the lowest known breast cancer incidence. It is well known that some types of breast cancer are very estrogen-responsive, and in the United States today, women with breast cancers have their tissues examined for estrogen responsiveness.
What effect does miroestrol have on natural hormones produced in the body?
Gordon: None. The effect is only with the estrogen receptor
Passwater: So, the miroestrol in PM acts to balance or moderate estrogen effects, not by altering the amount of estrogen or other hormones in the body, but by miroestrol interacting with the estrogen receptors in tissues to normalize estrogenic effects. It seems to me that this could explain why studies show PM is so helpful for both perimenopausal and menopausal women.
If I may, I’d like to take a minute to discuss the distinction between menopause and perimenopause. Menopause is considered by some to be defined as having occurred one year after the last menses (amenorrhea). There is no other independent biological marker for menopause. The phrase, “going through menopause” is common, but that really describes “perimenopause.” The proper description for menopause is “reached menopause.” Perimenopause, another natural change before the natural “change of life,” is a variable, but lengthy, transition period leading up to menopause in which hormone levels fluctuate and the regularity of the menstrual cycle begins fluctuating.
During perimenopause, women are often caught off guard by the results of their hormone fluctuations. PM could supplement the action of the reduced levels of estrogen in the receptors without increasing the levels of estrogens. When the estrogens are high, PM could dilute the amount of estrogen entering the receptors, thus normalizing the women’s estrogen receptor activity even as the actual estrogen levels oscillate between low and high.
This being said, Dr. Gordon, let’s get together again next month to discuss the clinical and safety studies that have been done with PM and menopause. WF
© 2007 Whole Foods Magazine and Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D.
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