Osteoporosis: Could red clover be a replacement to oestrogen treatment?

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Roll-me-over in red clover! Well perhaps not literally, although according to two new Danish studies, red clover may well be the new natural preventative potion for osteoporosis.

The studies recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and PLOS One, reported that red clover could be used as a replacement oestrogen treatment for post-menopausal women suffering with a silent symptom, osteoporosis. 

“The treatment is ground-breaking, as we can now treat osteoporosis without the use of dangerous oestrogens, which introduce a significantly increased risk of cancer and other side effects,” says Associate Professor Per Bendix Jeppesen from the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University, Denmark, lead scientist of both studies.

The research focussed on post-menopausal women as Professor Jeppeson word said they are most 'vulnerable' to developing osteoporosis. A group of 78 post-menopausal women in early stage osteoporosis were split into two groups: One received fermented red clover extract, while the other received a placebo.

After 12 months, the scientists scanned the women’s hips and backs measuring bone density. The placebo group had lost around five per cent of their bone mass, while the women who took fermented red clover maintained their bone density. In other words, “osteoporosis and bone wasting seemed to have stopped.”

“The women who took red clover were down to a bone mass loss typical of their age group. Those who didn’t receive the treatment lost three times as much. The red clover had a really good effect,” says Jeppesen.

Red Clover contains oestrogen-like substances

The beneficial effects of red clover come from Isoflavones, (plant oestrogen), compounds found in plant foods that have some similar effects to the body's own oestrogen but work on receptors in different body cells.

This research found 'two for the price of one' benefits. Although the study was looking at the effect of plant oestrogen on bone health,  participants reported a reduction in the number and severity of hot flushes. Even better news! 

Why fermentation makes red clover more potent

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition review summarises five previous studies, suggesting that it is the fermenting of red clover with lactic acid bacteria, or something similar, which helps the oestrogen to enter the blood stream.

“The lactic acid bacteria make plant oestrogen more potent and active. At the same time, they are generally healthy for the gut since they improve digestion,” says Jeppesen.

The research highlighted the potential benefits of this cheaper, natural product for women in developing countries where access to medicine can be limited. 

Readily available over-the-counter

Red clover extract is already available as an alternative over-the-counter remedy for peri and post-menopausal women to help prevent osteoporosis but Jeppesen says further studies may prove the benefits of  taking fermented red clover.

Last word to Professor Jeppesen, “It’s really exciting as it could be ground breaking, if red clover has some positive effects, which you otherwise would get with hormone treatments and a range of side effects”.

The usual Hot Flush caveat applies, consult your doctor before taking any alternatives therapy.

For further information check out our symptoms page on osteoporosis