We use the term “Mother Nature” to describe nature often times.
In many cultures and myths this is often juxtaposed to “Father Sky”. Like in Greek mythology you have Gaia and Ouranos respectively, who parented the Titans.
So as I was thinking about plant hormones it got me to wondering, is nature actually more feminine? Was this an interesting coincidence or was there wisdom behind these names?
One thing we can say for sure is that nature does seem to operate quite differently than our masculine driven culture.
But as much as we think of ourselves as civilized beings (meaning “of the city”), humans are still from nature, at least originally.
Yes, we are different than the rest of nature in certain unique ways. But we are also the same.
Chemicals and hormones that operate in and on us, often function just the same in plants and animals too.
Sometimes they’re a little different, nature tweaking something for a different function, but many times they’re the same.
Case in point, plants can supply us with “human” hormones.
While that might sound amazing at first glance, it really is not. It’s how the natural world works.
Which brings me to one of the feminine aspects of nature.
When I started to get into nutrition I heard of phytoestrogens from many sources.
These plant hormones, sometimes slightly different versions of estrogen than we humans have, sometimes the exact same kinds, seem to be pretty abundant.
The most well-known of these is soy. Some research points out the benefits of these, while others the drawbacks.
But there are many, many more. They’re much more common than you’d think. This following list comes from Wikipedia:
- Linseed (flax)
- Sesame seeds
- Mung beans
- Wheat germ
- Rice bran
- Licorice root
- Red clover
The general idea that is spouted in many circles, at least for men, is that phytoestrogens are bad.
While I think there might be a grain of truth to that, I’d say just looking at the list, it’s difficult to avoid them completely. And even so, men do need estrogen too, and many of these foods and herbs can be beneficial.
Some of them like fenugreek, ginseng and epimedium are commonly given to men who need hormonal assistance.
Phytoestrogens often get lumped into the same category as xenoestrogens. These are chemicals from things like pesticides and plastics that tend to have much worse effects.
They’re part of a broader group of what would be called endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Some exert estrogenic effects. Others do not, but may instead be anti-androgenic or any variety of other possibilities.
Why xeno-estrogens tend to be worse in many cases is they are unnatural in that they don’t exist in nature but were laboratory created. Thus, the human body can have a harder time dealing with them because basically they’re shaped oddly.
It actually looks like in some cases those phytoestrogens might protect us from these chemicals. As a simple example, if a licorice phytoestrogen fits into an estrogen receptor site, that could stop a xenoestrogen from docking to that same one.
My stance has evolved over the years. I’m not overly concerned with phytoestrogens at this point. Yes, I think they can be over-done and I’d still avoid things like unfermented soy, but there’s other reasons for that too. I will not make a blanket statement and say that phytoestrogens should be avoided by men completely.
For many men it would be best to avoid at least large doses of them, that is at least until you’ve worked to remove much more of the chemicals from your lifestyle (plastics, pesticides, most skin care products, etc.). At that point I wouldn’t worry about them too much.
But I digress…
If phytoestrogens exist in nature and are so abundant, I still never really thought to ask, are there phyto-androgens?
That is until I heard about pine pollen. And this is the reason why pine pollen has become so popular (and it still has a lot more popularity to gain as most people worldwide still haven’t heard about it so tell you friends and family!)
It is chock full of phytoandrogens. This includes testosterone, androstenedione, DHEA and other “human” hormones. It also has plant hormones like brassinosteroids, which we don’t have, yet still affect us.
There have been some reports of a couple other herbs containing these as well like Eucommia and David’s Lily, but not too many.
Some other sources list citrus, wheat germ oil, coconut, hibiscus, spinach, legumes, celery, parsnips, corn, oats, garlic, onions, and pine nuts. But whether these plants actually contain testosterone or other similar hormones, or that they have other hormonal modulating properties in humans is tough to say for sure. Most information seems to blur those distinctions.
So here are the big questions…
Are phytoandrogens much more rare in nature, and thus nature is actually more feminine?
Or have scientists and botanists just not been looking?
My guess is that the answer is both of these are true. And hopefully, in the coming years more science comes out on this subject.
In the meantime, it’s a good thing that pine pollen is abundantly available.