So, I was happily enjoying my morning brew yesterday. Usually I drink a rooibus tea, but I recently joined a new buying club and decided to switch things up with a case of honeybush tea. Brian and I have enjoyed honeybush in the past. It is a South African beverage made from a leguminous plant. It has a wonderful, light, sweet flavor, no caffeine and plenty of antioxidants. (For more information, see this site, which I relied on in the above description: http://www.itmonline.org/arts/honeybush.htm).
I’ve been drinking it on and off for quite a few years. I drank it while I was pregnant. I’ve had it off and on while I’ve been nursing. I never gave it a second thought. So, what made me pick up the new box of tea and read it more closely? I don’t know. But, as I was happily reading all the claimed benefits of my healthy beverage of choice, I stopped short when I read that my tea was especially high in phytoestrogens.
Well, phytoestrogens in food are not necessarily anything to be alarmed about. There are phytoestrogens in many foods that we eat. Foods like mung bean sprouts, corn, almonds, and watermelon. Check out this list of phytoestrogen containing foods: http://www.dietaryfiberfood.com/phytoestrogen.php. You’ll notice that soy and flax by far exceed other foods for high phytoestrogen content. (You’ll also notice that this is not a traditional foods site, but rather a pretty pro-soy, low fat diet site.) Four of the first eight items on the high phytoestrogen list are soy foods.
Some of my readers will know, and others won’t, that Brian and I suffered through ten years of infertility (with all the treatments and trauma that entails) before we finally did IVF to conceive our wonderful, perfect, miracle daughter: Mia. We got a lot of advice from people. (Mostly of the relax, have a bottle of wine and it’ll happen variety.) Much of it was based on folklore and superstition. Like, “I know someone who ate bean sprouts and got pregnant every time!” So, as I read the list of phytoestrogen foods on the above website, I was surprised to find that many of the items on the list were things people told me they’d heard you should avoid or consume to increase my chances of fertility. (I guess fertility folklore can be linked to science!)
And, while I never worried about flax consumption and infertility—mostly because I get my omega 3s from fish oil and don’t eat a huge amount of flax—Brian and I both avoid soy. (Make up your own mind on soy. For the alternative view to that above page, check out these pages on soy: The Whole Soy Story http://blog.wholesoystory.com/ and the Weston A. Price Foundation’s soy alert http://www.westonaprice.org/soy-alert.html). Soy has been linked to male infertility—specifically low sperm count. It also acts as an estrogen replacement. Well, frankly, our fertility tests consistently showed that Brian’s swimmers—though great in number, aren’t so good at getting into an egg. And, reducing their numbers isn’t going to help matters. I, on the other hand, have PCOS and my estrogen is way too high. Definitely no need for an estrogen replacement. And, while we’re not going to do IVF again—I almost died and was hospitalized for seven days with near kidney failure from my overreaction to the hormone supplements—if we even dream of another child, it just makes sense to eliminate foods that are very high in phytoestrogens. In fact, because soy additives are in just about every processed food on the market (including and perhaps especially organic health foods), it was a major factor in choosing to go all out with our final processed food elimination.
In any case, after searching yesterday and today, I failed to find a good website that could reliably tell me the real truth about the levels of phytoestrogens in my tea. (Is it just a wishful claim on the box of a harmless tea, meant to feed an overall relief of menopausal symptoms by the power of suggestion, or are there really high doses of phytoestrogens in there?) The closest I came was finding that honeybush tea is now being recommended by many natural health sales people, and a few practitioners (though it’s unclear if they mean commercial, pre-bagged teas) to ease menopausal symptoms.
All I know is that I was really disappointed as I dumped my nearly full cup into the sink and looked at the nearly full case of honeybush tea sitting on my kitchen counter. I’m not going to drink it. I just can’t. Even if it’s turns out to be harmless, I won’t have any peace of mind now that I’m thinking about what it might or might not do to my fertility.