Sambucus vs. Hormones: A Natural and Preventive Approach to Female Health

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By: Bertram von Zabern, M.D.

From adolescence on, women are subject to treatment with hormones in order to regulate the menstrual cycle, to protect against pregnancy, and to eliminate various effects of meno­pause. Unfortunately, prolonged treat­ment with estrogen (such as Premarin) and progesterone, or their combinations (e.g. birth control pills) have side-effects. Manufacturers list the enormous number of 50 to 60 different side-effects caused by contraceptive pills, including myocar­dial infarction, thromboembolism, cere­bral hemorrhage and cancer. There are conditions, like osteoporosis, that can­not be prevented by exercise and diet, in which hormone treatment becomes a ne­cessity with risks to be considered. How­ever, the terrifying list clearly shows that in most cases hormone medication has a negative impact on long-term health. No doubt they are prescribed too often, as for routine treatment of hot flashes, while natural approaches offer a much better alternative.

Hormones are primarily the result of life processes, not their cause. A healthy female body will produce the amount of estrogen best suited to her constitution. The timing from the onset of the first menstrual cycle, as well as the interval of the monthly rhythm and the timing of menopause is tailored by nature to be part of the health of the individual woman. There may be a benefit for a young woman not to have her menstrual period naturally for a few months while under stress and other conditions. Equally, the change of life is a very important healthy transition. Therefore the indiscriminate prescribing of birth-control pills and menopausal estrogens are an artificial interference with the wis­dom of the body and of nature.

In anthroposophic medicine, we try to understand the workings of nature. The female cycle is an example that shows how cosmic rhythms work in our lives. Since antiquity, doctors have been aware of the similarity of the 28-day moon phase with the average menstrual rhythm. Even the average gestation of an embryo comes amazingly close to 10 x 28 days. There are other obvious cos­mic effects in our lives, most promi­nently: the sun-bound sleep-wake cycle, the seasons of the year, and the effects of the full moon, new moon, solstice, etc. These cosmic rhythms are received dif­ferently and modified by each individual to suit their being.

Due to the imperfection of human life, the interaction with cosmic rhythms and their energies can become irregular and discomforting. At the point of ill­ness we need help from a being purely devoted to, and in harmony with, the cos­mos: a plant. Elderberry is such a plant. Its flowers, given as a tea, make us feel hot and induce perspiration. As a homeo­pathic preparation, Elder flowers (Sam­bucus) have the opposite effect; they be­come an excellent medication for meno­pausal hot flashes.

Let us observe some details of this plant. Its umbrella of tiny flowers re­flects the dome of the sky. The flowers produce a peculiar scent and taste that reveal an active chemistry. Such a flow­ery chemistry was called "sulfuric" by the alchemists, because the chemistry of sul­fur is connected with the heat processes in nature. Anthroposophy, as taught by Rudolf Steiner, gives new insights into the remedial relationship of human and plant life. The flower's chemistry works in hu­man metabolism, where heat processes are most active. That is especially true for Elder flower; its sulfuric strength is of a gentle, nutritious nature. Just smell the delicious aroma of the elder flower tea, or taste the peculiar gourmet flavor of a soup of the berries, made with apples and lemon peel!

It would not be the best approach to tell a patient that hot flashes are com­mon and healthy, so she should suffer them through. But it would be worse in most cases to "rebalance" her hormones with estrogens. Heat reactions are known to activate the immune system and they work as a preventive against cancer. Therefore, hot flashes should not just be suppressed. Mother Nature has wisely designed the change of life to free the mature woman from the monthly preparation for child­bearing, and to strengthen her constitution for many years to come.

Based on insights by Rudolf Steiner, homeopathic preparations of elder flow­ers have been developed, enhanced by the spongy core of the twigs, also a signifi­cant part of the plant, and larch resin. This medicine is available from Weleda as Flores Sambuci comp., dilution and from Raphael Pharmacy as Sambucus comp. pellets (which I mostly prescribe in this particular respect) and ampules. When a patient reports that the hot flashes have become much less, we have done more than "manage the discomfort." We are led to admire the wisdom of a plant that can uniquely transform sun heat into nutritious heat in its plant life and, as a medicine, transform the metabolic heat of hot flashes into the inner strength of keeping energy in balance and order.

Editor's Note: Hot flashes are like lightning, divine flashes that vitalize and warm you towards a new self. Recognize them for what they are and you will greet them with awe. Hot flashes quicken, while night sweats cast off the old.

Dr. von Zabern has a family practice in Temple, New Hampshire.


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