Saponin: Natural Steroids

Herbs can mimic human hormones and steroids.


| November/December 1998


As any reader of the sports pages knows, some athletes looking for a competitive edge “bulk up” by using synthetic steroids. These anabolic compounds, which are synthetic derivatives of testosterone, have many side effects, including liver damage, mood swings, and impotence. It’s no wonder that these compounds have a bad reputation.

But not all steroids are harmful. In fact, they’re essential to our health. Human sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are all classified as steroids, as are cortisone and forms of ­vitamin D. The class also includes the bile acids and sterols such as cholesterol, which our bodies use to make sex hormones.

Plant pretenders

Some plants can affect human hormones, a feat they achieve by producing their own steroids. Although we don’t yet understand why plants produce these compounds, we do know that some plant steroids resemble human steroids in both form and function. For example, plants are rich in beta-sitosterol, a compound that resembles cholesterol. Plants use this compound almost in the same way humans use cholesterol—to make hormones that control cell growth and reproduction.

One class of plant steroids is known as the steroid saponins. “Sapon” means soap in Old German, and refers to the tendency of saponins to foam in water and, perhaps, their tendency to taste like soap. The instructions on a package of quinoa tell you to rinse the grain before cooking. When you do this, a foamy, milky liquid washes off that contains saponins. If it wasn’t rinsed off, the grain would taste bitter.

Some plant saponins can weakly mimic the human hormones that they resemble. For example, yam (Dioscorea spp.) contains variable amounts of a saponin called diosgenin, which can be converted into hormones such as progesterone and estrogen. In fact, Mexican yam (D. composita) has been used to make oral contraceptives. But our bodies can’t convert diosgenin into steroids without some help from a chemist; converting diosgenin into hormones needs to be done synthetically in a laboratory. Because of this, many commercial wild yam creams popular among menopausal women add synthetic progesterone to increase the product’s effectiveness, although the added progesterone may not be listed on the label.





mother earth news fair 2018 schedule

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Next: April 28-29, 2018
Asheville, NC

Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on natural health, organic gardening, real food and more!

LEARN MORE



Subscribe today and save 58%

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living !

Mother Earth LivingWelcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $14.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $19.95.




Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter


Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved
Ogden Publications, Inc., 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, Kansas 66609-1265