Ten years ago I became aware of the need for progesterone at the time of menopause and I was asked to develop an alternative to HRT to relieve symptoms like hot flushes. Doctor Lee was making great claims about Wild yam cream but it was being shed in a dim light by Doctor Marilyn Glenville.
She recommended better nutrition and taking herbs like Agnus Castus and Black Cohosh. Many herbal concoctions appeared on the market, but no magic bullet could whip away a hot flush within minutes. Why not? This is where research was needed.
I bought some red sweet potatoes that had been labelled as "yams". In structure, yams are very close to progesterone, but so is the red sweet potato that by mistake, had been labelled as a Yam. I went to Kirstenbosch, to have the "yam" identified. It was a sweet potato: impomea batatis. The liver breaks down yams and potatoes, rendering their progesterone effects useless, so eating them for dinner was not an option.
There was no reason why the bloodstream could not absorb the raw, fresh active substances in the sweet potato. I started to chew a small fistful of it every day, so they could be absorbed by blood vessels under the tongue.
My menstruation stopped. I did this every day for six months, to really prove a point. An increase of progesterone inhibits ovulation because it inhibits the follicle stimulating hormone. It fools the body into thinking it is pregnant. I was not, although menstrual cycles had been temporarily halted.
Normal menstruation, with no adverse effects resumed when I stopped my daily sweet potato chewing ritual. My customers had no use for a pile of sweet potatoes and so they challenged me further: to make a remedy for them. No problem, I made up a tincture and tested this at twice the prescribed high dose for another 6 months. What a year!
A number of older women shared in these trials at a normal dose and felt a great improvement all round, especially with their hot flushes, fatigue and depression.
The sweet potato hormone balancer was added to our range of other remedies: red clover, black cohosh and agnus castus. Sweet potato is not progesterone but it stimulates the release thereof by its action on the pituitary gland. It is non toxic and acts within half an hour to a day on hot flushes, so I had been told. As a way of skipping a menstrual cycle or two, it was way ahead of patent drugs like Seasonale; that were still being developed.
Over the years, I have taught ladies how to have a menstrual break for religious reasons, sporting events or honeymoons. In smaller doses, the tincture has helped some women to conceive or resume menstruation that had ceased due to anorexia or excessive marathon running.
A top gynaecologist used these remedies for many years and sweet potato became the favourite for women who had to stop HRT because it was becoming too problematic. When their hot flushes returned, they took the sweet potato drops for relief.
The highlight of this story is when I stopped ovulating, eventually at the age of 54. I had been totally symptom free and to me, the PMS and other complaints I receive from the public had never affected me. It happened out of the blue one evening!
Heat: flushing face and super hot all over for about half an hour. The middle of winter meant nothing as I stripped off my jerseys. In bed at night, I tossed off all the blankets. This happened for two days and I felt humbled.
I was too good for hot flushes, I thought until I worked it out. I had stopped ovulation and the follicle stimulating hormone was calling up eggs that were no longer waiting in line. The heat waves were trying to tell me something. At this stage, even a big shot of oestrogen helps but I was not so stupid.
No, in order to fool the body into thinking I was pregnant; I had to boost progesterone rapidly and effectively. I had done this before, so after a few days of chewing the sweet potato the hot flushes and night sweats stopped as quickly as they had appeared. It was so easy. Wow!
Sue Visser is a health researcher and product developer. She is passionate about encouraging people to help themselves to better health.