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Femcare (Clotrimazole)

Progesterone has a long history. It was originally obtained from sows’ ovaries and in the late 1930s it could be synthesized from placentas in large amounts. So placentas were quick-frozen after delivery for later extraction of progesterone. After a number of years a way was found of converting diosgenin from the wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) into progesterone. This diosgenin became the starting point in the chemical manufacturing process of progesterone which was converted to the synthetic progestogen first used in birth control pills and later in Hormone Replacement Therapy. Because progesterone is a fat-soluble compound it was usually ineffective when taken by mouth because it was metabolized by the liver and never got into the bloodstream in sufficient amounts. This led to progesterone being given intramuscularly by injection and also as a suppository inserted into the vagina or back passage. It has been used for many years in this way as a treatment for pre-menstrual syndrome. It is now available in the form of cream to rub on the surface of the skin and is sold in the USA over the counter as a cosmetic. In the UK it is sold on prescription only, which upsets many of its advocates. They claim that because the progesterone is ‘natural’ it is safe to use and should be available over the counter here too.
This ‘natural’ progesterone is often thought of as an extract from wild yam. In fact, progesterone itself is not found in wild yams. It is synthesized from the plant by a number of chemical steps which means that it is not ‘natural’ at all. The assumption was that if we ate wild yam our bodies could convert it into the biologically active human hormone progesterone. This is simply not true. While progesterone can be synthesized from diosgenin, it can only be done by a chemist in a laboratory. Our bodies are just not capable of synthesizing progesterone from a substance such as wild yam. We do not have the necessary enzymatic pathways to produce this conversion. And the fact is that these progesterone creams do not contain any wild yam at all, a fact confirmed by Dr John Lee, the Californian physician who introduced ‘natural’ progesterone to the UK and has written most widely about it. As the demand for progesterone grew, the wild yam became overharvested and other sources had to be found. Now the main manufacturers use soya beans instead. The creams are fortified with the addition of USP-grade progesterone, a white powder that used to be derived from wild yam and is now more often derived from soya beans. Progesterone is called ‘natural progesterone’ to identify it as being chemically identical to the progesterone produced by humans and to differentiate it from the synthetic progestogen used in HRT.
Why, anyway, should a progesterone supplement or replacement be necessary? Cholesterol is the starting block (the precursor) of progesterone and all the other sex hormones in our bodies. As most of us know the worry has usually been that we have too much cholesterol in our diet. So the difficulty is not that we have some undesirable shortage of this progesterone starting block but that our hormonal pathways necessary for this conversion start to shut down.

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