At a bustling outdoor market in Thailand, I examined what looked like large, dried yams. “Oh, that’s Pueraria mirifica,” my botanist friend remarked. “Women use it, especially as they age.” He made a comment to the woman selling the herb, who pointed proudly to both of her breasts with a big, friendly smile. I was unsure how to take that.
Thailand’s most famous herb, Pueraria mirifica (Pueraria for short) belongs to the same family as soy, and contains the same estrogen-like sterols genistein and daidzein, found in that popular bean. The herb is also known as Krao Krua, but this is somewhat confusing, as that name is also used for a different herb used by men. But Pueraria also contains stigmasterol, B-sitosterol, miroestrol and deoxymiroestrol, which possess even higher estrogenic activity. These natural agents function like estrogen in the body. Thus Pueraria can play a valuable youth-promoting role in the health of women approaching menopause, or during menopause. At this time of life, estrogen levels drop, and women experience reduced suppleness of skin, diminished sex drive and lubrication, and mood swings.
The use of Pueraria goes back many centuries, with the first evidence of its preparation described in a Burmese text from antiquity that survived the sacking of Burma by the invasion of Kublai Khan and the Mongol hordes in the late 13th century. The text, found in 1931, recommends pounding and mixing the herb into cow’s milk and consuming the mixture, to ensure long life and freedom from disease. The sensibility of this is that the various sterols previously described are better absorbed by the body when mixed with some dietary fat, as in cow’s milk.
In Thailand, Pueraria is known as an age retarding agent. Women who use Pueraria report improved breast firmness, increased suppleness of skin, more lustrous hair, increased lubrication, and elevated sex drive. These are basically the same effects a woman would derive from supplementary estrogen as used in hormone replacement therapy. Recently, a Japanese company launched “F-cup Cookies,” which contain the famous herb. Whether the cookies work as promised or not, they have created a stir in Japan’s fertile herbal products market.
Toxicity tests show that Pueraria is safe at recommended levels, and human clinical studies show that Pueraria does in fact improve physical and mood symptoms of menopause. The two most popular uses for Pueraria among Thai women are for improved breast firmness and enhanced sexual function. Accounts of improved breast firmness resulting from a daily dose of only 100 milligrams of the root are too numerous to ignore. For the claims of improved sexual function, there is some clinical evidence. For the inclusion of Pueraria in creams and lotions for direct application to breasts for improved firmness, I have found no supporting literature.
Roaming through various markets in Thailand, I found creams containing Pueraria, fluid potions, capsules, tablets, and sachets for making tea from the herb. And at the Thai Ministry Of Health, I found a department of scientists working on this herb, uncovering its chemical make-up and its various health benefits. Even at roadside stands I saw Pueraria products of various types, ever ready to impart health and firm breasts.
Thailand’s Ministry Of Public Health, similar to our own NIH, unreservedly endorses Pueraria, and has devoted a great deal of science to this herb. With a long history of safe use and a low dose required, Pueraria mirifica seems well worth trying for women approaching menopause. The herb is found in some Asian grocery stores, online, and in some natural food stores. Still relatively unknown, Pueraria has yet to achieve widespread recognition.