Zearalenone is natural, but how can we know it’s healthy? These days, the word “natural” seems to be synonymous with “healthy”. Natural products are typically safer for our families, good for the environment, and an indicator of higher quality. While there is some merit to these claims, however, the use of the word “natural” can also be very misleading. Nature, despite its marketing as the mother of wellness, was also the original chemistry lab. There are numerous substances native Mother Nature that can harm you. Thus, it is important not to overlook the inherent dangers they may pose when considering using a natural supplement.
Such is the case with zearalenone (ZEN), a substance that is chemically similar to estrogen, and produced by a microscopic fungus of the Fusarium species. Because of its structural similarity to human estrogen, ZEN is under research as a supplement for fertility and hormone imbalance issues. There are some serious concerns, however, with the use of the product being on the market as a “natural” alternative to infertility treatments without the backing of solid research and safety data.
What Is Zearalenone?
Zearalenone is a naturally occurring toxin produced by the common fungal contaminant, Fusarium. This microorganism is found frequently in agricultural products such as wheat, corn, and barley, and for this reason livestock often unintentionally consume it. The result of this exposure, in fact, is what precipitated the discovery of the substance; Pigs and cows who had eaten food contaminated with Fusarium were suffering fertility side-effects, such as small litters, low birth weights, miscarriages, or outright infertility. Research into the cause led to the identification of ZEN, which shares the same essential organic structures as human estrogen and can also exhibit some of the hormonal actions using the same hormone receptors.
Using a fungal endocrine-disrupting toxin as a hormone supplement might initially seem like a terrible idea. But as it turns out, where high doses of ZEN can cause infertility, low doses show promise as fertility boosters. These early findings are limited at this point, as no controlled human research studies have been done and there is no conclusive data on which to reliably or safely prescribe ZEN.
Are There Benefits to Taking Zearalenone?
There are possible benefits to taking ZEN. Because it utilizes the same receptors that our own estrogen uses, zearalenone may offer curative benefits for those suffering from endocrine disorders such as PCOS, infertility, hot flashes, or dysfunctional uterine bleeding. Hormone-based medication is a new and fairly exciting field of medicine, covering a broad range of specialties, including endocrinology and oncology. ZEN is easy to produce and isolate, and, with proper research, may join the ranks of other life-altering hormone therapies. The operative word here is “may”; there is no data on its safety or efficacy yet.
Dangers of ZEN
Although it is indeed a naturally occurring substance, ZEN may not be safe for use. ZEN is not on any FDA list as a hormone replacement or fertility treatment. It falls into the gray category, without proper regulation. This category consists of herbal supplementation, the marketing of which can understate or even mask health risks. This happens either because the risks are not common or the dangers are simply yet unknown.
Substances that affect hormone levels should be treated with extra caution. The effects can impact not only your reproductive system, but also the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal systems. It can even have lasting effects on the health of an unborn child. Endocrine disrupters, as hormonal toxins are known, can cause diabetes, heart disease, strokes, or even reproductive and endocrine cancers. Without the proper research, there is no way to guarantee safety, short-term or long-term, of a self-administered, unapproved supplement. You may be assuming considerable risk without any legal recourse.
The jury is still out, but the decision is yours
The worlds of traditional and alternative medicine were once strictly separated, but have begun to merge in recent years, as many licensed practitioners have come to embrace what is known as “integrative medicine”. Natural and holistic health offers far-reaching benefits to patients, and natural supplements are receiving more and more research to support their claims.
What is important to remember is that “naturally occurring” substances are not automatically benign and harmless. Zearalenone is available for purchase. Sitll, although its ads present it as a natural solution for hormone problems, it does not yet carry the blessing of the FDA. Or that of the greater scientific community. Be sure to do careful research and talk with your doctor before using ZEN or any other supplement.
Image from pixabay.com.