Red clover may counter depressive symptoms in older women

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Red clover Isoflavones

Post-menopausal women taking supplements of a red clover extract may experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, says a new randomised trial from Austria.

Symptoms of depression and anxiety were reduced by about 80 per cent following 90 days of supplements containing 80 milligrams of red clover isoflavones, according to findings of a prospective randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial published in Maturitas​.

“Although clinical data regarding phytoestrogens and mood disorders is still scarce, the present series determined that red clover derived isoflavones were effective in reducing depressive and anxiety symptoms among postmenopausal women,”​ wrote the authors, led by Markus Lipovac from General Teaching Hospital Korneuburg in Austria.

“More clinical and experimental research in this regard is warranted,”​ they added.

If such additional research does indeed improve mood, then this could present an option for many people. According to background information in the article, the lifetime prevalence of depression in women is about 21 per cent. The figure falls to 13 per cent for men, added the researchers.

The study used a preparation from Melbrosin International containing isoflavones in their aglycone form, and specifically the compounds biochanin A, formononetin, genistein and daidzein.

Study details

Lipovac and his co-workers recruited 109 post-menopausal women over the age of 40 and randomly assigned them to receive either the red clover supplement or placebo for 90 days.

Measures of depressive and anxiety symptoms, obtained using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and Zung's Self Rating Depression Scale (SDS), showed that anxiety was reduced by 76 per cent, and depression by 78 per cent, according to HADS. The SDS data supported the HADS result, with symptoms of depression reduced by 80 per cent.

People in the placebo group experienced a decrease in anxiety and depression of about 21 per cent on both HADS and SDS, added Lipovac and hic co-workers.

Commenting on the potential mechanism, the researchers proposed a role for isoflavones in the protection against neuron damage by inhibiting inflammatory pathways,

“Equally red clover isoflavones protected human cortical neurons against glutamate toxicity and oxidative stress, which could have been the result of their antioxidant and estrogenic actions,”​ they added.

EFSA’s opinion

In early 2009, data was sent to a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) working group investigating isoflavones following a symposium in Italy. Twenty isoflavone experts met in Italy to examine studies collected over the last 20 years, and as well as newer trials, and concluded that emerging human studies in isoflavones demonstrate the “modest but valuable benefit for menopause relief”​.

The scientists concluded the soy and red clover-derived isoflavones do not increase the risk of breast cancer and can offer very real relief to post-menopausal women.

Source: Maturitas
March 2010, Volume 65, Issue 3, Pages 258-261
“Improvement of postmenopausal depressive and anxiety symptoms after treatment with isoflavones derived from red clover extracts”
Authors: M. Lipovac, P. Chedraui, C. Gruenhut, A. Gocan, M. Stammler, M. Imhof

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