The attack of the killer clover
(I wrote this about 10 years ago and post it today as I still find it interesting)
While doing research on hormone mimickers many years ago, I found an interesting article on natural hormone mimickers. This phenomenon has been known and utilized by mankind for thousands of years by our primitive ancestors (womankind to be more precise as you will see later.
Back in the 1940s some enterprising Australian farmers imported some clover seed from Europe. This strain grew lush and green in the Australian soil. The sheep grew fat and produced luxurious wool.
The farmer and sheep both prospered.
Apparently the farmers failed to alter or supplement the diet of the sheep since the foliage was so sumptuous and a problem eventually ensued.
Within a few years it was noted that there was a sharp decrease in the fertility of the sheep.
Fewer ewes conceived; those that did go into labour lost interest in the offspring and the lambs withered and died. No one could fathom what was going awry.
New rams were brought into service with no improvement.
State and federal scientists were brought in to investigate why the industry had collapsed within a five year span. Someone finally suspected that the clover itself might be the culprit. It gave all the symptoms of fighting back from being overgrazed.
It took three more years before the scientists found a naturally produced compound in the clover that mimicked estrogen.
This compound resisted digestion in the sheep’s stomach and entered the blood stream. From there it bonded with the estrogen hormone receptors.
So why did this plant make this non-estrogen estrogen?
To answer this I will quote Claude Hughes, a researcher who investigates this type of phenomena. “Plants are making oral contraceptives to defend themselves”
Since plants cannot escape predators, they have been given (or evolved) a wide range of defenses. Sometimes they stink, sometimes they poison. They grow thorns, spines, and have bad tastes. All of these defenses are to ward off insects and other creatures that would reduce their numbers to zero.
This hormone mimicker trick renders the grazer sterile, thereby reducing the risk to its own extinction.
It has been found that these mimickers abound in nature.
This would indicate to me that we would best adopt a varied diet to avoid the risk of overdosing on a single food’s fake estrogen. Every season has a reason, and I believe that the food for each season is the best for that time frame.
To date more than 20 different chemical mimickers have been identified in 16 different plant families.
It is obvious that the clover example is no fluke of nature.
The list of foods, herbs and spices that provide the world’s nutrition is long. It would appear that 300 plants would also like to maintain their place in nature by not being to docile.
These natural estrogen mimickers seem to have a short life in the body. The natural defenses in the body soon break them down and dispose of them.
It is only when the source of the mimicker is constant and interrupted that the major effects; including sterility; are forthcoming.
Now some people may say “So what is the big deal with a few manmade mimickers if the plant world is already doing the same thing”?
Well it is not the same thing. Man-made mimickers can be persistent and do their damage for years on end. Some of the mimickers can literally drive a person mad when they disrupt a body’s natural order. Their ability to deform a fetus and produce cancers 20 years after exposure are not the same as the more humane and degradable mimickers of nature.
There’s at least one plant that apparently became extinct because of its hormone mimicking defence mechanism. Women discovered this mechanism and put it to use in ancient times. They used it as a method of controlling the size of their families by making themselves temporarily sterile or possibly through induced miscarriages.
The plant called silphium was actually harvested to extinction because of its sought after properties or perhaps because some zealots tried to stop the practice all together. Regardless it is no longer with us.