Volume 2, Issue 33
August 13, 2009

Is this “bioflavonoid” dangerous?

You probably already know that bioflavonoids are very important nutrients for your health. They are largely responsible for the various colors in vegetables. So a diet high in vegetables and fruit is typically high in bioflavonoids. But there is one bioflavonoid that might be downright dangerous.

This bioflavonoid is available over-the-counter in most drugstores and pharmacies. But I don't consider it a nutrient. It is actually a drug.

Ipriflavone is not a naturally occurring bioflavonoid. It's a synthetic isoflavone that Hungarian doctor Laszlo Feuer first synthesized in his lab. Thus, in my mind, ipriflavone is a drug. And I'm not alone. Various countries, including Japan and Argentina, have it registered as a prescription medication for osteoporosis.

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While studying ipriflavone, researchers discovered that it led to increases in the skeletal calcium of various animals. Numerous studies have shown that ipriflavone increases bone density. They've also found that it reduces the risk of osteoporotic fractures. One recently published study, however, suggests that the benefits of ipriflavone might come with a dangerous price tag.

In October 2000, Dr. Alexandersen from Denmark reported on a three-year study on ipriflavone — the Ipriflavone Multicenter European Fracture Study (IMEFS). The IMEFS looked at the efficacy and safety of ipriflavone. Dr. Alexandersen presented a summary of the research findings at the American Society of Bone Mineral Research in Toronto.

He said ipriflavone did not perform as expected. In contrast to most other studies, the IMEFS did not find that ipriflavone increased bone mineral density. Additionally, the study showed that ipriflavone did not significantly reduce fractures. But the most disturbing thing about the study was the rather dramatic affect that ipriflavone had on certain immune cells called lymphocytes.

Compared to the control group, patients who took ipriflavone had an overall reduction in their lymphocytes. On average their lymphocyte levels fell 30%. Worse yet, 29 patients, that's over 10% of all those treated, developed an excessive lowering of lymphocytes called lymphopenia. Their levels were so low that the researchers pulled them out of the study.

To be fair, the patients with the lower lymphocyte levels never experienced any signs of immune weakness, such as infections, etc. In fact, to be fair, there were no side effects at all for the ipriflavone treated group.

So what's the moral? Should you use ipriflavone to treat your osteoporosis?

Ipriflavone is not my treatment of choice for osteoporosis. We know that osteoporosis is a disease caused by hormone deficiency. So we need to "correct the problem by treating the cause." Therefore, my favorite treatment for osteoporosis is to replace sagging hormone levels. Unfortunately, the hormone replacement therapy scare caused by inaccurate news reporting has a lot of people fearful of hormones. They should be afraid of conventional HRT.ÿ But there's no reason to be afraid of natural hormonal replacement.

But I still run into patients who refuse to replace their deficient hormone levels even when they have documented osteoporosis. Additionally, the use of hormones in women with a history of breast cancer is contraindicated.ÿ So in these cases, I will use ipriflavone. And I find that ipriflavone, combined with vitamin D, vitamin K, and daily exercise can often increase bone density significantly.

In my patients who take ipriflavone, I insist that they check their lymphocyte levels every six months for the first two years. They need to make sure that they're not in the 10% who for unknown reasons have a decrease in their count. So far I have not found one case of lymphopenia. Perhaps it is because in addition to applying these treatments for their bones, my patients are also doing so many other health-enhancing practices.

You can buy ipriflavone at most drugstores, but please don't take it unless you're under the direct supervision of an integrative physician.

Finding your Real Cures,

Frank Shallenberger, MD

REF: Alexandersen P, Toussaint A, et al Ipriflavone in the treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2001 Mar 21;285(11):1482-8.

Copyright 2009 Soundview Publishing, LLC

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