Can Herbal Remedies Control Menopause Symptoms?
Complementary and alternative therapies
Complementary and alternative therapies are medical treatments that are considered nontraditional. They include:
- Dietary and herbal supplements
- Massage therapy
- Eating certain foods that are thought to prevent disease or heal
Alternative treatments are often used alone, while complementary treatments are alternative treatments that are used in combination with traditional treatments, such as drug treatments or surgery.
Women going through menopause may find relief from their symptoms from lifestyle changes. These lifestyle modifications may include avoidance of triggers such as:
- Spicy foods
What are botanicals?
Botanicals are medicines that are derived from plants. They have been used for centuries by "folk healers" and are the foundation for nearly half of prescription drugs used today. Botanicals in the form of herbs and nutritional supplements make up a large part of alternative therapies.
Can botanicals relieve menopausal symptoms?
Some botanicals, such as phytoestrogens, may help relieve symptoms of hot flashes. Phytoestrogens, found in plant-based foods, are substances that are thought to have weak estrogen-like effects. They may work in the body like a weak form of estrogen. Some may lower cholesterol levels and have been suggested to relieve hot flashes and night sweats. Examples of plant estrogens include isoflavones. Isoflavones can be found in foods such as soy products, whole grains and beans. It is important to remember that not every woman is able to convert soy to equol (weak estrogen). Also, choose soy foods rather than supplements.
Black cohosh is a botanical that is widely available. The most well known brand is Remifemin®. There are some studies that suggest black cohosh may be helpful in the very short term (6 months or less) for treatment of hot flashes and night sweats. However, most medical experts aren’t sure of the benefits of black cohosh as the studies are poorly designed. Side effects include gastrointestinal upset, nausea and may cause liver toxicity.
Evening primrose oil
Evening primrose oil is another botanical that is often used to treat hot flashes, although there is no scientific evidence to support this. Side effects include nausea, diarrhea and blood clots. Many women with other conditions, such as seizures, schizophrenia, or those on blood thinning drugs, should not take evening primrose oil. Evening primrose oil may also help reduce breast tenderness.
Flaxseed is a plant-based food that contains lignans, another class of phytoestrogens. Although there is no scientific evidence to support this, flaxseed is thought to decrease the symptoms of menopause, particularly hot flashes. In addition, some studies show that flaxseed may lower breast cancer risk in women, and may help lower cholesterol. Also known as linseed, flaxseed is available in both whole seed and seed oil forms. However, only the crushed or ground forms of flaxseed contain lignans.
What foods have high amounts of isoflavones?
|Food||Isoflavone Amount (Mg) In Food (100g)|
|Source: USDA -- Iowa State University Database on the Isoflavone Content of Foods, 1999|
|Soybeans, green, raw||151.17|
|Soy flour (textured)||148.61|
|Soybeans, dry roasted||128.35|
|Instant beverage soy, powder, not reconstituted||109.51|
|Miso soup mix, dry||60.39|
|Soybean curd cheese||28.20|
Are botanicals safe?
While safe when taken in moderate amounts through diet, the consumption of extraordinary amounts of soy and isoflavone supplements may be harmful to women with a history of estrogen-dependent cancer, like breast cancer, and possibly to other women as well.
More research is needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of botanical treatments. To make an informed decision about the use of these treatments, be sure to discuss them with your doctor.
Because little is known about many botanicals, the best way to evaluate their safety and effectiveness is to become an educated consumer. Here are some tips to consider when shopping for alternative therapies.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the treatment?
- What does it involve?
- How does it work?
- Why does it work?
- Are there any risks?
- What are the side effects?
- Is it effective? (Ask for evidence or proof)
- How much does it cost?
Once you answer these questions, discuss the therapy with your doctor. Make sure your doctor knows what therapy you are considering in order to discuss possible interactions or side effects with your current treatment.
What are warning signs that a product may not be legitimate?
When trying to determine whether or not a product is what it says it is, one of the elements you may want to look at is how the product is promoted. Be cautious of products promoted through:
- Direct mailings
- Ads disguised as valid news articles
- Ads in the back of magazines
Additional red flags to look for include:
- Big Claims: If products claim to be a "cure" for your condition, or gives outrageous claims, be cautious.
- Source: Be wary if the product is only offered through one manufacturer or purchased only through a health care provider’s office.
- Ingredients: Make sure all of the active ingredients are listed, and don’t trust "secret formulas."
- Testimonials: Remember that only people who are satisfied with a product give testimonials and that they may be getting paid for their endorsement.