Women want alternatives to estrogen replacement to treat their menopause symptoms. Whether it’s hot flashes, mood changes or trouble sleeping, many women turn to herbs, food and lifestyle changes rather than take the risks of hormone therapy.
Research is not keeping up with the need for good information about what works and what is safe for treating menopause symptoms. With the lack of solid research, it’s hard to sort through the advice of friends and the claims of advertising to choose remedies that may offer some relief. Here are some ideas for natural remedies that you may want to consider, but do check with your healthcare provider before taking any natural remedies — in case they interfere with medication or a medical condition:
SAFETY NOTE ABOUT “NATURAL” REMEDIES:Always remember that natural does not mean safe. Many herbal, plant and dietary supplements interact with prescription medications or may have a negative impact on chronic medical conditions. Before deciding to use alternative and complementary remedies for your menopause symptoms, check with your medical provider and read up on possible side effects and cautions for any treatment you are considering. Natural approaches are not risk-free, and the more you know, the better you can make choices that will keep you safe and well.
Hot flashes and night sweats are the most common complaint of women during the menopause transition. While estrogen is very effective in alleviating vasomotor symptoms, there are alternative therapies that work quite well for some women.
- Black Cohosh
Black cohosh is a nutritional supplement derived from a plant in the buttercup family. It has been used for centuries as a remedy for menstrual disorders and menopause symptoms. A number of studies have been done comparing black cohosh formulations, such as Remifemin, to placebo and estrogen, showing black cohosh to be as, or nearly as, effective as estrogen for certain symptoms. It has a good safety record and may be a great first choice if you want to try something besides estrogen to treat your flashes. The U.S. Office of Dietary Supplements has a fact sheet that you may find helpful.
- Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed and flaxseed oil contain plant estrogens and oils that are used as a treatment for breast pain and hot flashes. One small pilot study showed significant improvement in hot flash symptoms for women who used flaxseed daily.
The research on whether or not soybeans and soybean products are helpful with menopause symptoms has been mixed. Part of the mystery may have been solved by a study that showed a reduction in symptoms for women who produced an estrogen called “equol” when they ate soy. Some women produce this hormone, and some do not. If you are a woman who does produce equol when you eat soy, it may help your hot flashes and other menopause symptoms.
- Red Clover
Red clover is another plant estrogen that some women find effective for reducing hot flashes. Studies show a very modest effect of red clover on hot flash symptoms.
- Breathing and Relaxation Techniques
Slow, deliberate, deep breathing and progressive relaxation techniques have been shown to decrease hot flashes by up to 60%. Breathe in slowly through your nose, counting to five. Then breathe slowly out through your mouth, counting from five back to one. If you practice it ahead of time, you’ll have better luck with this technique. Start breathing as soon as you feel a hot flash coming on.
Acupuncture does seem to help hot flash symptoms. It’s not clear whether this is because of the acupuncture itself or because you relax during the treatment. One study suggested that true acupuncture and “pretend” acupuncture had the same effect on hot flash symptoms. In any event, it can’t hurt to give it a try, and many insurances now cover acupuncture and other complementary forms of medicine.
Mood changes are another major complaint for women during menopause. Women describe themselves as “wanting to bite someone’s head off” or “sad for no reason at all.” The more sensitive you are to hormone changes, the more likely you will notice some mood swings with menopause.
- St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort has been shown in studies to help mild to moderate depression in the general population and menopausal mood problems for some women. It has been taken and studied for many years in Europe and has gained popularity in the United States as an alternative to antidepressants for managing depression.
- Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a role in moderating many body processes. It has been linked to prevention of cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis and many other chronic diseases. It has also been proven to moderate mood in people who are deficient. The current recommended daily dose of vitamin D (400 IU) is seen by many health practitioners as too low to maintain optimal levels of this vitamin in your system. It is generally agreed that doses of 1,000 IU per day are not harmful and can help correct a vitamin D deficiency. Getting 15 to 20 minutes of midday sunlight each day can help you maintain a healthy level of vitamin D as well. (Any more sun than that should be avoided, or a sun block used in order to minimize the chance for developing skin cancer.)
Meditation is another mood-altering practice that can help smooth out the mood roller coaster during menopause. Taking time each day for short sessions of meditation can subtly alter your brain chemistry and reduce your stress. Learning to meditate could be the best all around menopause remedy you try. It’s a small investment for a big payoff.
- Black Cohosh
Black cohosh seems to have some impact on mood in addition to hot flashes. Although it has been shown more effective with the flashes, you may find that taking it for one symptom improves the others as well.
- Kava No More
For many years, kava or “kava kava” was recommended for mood disorders. Recent research shows increasing evidence that it is toxic to the liver, so it is not recommended as a natural remedy for menopause symptoms.
Learn about natural remedies for insomnia on Page 2