Natural Menopause Relief: What Works, What Doesn’t

Bloating, hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, insomnia, fatigue...unfortunately with aging comes menopause, and with menopause comes a laundry list of unpleasant side-effects. If you’re suffering with these symptoms, you might reach a point where you’ll do anything for relief.

Fortunately, there are options out there. Hormone replacement therapy has helped many women, and although at one point there were concerns in the medical field about increased risk of breast and reproductive cancers, more recent research is much more reassuring. Prescription antidepressants are an option for serious mood swings and depression. Over-the-counter stomach remedies are available to ease occasional stomach symptoms.1 (Of course, you should always check with your medical professional or pharmacist before starting any new medication).

Many women prefer to avoid prescription or over-the-counter drugs and turn to natural remedies to ease their menopause symptoms. There are many natural supplements available to treat a variety of symptoms. Some of the most popular are black cohosh, St. John’s wort, ginseng, red clover, dong quai, evening primrose oil, soy and chasteberry.

Black cohosh: The North American Menopause Society supports the use of black cohosh for menopause symptom relief for up to six months.2 Although research has not been able to definitely show that black cohosh is effective in preventing hot flashes or night sweats,3 many women report relief. Black cohosh has a low incidence of side effects and is safe for use by most women but should not be used by women with breast cancer or who are at a high risk of breast cancer.3. There have also been some reports of liver problems in women taking black cohosh, and this connection is being studied.4

St. John’s wort: This herb has long been used to treat menopausal mood swings, sleep disruptions, depression and anxiety. Scientific studies have shown that St. John’s wort is effective for treating mild depression, but not severe depression.2. Because St. John’s wort can interact with other medications, it is important that you let your medical practitioner and pharmacist know if you are taking it or considering taking it.

Ginseng: This herb has been used in traditional Eastern and Native American medicine for thousands of years for its “normalizing” and “energizing” effects.2. Research supports the effectiveness of ginseng in helping with mood symptoms and sleep disturbances as well as overall feelings of well-being.3.

Red clover: There has been no conclusive evidence found in studies that red clover extract reduces hot flashes. Many women however feel that it has provided relief for their symptoms, and studies report few side effects. As with black cohosh, there is some concern about harmful effects on hormone-sensitive tissue such as breasts, so red clover should not be used by women at risk of developing breast cancer.4

Dong quai: This herb has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 1000 years to treat gynecologic conditions. One clinical study has been done and did not find evidence that dong quai reduces hot flashes, but some experts in Chinese medicine have criticized the study, saying that the preparation studied was not the same as they use in practice.4 Dong quai is known to interact with the blood-thinning medication Warfarin and should not be used by women taking that medication or with fibroids or blood clotting problems.3

Soy: Research has shown mixed results when it comes to soy, with some studies finding that it can reduce hot flashes and others finding no evidence of effectiveness.3 Soy extracts appear to be safe when taken for short periods, but long-term use has been associated with thickening of the lining of the uterus, which can be a precursor to cancer.5

Chasteberry: One of the newer natural remedies being used is chasteberry. There is limited scientific evidence showing chasteberry may be effective in relieving symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and breast discomfort.6 This herb has few side-effects but should be avoided by women with a history or high risk of breast cancer and those taking dopamine-related medications.7

Three supplements to avoid:

Evening primrose: This herb is sometimes believed to relieve hot flashes, but a randomized study found no benefit compared to a placebo. Evening primrose can interact with anticoagulants and certain types antipsychotic medications and can induce side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, inflammation, and problems with blood clotting and the immune system.4 Talk to your health professional if you are considering taking evening primrose.

Vitamin E: Research has not supported the effectiveness of vitamin E in relieving hot flashes, and high doses may be associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease.5 Talk to your health professional before supplementing with vitamin E.

Kava (piper methysticum): There is some evidence this natural supplement may decrease anxiety but no evidence that it is effective in reducing hot flashes. Because of an association with liver disease, Health Canada prohibits the sale of kava in Canada and the FDA has issued a warning to patients and health providers about potential liver damage.4

Remember - any medication you take, including natural and herbal supplements, can interact with other prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Be sure to talk to your medical professional before starting any natural supplement about whether or not it is right for you, and make sure your doctor or pharmacist always knows what medications and supplements you're taking.

Make sure you sign up for the MenoMinute to stay up-to-date on all of the latest news and research developments, including the results of newly funded research into natural remedies for menopause symptoms.

References

  1. Coping With Diarrhea and Digestive Distress. http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/diarrhea-10/bloated-bloating?page=2. Accessed September 29, 2015.
  2. Alternatives for Treating Menopause. http://www.healthline.com/health/menopause/alternative-treatment#Overview1 Accessed September 29, 2015.
  3. Menopausal Symptoms and Complementary Health Approaches. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/menopause/menopausesymptoms Accessed September 29, 2015
  4. Natural Remedies for Hot Flashes. http://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopauseflashes/menopause-symptoms-and-treatments/natural-remedies-for-hot-flashes Accessed September 29, 2015.
  5. Alternative Treatments for Hot Flashes. http://www.medicinenet.com/alternative_treatments_for_hot_flashes/page5.htm Accessed September 29, 2015.
  6. Chasteberry. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2005/0901/p821.html Accessed September 29, 2015.
  7. Chasteberry. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/chasteberry Accessed September 29, 2015.

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