Herbal Medicines Just as Good as HRT for Menopause Symptoms

If your wellbeing is affected by menopause, but you fear the side effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), herbal and complementary medicines are a viable alternative. This is according to a new study, in the journal The Obstetrician and Gynaecologist (TOG), which has found that plants such as soy (the most common plant containing oestrogen) can reduce hot flushes by more than half. Menopause symptoms can also be relieved with red clover and black cohosh.

According to women’s primary care specialist Dr Iris Tong, of Brown University, Rhode Island, who led the review, ‘Up to 75% of women use herbal and complementary medicines to treat their postmenopausal symptoms. Therefore, it is vitally important for health-care providers to be aware of and informed about the non-pharmacological therapies available for women who are experiencing postmenopausal symptoms and who are looking for an alternative to HRT.’

The oestrogen deficiency that menopause brings is what causes your negative symptoms, such as hot flushes, vaginal dryness, sexual dysfunction, frequent urinary tract infections, urinary incontinence, joint pain, and sleep and mood disturbance. Dr Tong notes that roughly two-thirds of postmenopausal women experience hot flushes and a fifth for up to 15 years. Cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis are also outcomes of oestrogen deficiency.

The results of the study showed that HRT is the most effective treatment of hot flushes, improving symptoms in 80 to 90% of women. However, this treatment is associated with possible health risks, such as breast cancer, blood clots, stroke and heart problems. Tong explains that these possible risks mean that other treatment options – including behaviour modification and herbal and complimentary medicines – may be equally effective.

The review says that 50 to 75% of postmenopausal women use herbal options to treat hot flushes, and soy, found naturally in food and supplements, has shown a reduction in hot flush symptoms ranging between 20 to 55%. Tong recommends soy, as well as red clover and black cohosh, as long as they are used in women with no history of breast cancer, are not at high risk for breast cancer and are not taking tamoxifen.

TOG editor-in-chief Jason Waugh commented, ‘Postmenopausal symptoms can be very distressing and it is important to review the advantages and limitations of the non-pharmacological treatments available as well as the pharmacological ones. Even simple behaviour modification can make a difference to postmenopausal symptoms, including keeping the room temperature cool, wearing layered clothing, relaxation techniques and smoking cessation.’

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