Like many of you out there, I'm a fan of natural remedies and alternative treatments. When it comes to menopause especially, many women will want to avoid Hormone Replacement Therapies (or HRT.)
That's not to say that HRT doesn't have a time and place, as well as benefits. It can ease the symptoms of vaginal dryness and discomfort, help with hot flashes and other symptoms and decrease the risk of osteoporosis. Currently there are studies going on to see if it can also help reduce the risk of heart disease. Please note that HRT isn't for everyone. It is a matter of personal preference.
The risks are what cause a lot of women to avoid HRT. Risks include: blood clots, stroke, heart disease, breast cancer and others. Some risks may depend on whether you're given estrogen alone as monotherapy or combination therapy with estrogen and progesterone.
SO WHAT'S A WOMAN TO DO?
If you want to try some natural remedies for those pain-in-the-butt menopause symptoms, here is a list of the most common options available.
Just keep two things in mind:
- Always tell your doctor what you're taking, even if it's a natural supplement, as they can act like and affect medications.
- If natural alternatives don't help your symptoms, have a conversation with your doctor about what are your alternatives.
Natural Treatment Options - The Most Common Ones
Black Cohosh - This is one of the more popular and well-known herbal remedies. Black Cohosh (which is different from Blue Cohosh) is a member of the buttercup family and has been used as a remedy for hundreds of years. Women have been using it to address hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and some other symptoms. While some women say it works really well for them, many other women say they received no benefit at all from taking it. No research studies to date demonstrate any evidence of it working better than a placebo (fake drug or sugar pill). Black Cohosh doesn't have any known estrogenic effects, but should not be taken by women who have known liver issues. It's a safe herb to try out, but there isn't a lot of hard evidence at this time that it will work. Research studies on it still continue.
Phytoestrogens - These are plant-derived estrogens that are natural and affect the body like an extremely weak estrogen. Soybeans, lentils, ginseng, and many fruit, grain, and vegetable products have estrogen-like activity. The downside is that there's no real evidence that these help with hot flashes and other symptoms, but the results are mixed. Some women do report that using soy products help with hot flashes. Phytoestrogens are to be avoided in women with a history or concern for breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers, since certain types of cancers respond to estrogen. Also be cautious using plant based estrogen sources if you're taking medications that raise estrogen levels, such as birth control pills.
Dong Quai - This is a popular traditional Chinese herbal remedy. Very little research has been done on it to date to test its effectiveness. One study is cited as being ineffective for hot flashes, but there are questions as to whether the dosage used was actually the same as what is used in practice. Women do report having good results with this. Dong Quai has been shown to interact with Warfarin (Coumadin), so if you're on a blood thinning medication, steer clear of this to avoid bleeding complications. Also avoid it if you may have a clotting disorder.
Ginseng - Taking Ginseng has been reported to help with women's overall sense of well-being, as well as mood symptoms, insomnia and in some cases fatigue. The mechanism for how it works is unclear, but it may work due to its activity as a phytoestrogen, simulating the estrogen that is being depleted. There are conflicting reports whether it helps with hot flashes.
Red Clover - There have been large clinical trials and research done on Red Clover that show there are no significant benefits to taking this for menopausal symptoms. It also hasn't been studied enough to know if there are long-term consequences to taking it. One concern is that it contains phytoestrogens and can therefore have a negative effect on hormone sensitive tissue.
Evening Primrose Oil - While Evening Primrose Oil may have health benefits, many well-designed studies have shown that it has no benefit for menopausal symptoms. Especially when compared to a placebo and Vitamin E. The NIH Complementary and Alternative Medicine site doesn't even mention this supplement as a menopausal symptom remedy. In addition to studies not showing any real benefit to taking it for menopause, it is also to be avoided in women on blood thinners or with clotting disorders. It can have negative interactions with some medications.
Kava - Kava is thought to decrease anxiety, but has no known effect on the relief of hot flashes according to a 2005 NIH panel. That being said, Kava is not a safe supplement to take and has been associated with liver disease. It currently has an FDA warning advising against it due to potential damage to the liver.
Coconut Oil - A variety of sources say that including 1-2 tbsp of this a day in your diet can help with hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Whether this is scientifically founded is unsure, but it's been an alternative remedy used for hundreds of years. Lots of women swear by this and it is definitely safe to try.
Non-Herbal Therapeutics - Acupuncture has been reported to provide a lot of relief for the symptoms of menopause. Aromatherapy oils have also been reported to be helpful and calming, especially Rose and Roman Chamomile. Being a part of a supportive community of women going through the same thing you are can be invaluable.
Also, don't forget the importance of exercise, a well-balanced diet and getting plenty of restful sleep.
The human body is a beautiful thing, but it is hard to see that beauty when you're suffering through the symptoms of menopause. Take at least a little comfort in knowing that you're not alone. There are doctors and great communities online to help support you through this stage in your life. If you hear about a therapy that interests you, don't be afraid to speak with your doctor and ask questions.