Author: Winona Healthcare
There is no ‘treatment’ for menopause which is a natural phase of life, but there are many natural remedies to help with menopause symptoms. Treating the often-chronic symptoms of perimenopause and menopause is critical to a woman’s quality of life and the prevention of chronic diseases.
Every woman’s experience with the menopause transition (MT) will be unique, and not every treatment option will work for all. Nonetheless, menopause can be a positive beginning with opportunities to take preventive action against health risks associated with the ever-decreasing hormones as we age.
This review will give you information about 10 herbs and 10 supplements for menopause that many women choose to use. While some of them can have benefits, others impacts are not based on science and may carry significant risk.
What is Menopause?
Starting in their 30s or 40s, women will produce less of the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. This stage is called perimenopause. Eventually, with the continued drop of hormones, menstrual periods will stop entirely, and menopause will officially begin after 12 months without a period.
Dropping levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone have wide-ranging and profound effects on a woman’s body – from the blood vessels to skin, hair, brain function, and increased risk of certain diseases and conditions. Menopause can last up to 20 years, so identifying a way to ease the symptoms of menopause is critical to maintaining your quality of life.
As hormone levels fall, a woman often notices symptoms like hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and changing moods. But the drop in hormones can also be putting them at risk for osteoporosis, diabetes, stroke, cancers, and heart disease if the deficiency in hormones is not treated.
Menopause treatment offers menopause symptom relief and can prevent disease development for many women. And while there are many ‘remedies’ on the market, scientists have yet to identify a more effective remedy for menopause symptoms than HRT.
There are other options for menopause symptom relief for women who are not candidates for hormone replacement due to their medical history.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
The changes experienced with menopause are a natural biological process, not an illness. But that does NOT mean women need to be forced to face the uncomfortable side-effects without help.
Hormone replacement therapy is a safe and physiologically-natural way for a woman to restore proper hormone levels using substances that are indistinguishable from what the body used to produce on its own.
Supplements for Menopause
Because a woman’s nutrient needs change with age, it is important to choose supplements that are tailored for their age. Women over the age of 40 have to be particularly proactive about regularly taking key vitamins and minerals. But the process of deciding which vitamins and supplements to take can be overwhelming.
The truth is, the best way to get the necessary vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants is through a well-balanced and colorful diet. But most people’s diets have gaps. If not consistently reaching the daily nutritional requirements, women could be missing out on vital elements their bodies need to help alleviate their symptoms. Multivitamins can ensure that all of the needed nutrients are provided daily.
Winona suggests choosing safe, regulated vitamin supplements that are specially designed to ease menopausal symptoms and support healthy aging, and include:
- Vitamin A: An antioxidant essential for maintaining immune function, Vitamin A plays a critical role in bone health, and may help boost overall health.
- Vitamin C: Well-known for its crucial role in the production of collagen, Vitamin C plays a role in the structure and appearance of the skin. It has also been shown to enhance immune response and may improve bone density and cognitive reasoning.
- B Vitamins: Having enough of the B vitamins may help prevent brain fog, stroke, bone loss, depression, cardiovascular disease, dementia, all of which can begin at menopause.
- B-12 is critical for bone health, metabolism, the production of red blood cells, and DNA synthesis. Too little B-12 and a woman can experience symptoms of fatigue, depression, and dementia. If the deficiency is really bad, it can lead to anemia. As women age their body’s ability to absorb B-12 decreases, so it is wise to add B-12 back to the diet with a multivitamin.
- B-6 is critical in brain function and in the creation of the chemical “serotonin” that transmits brain signals. At menopause, serotonin levels drop. These changes can lead to low energy, mood swings, and depression.
- B-12 and B-6 Vitamins help with the ability to think, reason, and remember. The all too common “brain fog” menopause symptom may be reduced with these supplements.
- Vitamin B-9 (folate) reduces hot flashes but should not be taken above the RDA.
- Vitamin D at low levels results in bone and joint pain, and fractures. We can make Vitamin D within our bodies and store its inactive form in our skin. With exposure to the sun, the inactive form is converted into an active form, but often we don’t get enough sun. Vitamin D not only helps bone health but also reduces the risk of heart attacks, high blood pressure, strokes, asthma, allergies, and possibly breast cancer. It may be difficult to get enough Vitamin D, and since 75% of people are vitamin D deficient it is best to take a supplement to ensure disease prevention benefits.
- Vitamin E is getting more and more attention for its antioxidant and anti-inflammation abilities and is recommended for many ailments. Research has shown that vitamin E can ease stress, reduce the risk of depression and weight gain so often associated with menopause. Vitamin E can be found in most nuts, spinach, and avocado.
- Calcium is vital for bone health and is especially important during menopause when the decrease in estrogen makes women more prone to the weakening of their bones or osteoporosis. While the best source of calcium is food, meeting the RDA (1,000 to 1,200 mg for menopausal women) through diet and calcium supplements is important.
Herbs for Menopause
Some women decide to treat their menopause symptoms naturally with herbs instead of HRT. Many websites tout their ‘natural’ options to help with menopause symptoms.
Many women use herbal supplements to manage their menopause symptoms, including the root of Black Cohosh, Soy, and flaxseed. While these herbal supplements are sold widely, there should be user warnings on many of these products. Botanicals and herbs may have side effects, poor oversight, or change how other medications work. The list of alternative therapies include:
- Black Cohosh: (Actaea racemosa, Cimicifuga racemosa) is an herb, a flowering plant found in the eastern areas of North America. It has received quite a bit of attention for its possible effects on alleviating night sweats and hot flashes. However, studies looking at its effectiveness in reducing hot flashes have produced mixed results and haven’t been shown to be any more effective than a placebo. Recent research suggests that black cohosh does not reduce hot flashes and has been linked to liver problems and some reports note adverse reactions from contaminated supplements
- Red Clover: (Trifolium pratense) is a herbaceous flowering plant that falls in the legume family and is rich in isoflavones. Isoflavones are compounds that have estrogen ‘like’ effects which leads some to suggest that red clover may help alleviate symptoms associated with declining estrogen occurring in menopause. Specifically, some suggest that it can help reduce hot flashes, night sweats, and bone loss.
However, there has been no consistent or conclusive evidence that shows that red clover leaf extract reduces menopause symptoms. Some studies report a few side effects, but other studies have raised concerns that red clover may have harmful effects. Red Clover may not be safe for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, or women who have breast cancer or other hormone-sensitive cancers.
- Dong Quai: (Angelica sinensis) has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat gynecologic conditions for more than 1,200 years and is sometimes called “female ginseng.” Clinical studies conducted on dong quai have determined that this botanical therapy was not found to be useful in reducing hot flashes or vaginal dryness.
In fact, there’s very little human research to support dong quai’s efficacy for menopause symptoms. Dong quai should never be used by women with fibroids or blood-clotting problems or by women taking drugs that affect clotting, such as warfarin (Coumadin), as bleeding complications can result.
- Kava: (Piper methysticum) may decrease anxiety, but there is no evidence that it decreases hot flashes. Warning: Kava has been associated with liver disease. The FDA has issued a warning to patients and providers about kava because of its potential to damage the liver.
- Evening Primrose Oil (EPO): (Oenothera biennis) botanical seed oil is frequently used to treat menopause symptoms like hot flashes and bone loss. However, scientific studies found no benefit in reducing hot flashes. Reported side effects include inflammation, problems with blood clotting and the immune system, nausea, and diarrhea. Evening primrose oil should not be used with anticoagulants.
- Ginseng: (Panax ginseng or Panax quinquefolius) is one of the most popular herbal medicines worldwide, and research has shown that ginseng may help with some menopausal symptoms, such as mood swings and sleep disturbances, and with one’s overall sense of well-being. However, it is not helpful for hot flashes, and the evidence is weak for its benefits. More research is needed.
Skin rash, diarrhea, dizziness, difficulty sleeping, and headache are among the most common side effects. It may also impair blood sugar control, so it may be inappropriate if you have diabetes. Ginseng may interact negatively with certain blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood-thinning medications.
- Maca: (Lepidium meyenii) is a Peruvian vegetable that has been used for centuries in traditional folk medicine to treat physical ailments including hormonal imbalances, and certain menopause symptoms like diminished sex drive, moodiness, and vaginal dryness. Evidence for maca’s efficacy for menopause is very limited, but it doesn’t seem to have significant side effects like some of the other herbs, but very little safety data is available.
It’s unknown whether maca interferes with medications, so it’s best to check with your healthcare provider before taking it. And remember, herbal supplements have no oversight and may be susceptible to contamination and other quality control issues during production.
- Soy: Soybeans boast a rich supply of isoflavones, which are structurally similar to the hormone estrogen. Many common menopause symptoms are related to a decline in estrogen, so it would make sense that if you replace the dropping hormone with soy due to its estrogen-like chemicals, you may find some symptoms relief.
Unfortunately, the jury is out on this one. Few large-scale clinical trials show any significant benefit. Soy foods are safe and generally beneficial, provided you don’t have a soy allergy. Common side effects may include stomach pain and diarrhea.
- Flax seeds: (Linum usitatissimum), also known as linseed, are a naturally rich source of lignans that (like isoflavonoids) have a chemical structure similar to estrogen. Recent studies have shown a reduction in hot flashes. Although the current data is promising, more studies are needed. Flax seeds are considered safe.
- Valerian: (Valeriana officinalis) is a flowering plant whose roots are used to induce relaxation and a sense of calmness, and is used to treat menopause symptoms like insomnia and hot flashes. Strong evidence for its efficacy is lacking, but preliminary data is promising.
Valerian is relatively safe but is associated with side effects, such as digestive upset, headaches, drowsiness, and dizziness. Taking valerian is not recommended if you’re on any medications for sleep, pain, or anxiety, as it may have a compounding effect.
While menopause is a normal phase of life, there are ways to treat the often-chronic symptoms that result from it. Winona encourages women to try various treatment options whether HRT, diet, or lifestyle changes to identify what works best for them. Menopause can be a positive beginning, with the opportunity to take preventive action against major health risks associated with the decreasing hormones that come with menopause.
The best natural remedies for menopause symptoms include estrogen and progesterone therapy. Hormone replacement is a safe and physiologically natural way for a woman to regain her vitality. HRT can restore proper hormone levels using substances made from yams that are bioidentical to those produced by her own body.
Winona offers our female patients a unique experience. Winona’s healthcare platform is a place to safely connect with a healthcare provider to receive care and to ask difficult and maybe even embarrassing questions.
Winona is proud of our doctors, providers, and scientists who work tirelessly to treat all of the symptoms of menopause in the safest most effective way. That treatment might be a prescription or it could be one of our many over-the-counter treatments, but it will be the treatment that the patient and their doctor devise together.
Whether experiencing severe or minor symptoms, natural remedies may help ease the side effects of menopause. If women embrace their evolving bodies by providing the nutrients their body needs, they can move through this sometimes precarious phase with grace and wellness.
Warning: Use herbal therapies with caution
As with all therapies, there are some risks involved, but please remember that herbal supplements are not as closely regulated as prescription drugs. There is no FDA oversight. The number of herbal products, quality, safety, and purity may vary between brands or even between batches of the same brand.
Herbal therapies may also interact with prescription drugs, resulting in dramatic changes in the effect of the botanical, the drug, or both.
To be safe, tell your healthcare provider about all botanical therapies and supplements you are considering.
More information about herbal products can be found at HerbMed and the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.