For many women, menopause can introduce new health challenges.
In addition to the symptoms that perturb basic quality of life like
hot flashes, headaches, night sweats, and irritability, menopause
is also associated with higher risk for serious health concerns
like osteoporosis, cognitive decline, and metabolic syndrome. This
has made the standard treatment for menopause—hormone replacement
therapy, or HRT—a multi-billion dollar business.
A few weeks ago, I explored the
benefits and risks of HRT. It has its merits certainly, but
it’s not for everyone. Today’s post is for those people. Say
you’ve waded through the morass of HRT research and would prefer
a different route. Or maybe you’ve actually tried conventional or
bioidentical HRT and found it just didn’t work for you. Whatever
the reason, you’re probably interested in using “natural”
products if you can swing it and if it’ll actually help.
Are there herbal alternatives to HRT that actually work?
As a matter of fact, there are.
A medicinal herb native to North America, black cohosh was
traditionally used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including
rheumatism and other arthritic conditions, colds, fevers,
constipation, hives, fatigue, and backache. They used it to help
babies get to sleep and soothe kidney troubles. In the mid 20th
century, it gained popularity in Europe as a treatment for
women’s hormonal issues. Modern clinical research bears out its
relevance for menopause:
It’s effective against hot flashes, reducing both
severity and frequency.
It improves objective markers of
sleep quality (the reduction in hot flashes certainly can’t
It improves insulin sensitivity, which often degrades during
It improves early
post-menopausal symptoms across the board, leading to a 12.9
point reduction in the Green climacteric score (a basic measure of
menopause symptom severity).
In one study, black
cohosh was comparable to conventional HRT for reducing most
menopausal symptoms and better at reducing anxiety, vaginal
bleeding, and breast tenderness.
great black cohosh product.
In its native Peru, maca root was traditionally used as
vegetable (like a turnip or radish), as well as for its
pharmacological properties as an aphrodisiac and subtle stimulant.
Incan warriors reportedly used it as a preworkout booster before
battles. Today, we know it as an
adaptogen—a substance that helps your endocrine system adapt
to stress, rather than force it in one direction or another.
A 2011 review of the
admittedly limited evidence found that maca shows efficacy against
menopause. More recently, maca displayed the ability to lower depression and
blood pressure in menopausal women. And earlier, maca
helped perimenopausal women resist
weight gain and menopausal women regain their sexual function
and reduce depression and anxiety.
What’s going on here? According to a 2005 study,
maca actually lowers follicle-stimulating hormone and increases
luteinizing hormone in postmenopausal women, thereby increasing
estrogen and progesterone production.
Make sure you buy
gelatinized (cooked) maca, as that’s what the studies
The red clover blossom is a rich source of isoflavones,
estrogen-like compounds that interact with receptors in our bodies
and relieve many symptoms of menopause.
Twelve weeks of red clover cuts the
Menopause rating score in half (a good thing!).
Red clover also improves vaginal
cellular structure and function while (again) improving menopause
symptoms and reducing triglycerides.
More exciting, there’s reason to
believe that red clover may reduce the risk of breast cancer
and improve bone mineral density in menopausal women.
Here’s a potent
red clover supplement.
And then there are those herbs and plants with more limited
Ginseng has limited application
in menopause. It improves sexual function, and Korean red
ginseng appears to help libido and reduce the total hot flash
score, but neither type of ginseng reduces oxidative stress,
improves endometrial thickness, or reduces hot flash frequency.
It’s good for hot
flashes, and that tends to improve other things like
socializing and sex, but that’s about it.
cold-pressed primrose oil.
St. John’s Wort
You might remember St. John’s Wort as an herbal treatment for
such conditions as depression and anxiety, but it’s also quite
effective against certain symptoms of menopause.
In one study, 3 months
of daily St. John’s Wort supplementation helped perimenopausal
women go from three hot flashes to one hot flash a day, get better
sleep, and have a better quality of life. In another, it took
8 weeks of St. John’s Wort for both perimenopausal and
postmenopausal women to reduce the frequency and severity of their
hot flashes. Researchers also combined it with black cohosh to
treat hot flash-related moodiness.
This is a pretty good
The yam has been used for hundreds of years for menopause
treatment. These days, we know it contains estrogen
mimetics known as phytosterols with clinical efficacy in
Before you go fill your Amazon cart with supplements and start
chowing down on powders and pills, however, make sure you’re
making the right move.
Talk to your doctor about the herbal alternatives mentioned
today. Discuss and research potential interactions with medications
and even supplements you’re already taking. Be sure to cite the
Minimize the variables. Don’t start taking everything from
this article. Start with one and evaluate.
Don’t underestimate the power of plants. Just because
something is “herbal” or “botanical” doesn’t mean it’s
completely benign at all doses.
That’s it for today, folks. Take care, and be sure to write in
Have you ever used any herbs or botanicals to treat menopause
symptoms? If so, what worked? What didn’t?
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