complementary therapies for menopausal symptomsAlternative Names
natural therapies for menopause, homeopathic remedies for menopause
Menopause is the time in a woman's life when she stops having menstrual periods permanently. It takes place around the age of 50 in most women. At the time of menopause, many changes occur in the body. These changes can cause uncomfortable symptoms, such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness. Over the years, the changes also raise a woman's risk of serious health problems, such as the bone-thinning disease called osteoporosis and heart disease.
Traditional therapy involves taking hormones. However, an increasing number of women are seeking more "natural" treatments to ease the symptoms of menopause.
The use of the term natural is actually very confusing. Sometimes it refers to hormones that closely mimic the ones we have in our body. Sometimes it refers to products made from natural ingredients found in plants, rather than made in a laboratory.
What is the information for this topic?
Oestrogen and progesterone are the main female hormones. After menopause, the body makes much less of these hormones. The traditional medical approach to treating menopause symptoms is for women to take some form of oestrogen with or without progesterone. This is known as hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. Hormone replacement therapy is available only by prescription. It is important for every woman to discuss HRT and other traditional therapies with her doctor as menopause approaches.
Ten of the more commonly discussed natural alternative therapies are outlined below. Before taking or using them, it is safest for a woman to check with her doctor. While some of these therapies may help with certain symptoms of menopause, there are no long-term studies to show their effects on osteoporosis, heart disease, and cholesterol.
1. Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring compounds found in some plants, herbs, and seeds. Some of these compounds have oestrogen-like properties. Flaxseeds and soybeans contain phytoestrogens. They may be useful for some women in reducing hot flushes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. Further studies are needed to clarify if they are really effective in reducing these symptoms and what the ideal dose may be.
Ways for a woman to get more soy into her diet include:
2. Herbal remedies are plants used for medicinal purposes. They are available over the counter without a prescription. Some may help reduce mild menopause symptoms. It is important to know that some of these remedies may interact with other medications and other complementary therapies. Herbs may also affect other health problems that a woman has. Their quality and potency vary widely. Some of the common herbs that may be helpful for some women include:
- using soy milk instead of regular cow's milk
- snacking on roasted soy nuts
- making instant pudding with soy milk instead of regular milk
- making stir-fries with tofu instead of chicken
- adding soybeans to foods and using other soy products in cooking
3. Practitioners of Chinese Medicine attribute menopause to a decline in kidney chi and several herbal preparations are made to strengthen the kidney.
- black cohosh, also sold as Remifemin. This may help reduce hot flushes, night sweats, headache, and vaginal dryness. Some possible side effects are dizziness, nausea, stomach upset, headache and stiffness.
- chasteberry. This may help reduce hot flushes, night sweats and vaginal dryness in some women.
- ginseng with 4% ginsenosides. This may reduce physical and mental fatigue and improve energy level. Side effects include skin irritation, headaches, and diarrhoea. Ginseng may interact with other drugs, such as warfarin, a blood thinner. It is best for women with high blood pressure to avoid ginseng.
- valerian. This may help some women with anxiety, tension, or trouble sleeping. If used, it is best to take valerian for only a short period of time such as 4 weeks. Valerian may interact in dangerous ways with other medications, such as those used for sleep or high blood pressure. It may lower blood pressure too much.
4. Acupressure can help ease menopausal symptoms. There are four specific pressure points that are used. Apply steady, penetrating finger pressure to each of the following points for 3 minutes.
If acupressure does not improve the symptoms, a woman may consider consulting a trained acupuncturist for treatment. Sometimes professional needle stimulation works when finger pressure does not.
- Heart 7, on the pinkie side of the wrist crease that is closest to the palm
- Kidney 3, in the hollow between the Achilles tendon and the inside of the ankle bone
- Spleen 6, four finger-widths above inner anklebone on the back inner border of the shinbone
- Extra Point, just above the bridge of the nose, exactly between the eyebrows
5. Biofeedback uses machines to help teach control of certain body functions. It may be useful for some women dealing with urinary incontinence, or involuntary urine loss.
6. Studies dating back to the 1940's show that vitamin E helps relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness. The recommended dose is 600 international units a day. Doses of Vitamin E over 400 IU a day should only be taken under a doctor's supervision. It may take 2 to 6 weeks before the full effects are felt. Though sometimes used to reduce the risk of heart disease, it has not been proven to have this effect.
7. Vaginal lubricants ease vaginal dryness. Water-based products, such as Astroglide or K-Y Jelly, are advised. Products that contain alcohol or perfume may cause irritation in some women. Oil-based products, such as Vaseline, can also cause irritation in some women.
8. Progesterone cream applied to the skin has not been shown to result in an effective level of progesterone to counteract the negative effects of oestrogen on breast tissue and uterine lining.
9. Regular exercise has many benefits. Weight-bearing exercises, such as strength-training, running, and walking, can help slow bone loss from osteoporosis. Aerobic exercise, including walking, biking, swimming, or dancing, can lower the risk of heart disease. Activities such as these also improve a woman's overall sense of well being.
10. Natural hormone replacement therapy (NHRT) is an alternative to traditional medical therapy. Natural hormones are derived from hormone-like compounds in things such as soybeans and yams. The structure of these compounds is altered to mimic human oestrogen and other hormones. Naturopaths and an increasing number of traditional doctors are familiar with this approach. The effects of these therapies on menopause symptoms and the serious health risks that rise in the years after a woman embarks on menopause are not known. They have not been shown in research studies to have the same positive long-term effects on health as traditional HRT.
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 12/06/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request