For natural menopause relief, there are two types of herbs that can be used, phytoestrogens and non-estrogenic. Natural does not always mean safe and only certain phytoestrogens have been certified by the Traditional Herbal Medicine Scheme THR (UK) as safe for use. The governing body for the US is the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
Products that have been approved by the THR have a THR logo on their packs meaning that the product has the correct dosage, is of high quality and has relevant product information detailing drug interactions and side effects.
What Are Phytoestrogens?
Any range of various compounds found in plants that function similarly to estrogens. They can cause side effects and allergic reactions. Commonly known as herbal remedies.
What Are Non-Estrogenic Herbs ?
Herbs that do not contain any estrogen. These herbs stimulate a woman’s hormone production by nourishing the pituitary and endocrine glands, causing them to more effectively produce natural hormones.
What Are Isoflavones?
Isoflavones are plant hormones with an estrogen-like action (phytoestrogen). In Asia where soy is a dietary staple, intakes of isoflavones are around fifty times higher than in the West. This provides a natural estrogen boost so that menopausal symptoms are uncommon in countries such as Japan. Menopause around the world. Taking isoflavone supplements and applying creams containing isoflavones to the skin are know to improve the quality of skin in later life. Isoflavones supplying the highest amounts of Genistein are known to be the most effective.
Women metabolise isoflavones in different ways, depending on the balance of bacterial within their intestines. Thos who have good amounts of probiotic bacteria are able to metabolise one of the isoflavones found in soy to a more powerful estrogen called equol. Equol producers therefore obtain more benefits from soy isoflavones than non-equol producers so you need to eat live bio yoghurt and/or take a probiotic supplement which provides a blend of 20 million bacteria to increase your equol production.
Phytoestrogens for Natural Menopause Relief
Black Cohosh – a top-selling supplement for menopause symptoms in the US. In the UK, the THR support the use of black cohosh in the management of menopause. It is made from the root of the North American black cohosh plant. Black cohosh is believed to reduce menopausal symptoms through a direct action on the brain. It has been shown to lower levels of luteinizing hormone which helps to normalise estrogen-progesterone balance. It also has an effect on dilation of blood vessels and can help to relieve hot flushes, night sweats, low libido and mood swings. It is often used together with soy isoflavones. It is also known to improve sleep quality by reducing waking at night.
Caution: Not to be used if you have liver problems.
Flaxseed – flaxseed and flaxseed oil may help some women with mild menopause symptoms. Flaxseed is a good source of lignan which tends to balance female hormones. Not all studies agree to the benefits of flaxseed relieving hot flushes.
Red Clover – remains popular but the benefits remain unproven. Many women use red clover hoping that its natural plant estrogens will bring them menopause relief.
Ginseng – an Asian herb used in traditional medicine for centuries. Some studies have found evidence that different types of ginseng might help to improve quality of life in menopause as it has been shown to boost mood and improve sleep. Studies have not found that ginseng helps with physical symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes. A more recent study concluded that Korean Ginseng was successful in improving sexual arousal in menopausal women. Research also suggests that ginseng can contribute to heart problems in some women.
Caution: Ginseng has shown potential for menopausal relief but carries some potentially serious side effects.
St John’s Wort – a yellow-flowered plant. St John’s Wort is a well known treatments for mild depression. Studies have shown some evidence of this, particularly when combined with black cohosh, improving mood swings associated with menopause. More research is required to confirm its effectiveness in treating other menopause symptoms.
Caution: There are many drug interactions – you must check with your Healthcare Professional before using this product.
Femal – made from pollen extracts that has been shown to reduce menopausal symptom in trials. The main effect was on hot flushes with an improvement in tiredness, mood swings, dizziness and libido. Its mechanism of action is, to date, inconclusive.
Dong Quai – has been used in Chinese medicine as treatment for women’s health for thousands of years. However, more recent studies have found no evidence.
Caution: As dong quai may have some risks, seek medical advice before using it.
Soy – a protein found in such foods as tofu, edamame and soy milk. Contains isoflavones which are believed to have estrogen like effects on the body. Some studies have found soy to be effective in relieving hot flushes.
Evening Primrose Oil – evidence is still lacking to support the use of evening primrose oil for menopause hot flushes, however, it has been found useful for mood swings and breast pain. It is a good source of GLA – an essential fatty acid that provides building block for making sex hormones and improves skin quality, smoothness and lustre.
Vitex Agnus Castus – also known as Monks Pepper or Chasteberry extract. There have been many studies into Agnus Castus that have shown effectiveness in the treatment of premenstrual tension/syndrome. It has a hormonal regulating effect and is particularly useful in the perimenopause phase to help settle hormone fluctuations. Agnus Castus is only useful if hormones are not already being taken. Little is known about its effect on specific menopausal symptoms.
Ginkgo – extract of the leaves of the ginkgo plant (also known as the maidenhair plant).
Ginkgo has traditionally been used to improve memory, concentration and mood swings all of which can dip during menopause. Despite its popularity, little effectiveness has been demonstrated for memory loss or as a mood enhancer.
Caution: Should not be taken with drugs that reduce clotting such as Warfarin and Aspirin.
Sage – this herb can be taken as a tea or as an extract in tablet form to help relieve hot flushes. Although studies are ongoing into its effectiveness, it appears to have a regulating effect on hormones.
Caution: Do not take if suffering from high blood pressure or if taking Tamoxifen.
Maca -a root from Peru containing high amounts of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and essential amino acids. The manufacturers claim that this has no side effects and should not interact with any other medications of supplements. It is also claimed that weight loss may be a side benefit of taking this product.
Natural menopause relief doesn’t always mean safe
All supplements have potential side effects.
It is advisable to seek medical advice before taking any natural menopause relief supplement, particularly, if you are taking prescribed medication.
If you experience any side effect or have an allergic reaction from a natural menopause supplement you must stop taking it immediately.
Always read the information contained with the product and never exceed the recommended dosage.
2/3 months may be needed before seeing any result from a supplement.
Look for the THR Logo on natural menopause products in the UK. If you are in the US, contact The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) for guidance.
Use with caution:
As with all therapies, there are some risks involved. Keep in mind that herbal supplements are not as closely regulated as prescription drugs. The amount of herbal product, quality, safety and purity may vary between brands or even between batches of the same brand. Herbal therapies may also interact with prescription drugs. To be safe, tell you healthcare professional about all botanical therapies you are considering and always stop all herbal treatments at least 2 weeks before planned surgery.
Dr Sarah Brewer is a Registered Nutritionist and a Registered Nutritional Therapist and in her book entitled Menopause Diet: How to Eat to Beat Hot Flashes she explains why natural estrogens can improve symptoms of menopause and why a good intake of vitamins and minerals is important. This book also contains an extensive list of evidence based phytoestrogens for menopause relief. Read my personal review of Menopause Diet: How to Eat to Beat Hot Flashes.
PhytoEstrogens (Plant Estrogens). Retrieved from http://www.womenlivingnaturally.com/articlepage.php?id=107
Non-Estrogenic Herbs for Menopause. Retrieved from http://www.natural-progesterone-estrogen-supplements.com/non-estrogenic-herbs.htm
Non-Estrogenic Herbs. Retrieved from http://www.herbs-for-menopause.com/non-estrogenic.htm
Traditional Herbal Registration Certification. Retrieved from http://mhra.gov.uk
Alan R Gaby, Forrest Batz, Rick Chester, (2006) “A-Z Guide to Drug, Herb, Vitamin Interaction: Improve Your Health And Avoid Side Effects When Using Common Medications”.
Marilyn Glenville, (2001) “The New Alternatives to HRT”.
Alternative Therapies: PhytoEstrogens. Retrieved from http://www.menopausematters.co.uk/phytoestrogens.php