There are a range of herbs that have been used for thousands of years to relieve menopausal symptoms. You can now find many of these in supplement form and a sizeable amount of women find them really helpful – so which ones are most likely to help you?
Sage leaf extract
Sage, part of the mint family, has been used for centuries for the relief of hot flushes and there is encouraging scientific evidence to testify to its effectiveness. In one Swiss study 71 menopausal women who were given a sage preparation daily for eight weeks were found to have a lower incidence of flushes which were also less severe if they did happen. In another clinical study involving 30 menopausal women given a combination of sage and alfalfa (which contains plant oestrogens), 20 of those women reported their hot flushes and night sweats had completely disappeared.
This traditional north American herb has been used for centuries to help reduce hot flushes. Scientific evidence for its effectiveness remains mixed, however, with some studies showing no benefits when compared to a placebo whilst others show a reduction in symptoms that are similar to those achieved by menopausal medications. Many women report that it has significantly helped them so it could be a matter of finding what herbal supplement works for you. Black cohosh is known to interact with some other medicines however so do tell your doctor you are taking it if you are prescribed any medication.
These are a type of plant oestrogen or phytoestrogen known to have a mild oestrogen-like effect. Soybeans and soy products like tofu and miso tend to be the richest sources of isoflavones in our diet. The effects of taking them in supplement form is said to be around 40% less effective at relieving menopausal symptoms than taking HRT but when taken for long enough (in trials around 48 weeks for maximum effects) they have been found to significantly reduce hot flushes and night sweats. Some clinical trials have also shown how soy isoflavones could help to keep your weight down. They have also been studied for their role in helping improve heart and bone health in postmenopausal women.
Red clover is a flowering plant containing phytoestrogens, plant compounds which act in a similar way to oestrogen. A number of clinical trials involving red clover showed no benefit over a placebo although other small studies have shown it may increase bone density and increase collagen levels (which can help with skin ageing and possibly vaginal elasticity). A 2017 study gave a combination of Red Clover and probiotics to 62 perimenopausal women over the course of 12 weeks and it was concluded that the women’s hot flushes and night sweats improved when compared to a placebo. The plant appears well-tolerated and there are calls for more research into this popular remedy.
Sea buckthorn oil
There is evidence that sea buckthorn supplements (the antioxidant rich oil from the sea buckthorn plant contains omegas 3, 6, 7 and 9) can help to lubricate the whole body including the eyes, mouth and skin. A study on postmenopausal women also shows taking sea buckthorn in supplement form can improve the condition of vaginal tissue.
St John’s Wort
This herbal remedy has traditionally been used to treat low mood and this is often a symptom of menopause. A 2013 trial studied taking St John’s Wort on its own, Black Cohosh alone and a combination of the two for the relief of menopausal symptoms. It was the St John’s Work and Black Cohosh combo that was found to improve hot flushes when compared to a placebo. Women taking the breast cancer drug tamoxifen should not take St John’s Wort, however, as it can make the drug ineffective.
Valerian root is another phyto-estrogenic herb that has been used for centuries primarily to improve sleep but which has also been found to help reduce the incidence and severity of hot flushes. One 2013 study involving menopausal women complaining of hot flushes showed taking valerian root led to a significant reduction in them. Reducing the severity or incidence of flushes or night sweats should also help improve your sleep and valerian has traditionally been used as a sleep aid. One 2006 study published in The American Journal of Medicine found this traditional herbal remedy improved sleep quality by 80 per cent compared to a placebo. Another of its benefits is that it doesn’t leave you with any sort of groggy or ‘hungover’ feeling as some other sleep remedies do. A 2011 study from Tehran University randomly assigned 100 menopausal women with either two valerian capsules daily for a month or two placebos. Overall, 30% of women said the valerian improved their sleep quality compared to 4% in the placebo group.
Herbs vs drugs
Many of us prefer the idea of taking something natural rather than a drug or medicine. However, natural is not always straightforwardly better or necessarily harmless. The guidelines from NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) are that herbal remedies which are not regulated by a medicine authority should not be considered safe. Look for the THR (Traditional Herbal Remedy) logo on supplement packs to ensure the product you are buying has been approved. And do tell your doctor if you are taking any herbal supplements as they can interact with medicines.
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