Around the age of 50 women start going through menopause, which is when menstruation stops and pregnancy is no longer possible.
Menopause is caused by a decline in the production of hormones – mainly oestrogen and progesterone – by the ovaries, and is understood to have occurred when a woman has not had any vaginal bleeding for a year.
Read: Diagnosing menopause
The decrease in hormone levels can give rise to a range of symptoms, the severity of which varies considerably. The most typical symptoms of menopause are:
- Hot flushes
- Mood swings and irritability
- Vaginal dryness
- Bone loss
Natural vs. synthetic
Because women nowadays live up to 80 years or more, their postmenopausal years can be long, and it was only logical to assume that if the “missing” hormones could be replaced, women would be spared the ravages of menopause.
Long story short, in the 1960s women widely started taking synthetic hormones (oestrogen and progestin) in order to remain “feminine forever”.
However, in 2002 a Women’s Health initiative study was published which found that non-bioidentical oestrogen and progestin significantly increased the risk of breast cancer and heart attack in women.
Read: Hormone replacement therapy use continues to fall
Although, as reported in a 2015 article in Women’s Health Concerns, these findings are currently being challenged, the matter has not been resolved and many women still prefer playing it safe and using natural supplements to keep the symptoms of menopause at bay.
General lifestyle advice to improve menopause symptoms includes: reducing stress levels, getting more exercise, losing weight and improving nutrition. Specific advice for managing hot flushes is to avoid stress, caffeine, alcohol, spicy food, tight clothing, heat and cigarette smoke. Taking a cold shower when you feel a hot flush coming on helps a lot.
Drinking more water can combat dry skin, improve mood, prevent constipation, help avoid headaches, prevent dehydration (which contributes to hot flushes), and help lubricate joints.
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamin D (with calcium) helps prevent bone loss associated with osteoporosis.
Bear in mind that with natural remedies there is no "quick fix", and generally it can take up to three months before the full effect is experienced. Also, study results are often conflicting and what works for some may not work for everyone.
Note: For more information in each of these herbal remedies, click on the link for each herb to find out how each of them rate in the Natural Medicines efficacy rating.
- Black cohosh, according to anecdotal evidence, reduces hot flushes, even though scientific investigations have produced mixed results. Black cohosh does not work like oestrogen, and, apart from a possible link to liver problems, is generally regarded as safe.
- Flaxseed contains lignans which are reported to balance female hormones. Some studies have shown that flaxseed and flaxseed oil relieve night sweats and hot flushes.
- Red clover contains natural plant oestrogens which may ease the symptoms of menopause. Research results have however not been conclusive. Studies have not indicated an increased risk for uterine cancer.
- Wild yam is another popular alternative to hormone therapy and contains compounds that are similar to progesterone and oestrogen. There are no studies that prove that the pills and creams made from wild yam are effective.
- Ginseng is known to improve mood and sleep, but it is not certain if it helps with any of the physical symptoms of menopause.
- St. John's wort is generally used for mild symptoms of depression and can have a positive effect on the mood swings and depression many women experience during menopause.
- Dong quai is known as the “gynaecological regulator” and has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. It is reported to balance oestrogen levels, which helps with the symptoms of menopause.
Read: Alternative medical systems
-Soy contains phyto-oestrogens that may act like oestrogen when consumed and has been found in a number of studies to relieve hot flushes. Soy foods could be the reason why Asian women suffer less from hot flushes than their western counterparts.
- Devil’s claw is a plant from Southern Africa and is used to treat muscle and joint pains, backache and rheumatism and can be helpful in treating joint pain like osteoarthritis experienced during menopause.
- Bee pollen has been found to balance the fluctuating hormones experienced during menopause, as well as improving energy levels, counteracting symptoms like depression, irritability and anxiety.
- Chasteberry is a hormonal tonic for women and is reported to help relieve many symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, irregular menstrual cycles and depression.
- Sage extract is extensively used to help relieve sweating and hot flushes.
- Passionflower contains bioactive compounds that are relaxing and counteract the anxiety experienced during menopause, which can also have a cooling effect on hot flushes.
- Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, is an Ayurvedic herb that encourages hormonal balance. Studies have noted significant reduction of symptoms like hot flushes, mood and anxiety. Ashwagandha is a so-called adaptogenic herb.
Health24's Natural Health expert additionally recommends these products that she has tried successfully:
The natural remedies that I use a lot in practice that are effective include: Phytol Plus from Natura, Femular from Flordis, Klimakt-Heel or Dr Reckeweg 10. You can also consider ordering a LadyCare magnet. For emotional support you can use Nervoheel, Nerve Tonic (dr Reckeweg) or Sedativ PC (Boiron).
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Sources: Natural Medicines; Bee pollen and honey for the alleviation of hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms in breast cancer patients, Molecular and Clinical Oncology July 2015; Clinical Effects of a Standardized Soy Extract in Postmenopausal Women: A Pilot Study, (C)2000The North American Menopause Society; First time proof of sage's tolerability and efficacy in menopausal women with hot flushes, Bommer S1, Klein P, Suter A., Advanced Therapy, June 2011