Alternative and Natural Treatments for Menopause
Dietary Supplements, Phytoestrogens, and Vitamin E
Alternative or natural medicine may help reduce menopause symptoms. Despite the lack of the scientific foundation of conventional medicine, many people are strong proponents of alternative medicine—and for a variety of reasons. One of the common reasons women opt for alternative therapies is that they experience mild symptoms that they don't feel warrant mainstream medicine.
If you're considering these treatments, you should consult your regular doctor and possibly a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioner. This title can be confusing—even though alternative medicine and complementary medicine follow the same methods, they are different in that alternative forms are used in place of conventional medicine, whereas complementary treatments are used in conjunction with conventional medicine.
Below are common alternative treatments for menopause:
- Dietary supplements: Supplements such as black cohosh, red clover, dong quai, and ginseng may help reduce menopause symptoms. Black cohosh, for instance, is particularly popular in Europe for relieving hot flashes. Research has been conducted on the effectiveness of these supplements for menopause, but it has yielded mixed results.
- Phytoestrogens: Phytoestrogens are plant-derived estrogens that are naturally present in foods. There are two types of phytoestrogens: isoflavones (found in soy and legumes) and lignans (found in whole grains and some fruits and vegetables).
Research into the estrogen-like activity of phytoestrogens is ongoing, so their true ability to reduce menopause-related symptoms is still unknown. However, it is known that phytoestrogens pose specific risks in women who have had or are at a higher risk of developing estrogen-related diseases, such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
- Vitamin E: This vitamin may help relieve hot flashes; but again, it has not been proven scientifically. Also, research findings show that your daily intake of vitamin E should not exceed 400 IUs (international units) because high doses of vitamin E may not be safe.1
Using Caution with Alternative Medicine
Every medication, whether conventional or alternative, carries risks. Many alternative treatments boast natural ingredients, but that doesn't guarantee safety. The FDA does not monitor natural, alternative treatments as closely as they do conventional drugs and medications. This is because conventional drugs have a higher risk-to-benefit ratio than herbal supplements do, and therefore, they have stricter FDA regulation standards.2
Remember, alternative treatments for menopause do not have the scientific evidence to prove their long-term effectiveness. Similarly, alternative supplements can interact with any other medication, so discuss all medications and supplements with your doctor before you start taking them.
- Menopause: Alternative medicine. The Mayo Clinic Health Information Web site. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/menopause/DS00119/DSECTION=alternative-medicine. Accessed September 1, 2009.
- Menopause Guidebook, 6th Edition. The North American Menopause Society Web site. Available at: http://www.menopause.org/edumaterials/guidebook/guidebook.aspx. Accessed September 1, 2009.
- Vitamin E. Yale-New Haven Hospital website. Available at: http://www.ynhh.org/online/nutrition/advisor/vitaminE.html. Accessed September 1, 2009.
- Dietary Supplements. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/food/DietarySupplements/default.htm. Accessed January 14, 2009.