Menopause (cont.)

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Alternative medical therapies for menopause

Plant estrogens (phytoestrogens, isoflavones)

Isoflavones are chemical compounds found in soy and other plants that are phytoestrogens, or plant-derived estrogens. They have a chemical structure that is similar to the estrogens naturally produced by the body, but their effectiveness as an estrogen has been estimated to be much lower than true estrogens. Their estrogen potency has been estimated to be only 1/1000 to 1/100,000 of that of estradiol, a natural estrogen.

Two types of isoflavones, genistein and daidzein, are found in soy beans, chick peas, and lentils, and are considered to be the most potent estrogens of the phytoestrogens.

Studies have shown that these compounds may help relieve hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. In particular, women who have had breast cancer and do not want to take hormone therapy (HT) with estrogen sometimes use soy products for relief of menopausal symptoms.

There is also a perception among many women that plant estrogens are "natural" and therefore safer than HT, but this has never been proven scientifically. Further research is needed to fully characterize the safety and potential risks of phytoestrogens.

Vitamin E

Some women report that vitamin E supplements can provide relief from mild hot flashes, but scientific studies are lacking to prove the effectiveness of vitamin E in relieving symptoms of menopause. Taking a dosage greater than 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E may not be safe, since some studies have suggested that greater dosages may be associated with cardiovascular disease risk.

Black Cohosh

Black cohosh is an herbal preparation that has been popular in Europe for the relief of hot flashes. This herb has become more and more popular in the U.S., and the North American Menopause Society does support the short-term use of black cohosh for treating menopausal symptoms, for a period of up to six months, because of its relatively low incidence of side effects when used short term. However, there have still been very few scientific studies done to establish the benefits and safety of this product. Research is ongoing to further determine the effectiveness and safety of black cohosh.

A large study known as the Herbal Alternatives for Menopause Trial (HALT) tested the effectiveness of different herbal or alternative ingredients versus estrogen therapy or placebo for the relief of menopausal symptoms. After one year of therapy, there was no significant reduction in the frequency or severity of hot flashes in women receiving any of the herbal preparations (including a group who received black cohosh) when compared to placebo at any of the follow-up times (3, 6, and 12 months).

Other alternative therapies

There are many supplements and substances that have been advertised as "natural" treatments for symptoms of menopause, including licorice, dong quai, chasteberry, and wild yam. Scientific studies have not proven the safety or effectiveness of these products.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/10/2014

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