Can Plant-Based Therapies Treat Menopause Symptoms?

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I can’t help but be reminded of the hilarious episode of Sex in the City when Samantha had her hormones confiscated at customs in Abu Dhabi.  She was panicked that her menopausal symptoms would return so she resorted to eating and smothering herself in yams hopeful that this would provide her with “natural” hormonal relief!

Before you head to the grocery store to stock up on yams, let’s look at a study, reported in JAMA focused on the association of plant-based therapies with menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness.

We all know that perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause can come with a host of symptoms! Most of these lovely menopausal symptoms are a result plummeting estrogen levels.  A majority of which are best treated with hormone therapy.

According to the authors, almost half (40-50%) of women in Western countries use complementary therapies, including these plant-based therapies to help relieve menopausal symptoms.

In total, 62 studies were identified, including 6653 individual women. The broad range of plant-based therapies included the oral use of phytoestrogens such as dietary soy isoflavones and soy extracts; herbal remedies such as red clover and black cohosh; and Chinese and other medicinal herbs. Isoflavones are a type of phytoestrogen, plant-derived compound that can mimic estrogen. Tofu, tempeh, miso, and natto are foods high in soy isoflavones.

According to Science Daily, here is what they found: Phytoestrogens were associated with a decrease in the number of daily hot flashes and vaginal dryness score between the treatment groups but not in the number of night sweats. Individual phytoestrogen interventions such as dietary and supplemental soy isoflavones were associated with improvement in daily hot flashes and vaginal dryness score. Several herbal remedies, but not Chinese medicinal herbs, were associated with an overall decrease in the frequency of vasomotor symptoms.”

The authors suggest that further rigorous studies are needed to determine the association of plant-based and natural therapies with menopausal health.

Holly Thacker, MD, FACP, director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Specialized Women’s Health and Professor, Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University responded to the study, “I think the take-home message is that if you have severe menopausal symptoms, you should see your physician and not be afraid to treat the exact problem, which is hormone deficiency.”

Dr. Thacker noted that just because you don’t need a prescription for a supplement, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t carry a risk. She cautions that other studies have shown that overuse of some soy supplements can increase a woman’s risk for certain types of cancer.

Bottom line is that although many women would prefer to use natural plant-based alternatives for menopause symptoms, sadly, none of them have proven to be substantially effective.

She further explained that women with mild menopausal symptoms who are looking for relief are okay to add soy to their diet through food, but should consult with a physician before trying any supplements.

“Even though menopause is a natural life event and not everyone is hormonally deficient, the people that are hormonally deficient should not feel bad about needing to take a hormone to treat that problem,” Dr. Thacker said.

Dr. Thacker says menopause is a good time for women to take stock of their health habits, like diet and exercise, and to get a regular examination from a women’s health physician.

My motto:  Suffering in silence is OUT!  Reaching out is IN!

Click here to download my free eBook, MENOPAUSE MONDAYS The Girlfriend’s Guide to Surviving and Thriving During Perimenopause and Menopause.

After struggling with her own severe menopause symptoms and doing years of research, Ellen resolved to share what she learned from experts and her own trial and error. Her goal was to replace the confusion, embarrassment, and symptoms millions of women go through–before, during, and after menopause–with the medically sound solutions she discovered. Her passion to become a “sister” and confidant to all women fueled Ellen’s first book, Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness. As a result of the overwhelming response from her burgeoning audiences and followers’ requests for empowering information they could trust, Ellen’s weekly blog, Menopause MondaysTM, was born.

  • Helene Bludman

    It’s disappointing that the plant-based therapies are ineffective, but good to tuck away for future reference.

    • Ellen Dolgen

      Some women do find help with plant-based therapies. Others need hormone therapy for relief of severe symptoms.

    • Sometimes they do help women. Sometimes they don’t. There is no one-size-fits-all. The oncologists at Yale Cancer Center that I interviewed recommend black cohosh to their cancer survivors. Many of them DO find that it helps with their hot flashes.

  • Cheryl Nicholl

    I agree that plant based therapies may offer some relief (in huge quantities) but a little puff off of a transdermal estrogen replacement can supply true relief. Great info like always!

    • Ellen Dolgen

      You mean a little patch of transdermal estrogen………….yes! I love my patch!

    • Yes……………..plant based therapy can work for some, but not for others. Never suffer in silence, if they don’t work for you, speak to your specialist about transdermal hormone therapy. This kind of HT offers great relief to many many women!

  • Lois Alter Mark

    I need to talk about this with my doctor. It would be so great to have natural remedies.

    • Ellen Dolgen

      I think talking with your menopause specialist is always helpful. Your specialist can help you come up with an individualized plan that fits your personal health needs.

    • Yes, sometimes they can be helpful. However, it is good to know that if they are not helpful – you should talk to your doctor about the other options available to you.

  • I think the interaction with any Rx drug is a real issue for any potential plant based remedies. For anything.

    • Totally……………sadly many people disregard the potential interaction. Thanks for helping to spread the word.

  • sue

    I always enjoying learning from you Ellen as your posts are always so informative. Fortunately for me I didn’t really ‘suffer’ symptoms of menopause and I put that down to a healthy diet and regular exercise. I agree with Dr Thacker, menopause is a good time to look at our health habits and lifestyle.

    • Very good time, indeed! It is so important to healthy aging.

  • It’s interesting to see that sometimes we need more than just good food when our bodies are particularly depleted or going through a hard time. I haven’t had any major menopause symptoms yet but will be looking at all the options if I end up going down that track.

    • You are so right, Leanne. There is no need to suffer in silence. Reach out and get the help you need – when you need it!

  • CathyLynchLawdanski

    Amen to not suffering in silence. Thanks for explaining the options and reminding us that supplements & “natural” aren’t always better. The supplements I DO take are brands recommended by my doctor.

    • So happy to hear this Cathy. Take good care of YOU!

  • Given that side effects from HRT were not good for me, I was hoping plant-based would be an option. Night sweats are a PITA! Any thoughts?

  • Estelle Sobel Erasmus

    This is such helpful information, Ellen. I think that being under a doctor’s care is key.

    • I agree, Estelle. A good Menopause Specialist who is up in the latest studies and info is key.

  • I agree that it’s important to check with a doctor and have blood tests before taking anything including supplements. Even ordinary multi-vitamins sometimes contain too much of one thing or the other and make you feel ill.

    • Such a good point, Rebecca. So many people think supplements are harmless.

  • Rosemond C

    Fingers crossed, so far my perimenopause has been OK, but hate to write that even and jinx myself!

    • Many women do breeze through……….hold onto those genes baby!

  • honest reason

    I had been cooking soy milk for many yrs and it helped me in the stage of perimenopause. My OB doctor told me that if it works for me keep on doing it. I am more afraid of synthetic hormones because it can be a double sword too. I try to follow a good balance diet, exercises and minerals and vitamins. Also trust in every word of science studies is not 100% reliable either. Women’s instinct works many times better, because hormones can vary in every person, but only ones knows how the body feels.

    • I am so happy to hear that you found help with soy milk. FYI there are two different types of hormone therapy (HT) both are synthesized in a lab, but the difference between them is one kind is made identical to what your body makes (bioidentical hormones) and one is not (non-bioidentical). Today, most women are on bioidentical hormone therapy, FDA approved transdermally administered. I have done many blogs on the new information on HT,

      • honest reason

        Thanks for your kind information. That would be something to consider, but so far, my body is adjusting pretty good to the low hormones levels.

        • If anything changes, feel free to circle back for support.

  • Always good info Ellen. My oncologist, when my breast cancer treatments threw me into menopause with drenching hot flashes and night sweats, recommended me to an alternative clinic. I got Chinese herbs that really helped me. I have since had a few friends also buy them with success!

    • Thanks for sharing this, Haralee. Can you tell us what you took?

      • It is Zhi Bai Di Hvang Wan from Pine Mountain. Bought from The Institute for Traditional Medicine. http://www.itmonline.org 503-233-4907.
        At the time when my sweats were the most intense, I was taking 6 at a time and buying a case of 12 bottles at a time!

        • Thanks for sharing this helpful info. Again, as Dr. Thacker suggests, women should be sure to consult their medical professionals before taking these Chinese herbs or any other supplements.