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.

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