When she was 26, Lara Dietz learned she had breast cancer -- a shock to this mother of two very young children. Then came the second blow. When treatment began, so did premature menopause. "I was having hot flashes," she says. "I felt like I was 55 years old."
When menopause occurs between ages 45 to 55, it is considered "natural." When it occurs before age 40 -- regardless the cause -- it is called premature menopause. The ovaries no longer produce an egg each month, so monthly menstrual cycles...
Many women going through menopause try to get relief from their symptoms by including phytoestrogens, or natural estrogens, in their diet. There are also other nutritional supplements that are touted to help relieve menopausal symptoms, such as black cohosh and flaxseed.
What Are Botanicals?
Botanicals are medicines that are derived from plants. They have been used for centuries by "folk healers" and are the foundation for nearly half of prescription drugs used today.
Botanicals are sold in the form of herbs and nutritional supplements and make up a large part of alternative medicine therapies. Because supplements are not regulated by the government like drugs, there is lack of standardization in their production. Different manufactures can have different ingredients in their supplements, which can lead to accidentally taking too much or too little.
More research is needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of botanical treatments. To make an informed decision about the use of these treatments, be sure to discuss them with your doctor.
Can Botanicals Relieve Menopausal Symptoms?
Some botanicals, such as phytoestrogens, may help relieve menopause symptoms, although research findings are contradictory. Phytoestrogens are substances found in plant-based foods that are thought to have weak estrogen-like effects. Some may help lower cholesterol levels and have been suggested to relieve hot flashes and night sweats, but more research is needed. Examples of plant estrogens include isoflavones. Isoflavones can be found in foods such as soy products (tofu, soymilk, soybeans).
Black cohosh is a botanical that is widely available. The North American Menopause Society reports that black cohosh may be helpful in the very short term (six months or less) for treatment of hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness, but the evidence of its effectiveness is mixed. Safety beyond six months of use is not known. Side effects are rare and include gastrointestinal upset.
Evening primrose oil is another botanical that is often used to treat hot flashes, although there is no scientific evidence to support this. Side effects include nausea, diarrhea, problems with the immune system, and blood clotting . Many women with other conditions, or those who take certain medications, should not take evening primrose oil.
Dong quai is another botanical that is touted to relieve hot flashes and night sweats, and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. There is little scientific evidence to support this claim, however, and more studies are needed to determine its effectiveness.
There are many other herbal supplements available -- none of which have been proven scientifically to relieve menopause symptoms. They include: fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, red clover, ginseng, rice bran oil, wild yam, calcium, gotu kola, licorice root, sage, sarsaparilla, passion flower, chaste berry, ginkgo biloba, and valerian root.