Menopause simply means the end of menstruation for one year. As a woman ages, there is a gradual decline in the function of her ovaries and the production of estrogen. Around the time a woman turns 40, this process speeds up. This transition is known as perimenopause.
Women typically menstruate for the last time at about 51 years of age. A few stop menstruating as young as 40, and a very small percentage as late as 60. Women who smoke tend to go through menopause a few years earlier than nonsmokers...
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 and women who have their uterus or have had breast cancer should exercise caution. 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.