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Menopause symptoms can really knock us for six, which is why treatments, such as hormone replacement therapy, can be a huge relief. But while many women praise the likes of HRT for its perceived effectiveness (whether it's gel, patches or pills), it does come with its risks. With the recent Me.No.Pause campaign from Holland and Barrett hitting the headlines for the right reasons, here's our guide to natural remedies and treatments to help combat menopause symptoms.
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When the dreaded hot flushes and restless nights become an all too frequent trend, they can be debilitating and difficult to handle. If you've chosen to steer away from certain treatments like HRT in favour of an alternative approach (a natural HRT if you will), here is a selection of natural remedies that really work according to the women who have tried them.
"My friend is getting some relief from the sweats with black cohosh tablets from the health food store."
Black cohosh, also known as bugbane, is a medicinal plant of the buttercup family that originates from North America. It is sometimes used to treat acne, osteoporosis and period pain (among other conditions), but it is also used to relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, mood changes, vaginal atrophy (dryness) and excessive sweating. It is said to act similarly to oestrogen in some women.
Medical trials are on the fence when it comes to this herb being an effective natural menopause remedy - some found it to have a placebo effect and others found it to be beneficial, but only for a short period of six months to a year.
It comes in capsules or tablets, a liquid or a powder, but there isn't a standard daily dosage as recommended by medical professionals. Long-term use is, however, not advised.
Side effects for black cohosh can include stomach pain, nausea and skin rashes, and higher dosages, i.e. 100mg, can affect heart rate, blood pressure and can cause joint pain and headaches. There is also no certainty that it's safe to take after having cancer treatment and it isn't recommended if you have a history of liver problems.
"My daughter read about Vogel Menoforce sage tablets and I got some at the weekend. They are magic!"
Sage is part of the mint family and is most commonly used for cooking, but it is also used to treat symptoms of menopause. Research into the health benefits of sage has, however, been minimal, but one study found that fresh sage was effective in reducing the severity of hot flushes.
When it comes to sage for menopause, sage tea is by far the easiest way to consume the herb (although the taste may not be altogether pleasant), but it is also available as a essential oil and as capsules from health food stores.
There are a few things to watch out for when it comes to sage, primarily because there are a number of different types, some of which contain thujone, which can cause vomiting, vertigo, rapid heartbeat and even seizures if taken in a high dosage for too long. Sage essential oil can be also be dangerous when ingested.
"I took dong quai for hot flushes and never looked back."
Dong quai is a traditional Chinese medicine used to treat health issues, such as migraines, however its effectiveness has been questioned.
It is taken orally or applied to the skin and usually comes in a combination product, i.e. with chamomile, American ginseng or black cohosh. It is said to be a natural remedy for hot flushes and other symptoms caused by menopause.
There are a few side effects to be aware of with this remedy, namely photosensitivity, which is a sun allergy that causes skin to become extra-sensitive to sunlight. Photosensitivity can cause itchiness, redness and areas of inflammation on the skin, and there is a greater risk of both sunburn and skin cancer because of this.
Some also believe that dong quai slows blood clotting. It also reacts with Warfarin, which is commonly used to treat blood clots.
"The thought of HRT scared me with all the possible side effects and health risks. I took red clover which helped with my hot flushes."
Red clover is a plant, the extract of which is used for flavouring in cooking. It is also used for a variety of conditions such as indigestion, whooping cough, asthma, eczema and burns, and some women use it to treat hot flushes.
The effectiveness of red clover, typically taken orally during menopause, has been disputed and there is no concrete evidence to suggest that is effective in reducing hot flushes or night sweats. It may, however, help with some symptoms of postmenopause such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Red clover can cause rashes, headaches, muscle ache and spotting. It may also have an effect on blood clotting and conditions that could be made worse by oestrogen - red clover may act like oestrogen in the body.
"I had acupuncture for hot flushes which did help."
Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine where thin needles are inserted into certain areas of the body, also known as acupuncture points. It a gentle treatment that stimulates sensory nerves and is generally used to alleviate pain, from joint pain, such as osteoarthritis, to chronic pain. It is, however, also thought to help ease symptoms of menopause, typically hot flushes and insomnia.
Acupuncture is usually performed over a number of sessions and is considered a safe and common practice. Effectiveness may depend on the amount of acupuncture you have.
For some, acupuncture may have more of a placebo effect than anything else, but side effects can also include bruising, soreness, fatigue and lightheadedness.
"St John's Wort has been my main help."
St John's wort is a flowering plant and a herbal medicine. It is generally used to help treat depression as it has similar qualities to an antidepressant. It is typically taken orally.
Studies have tended to focus on its impact on mood when it comes to menopause, but others have found it to be somewhat effective in reducing hot flushes. It can also be taken in combination with other herbal remedies such as black cohosh, but, again, effectiveness is uncertain.
While St John's wort does not typically have many side effects and is safe to take as per the instructions, uncommon ones may include headaches, fatigue, dizziness and stomach upset. It has also been known to react with other medications, such as antidepressants and Warfarin.
Maca is a plant native to Peru and is highly nutritious, containing good amounts of fibre and protein. It is usually available in powder form, but also as a liquid extract and in capsules. Many dislike the taste, but maca powder can be added to smoothies and breakfast bowls to make it more pleasant to consume.
Research may be limited, but some suggest that maca can help to reduce hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia and anxiety through increasing the body's oestrogen production and suppressing cortisol (the stress hormone), while also boosting stamina and energy levels.
Because maca can act like oestrogen, it should be avoided if you have conditions such as breast, ovarian or uterine cancer, or endometriosis. You should also avoid if you have thyroid issues.
"The best menopause supplement I used was agnus-castus for hormonal balance."
Vitex agnus-castus (chaste tree) is a shrub that is often used as a natural menopause remedy. It helps to balance hormones and works on the pituitary gland, which, in turn, communicates with the ovaries to release more hormones.
As such, this herb can help to regulate the menstrual cycle, particularly for women going through perimenopause, and help with mood swings and anxiety. It is taken orally.
While it is mostly safe to use, the side effects of agnus-castus can include, but are not limited to, nausea, itching, stomach upset, headaches, weight gain and trouble sleeping. It may also negatively affect hormone-senstitive conditions, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer and endometriosis, and therapies for Parkinson's disease as it contains chemicals that can have an effect on the brain.
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"A high soya content in diet helps a lot."
In addition to the above, other suggested natural remedies for menopause symptoms include:
"I tried every herbal treatment known to man and none made any difference to me."
While menopause can be a minefield (and, more often than not, quite unsettling), some women have found natural alternatives to be helpful in reducing particularly unpleasant symptoms.
According to the NHS, however, there is no real evidence to suggest that certain recommended herbal remedies for menopause actually reduce menopause symptoms and medical professionals are generally unsure as to how safe or effective they are.
Some natural treatments can react to other medication you might be taking, which could result in side effects. They may also act as more of a placebo effect than anything else.
Whichever route you take when it comes to alleviating symptoms, it's always worth bearing in mind that treatments don't work for everyone. Natural remedies address both the symptoms and what has caused an imbalance, which means that each form of treatment is specific to the individual. Always consult your GP for advice wherever possible before starting a specific treatment.
Disclaimer: The information on our health pages is only intended as an informal guide and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice. Gransnet would urge you to consult your GP before you begin any form of treatment if you're concerned about your weight, have existing health conditions and/or are taking medication.