Menopause is a natural part of every woman’s life. Yet it’s a topic that doesn’t get enough attention and for that reason, many women are left feeling confused and alone as they deal with the hormonal changes in their bodies.
How can something that affects more than 50% of the world’s population still be such a mystery? It may be, in part, because there are still far more male doctors than female doctors in the United States. In fact, as of 2015, only 35.52% of doctors in the US were women.
Another reason is that there are many symptoms of menopause that may not be immediately identifiable as being related to menopause. Hot flashes are easily the most recognized symptom, but there are others, including:
Diminished sex drive
That’s a lot for anybody to process. Since many of these symptoms can be deeply uncomfortable and disruptive, it’s important to find ways to alleviate them.
How is Menopause Treated by Doctors?
Traditionally, the treatment for menopause has been to give women hormones. Taking a combination of estrogen and progestin can relieve many of the most common symptoms of menopause. However, it carries some risks as well:
An increased risk of certain kinds of cancer, including endometrial cancer and breast cancer
An increased risk of blood clots
An increased risk of heart attacks and strokes
Women with untreated high blood pressure, dementia, heart disease, or a history of hormonal breast cancer should not use hormone replacement therapy.
That said, some hormonal treatments have fewer side effects than others. For example, topical estrogen can provide relief from vaginal dryness without the more serious side effects of hormones taken internally.
Can Herbal Remedies Provide Relief from Menopause Symptoms?
If you’re someone who either prefers not to take hormone therapy or who can’t for medical reasons, there’s still some relief available. There are many natural, herbal remedies that you can use to get the relief you need.
(We always recommend you check with your doctor before adding any new supplements into your routine because it’s just a safe and smart thing to do!)
Ginseng is often touted as a natural remedy for memory loss and brain health. It may also provide relief from some symptoms of menopause.
We found a 2013 review of studies that looked at four different studies of the effects of ginseng on menopause symptoms. It found that there was limited proof that ginseng could provide relief, but also ample evidence of potential relief to warrant additional study.
The studies noted at least moderate effects in terms of:
Reducing the frequency and duration of hot flashes
Increasing sexual arousal
We found another study that gave menopausal women ginseng in combination with phytoestrogens, St. John’s Wort, and gingko biloba. 68% of the women in the study said that taking the herbal remedies relieved their symptoms.
Chasteberry is not as well know as ginseng but it’s used as an herbal remedy for hormonal conditions including both PMS and menopause.
A study from 2009 looked at the effects of chasteberry on menopause from an endocrinological perspective. It found that there had been little research to date but that, based on the properties of chasteberry, there was ample reason to pursue additional studies to see if it could provide relief for women in menopause.
A 2014 study and follow-up both found that women who took a chasteberry supplement experienced relief of their menopause symptoms, including hot flashes, insomnia, and mood swings.
It is important to note that many of the studies of chasteberry involve a combination of herbs, making it difficult to assess the benefits of chasteberry when taken alone.
Black cohosh is an herbal remedy derived from the roots of the cimicifuga rascemosa plant, which grows in the Appalachian Mountains.
It’s an herb that must be taken regularly since it takes time for its effects to be felt. There have been several studies into the benefits of black cohosh for menopause symptoms.
The earliest study we found was from 2006. It compared black cohosh alone with an herbal blend, hormone therapy, and a placebo. It concluded there was no appreciable difference in symptoms between the herbal blends and the placebo.
There was also a systematic review of studies that aggregated results from multiple studies testing the effects of black cohosh on more than 2,000 menopausal women. Those studies focused mostly on black cohosh’s ability to minimize hot flashes. It found that there was no significant difference between black cohosh and placebo.
That might seem discouraging, but the researchers noted that there was reason to pursue further research, particularly as it relates to other symptoms such as insomnia, irritability, and sexual arousal. Many women rely on black cohosh to relieve their symptoms. However, you should not take black cohosh if you have a history of hormonal cancer, including breast cancer, uterine cancer, and endometrial cancer.
Saw palmetto is widely available as a nutritional supplement and is used by both men and women. For women, it can be helpful in perimenopause and menopause.
One reason may be that saw palmetto berries block something called 5-alpha-reductase, the compound that’s responsible for turning testosterone into DHT. DHT prevents nutrients from supporting the reproductive system and plays a role in hair growth.
More research is needed. We could only find one study that looked at saw palmetto and it was used in combination with St. John’s Wort, gingko biloba, and soy.
The best way to find out if saw palmetto can provide relief is to try it. The one caveat is that you should not take saw palmetto if you are also taking blood thinning medication.
Hawthorn is an herb that has not been studied for menopausal women. However, it offers one significant health benefit that can assist with some of the symptoms of menopause: it’s a highly effective herbal remedy for circulation.
It strengthens the body’s veins and arteries, making it a viable remedy for heart disease, coronary atherosclerosis, and high blood pressure. By improving blood flow to important parts of the body – including the brain and genitals – it can provide relief from vaginal dryness and forgetfulness, both of which are symptoms of menopause.
Sage is an herb you probably associate with Thanksgiving stuffing and other savory dishes. However, it also has medical properties that may make it an effective treatment for menopause.
A study from 2013 looked at a group of 84 menopausal women who were given either sage or a placebo. The women self-reported the frequency of their hot flashes both before and after treatment. The conclusion was that there was a statistically significant reduction in the number and intensity of hot flashes in the group that took sage.
One of the most troublesome symptoms for women in menopause is a reduction in their libido. A loss of sexual desire can be difficult and cause problems for women and their partners.
The good news is that gingko biloba, which is a common herbal remedy and widely available, may help. A 2014 study in Tehran gave either gingko biloba or a placebo to a group of 80 healthy female volunteers. After 30 days, the women in the study group experienced a significant increase in their libido and sexual arousal when compared to the women who received a placebo.
How to Incorporate Herbal Remedies into Your Routine
Figuring out which herbal remedies work for you may seem like a daunting task. We’ve listed a total of seven remedies. With limited research into their effects, how can you know whether you’ll get the relief you need?
The first thing to do is talk to your doctor. It’s important to evaluate the risk of any herbal remedy before you take it. Many of the most common herbal remedies may be problematic for people with certain diseases and conditions. For example, most menopause remedies are not recommended for women who have a history of breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, or endometrial cancer.
The medications you take may also have an impact on whether it’s safe to use these herbal remedies. Here again, having a full and open discussion with your doctor can help you to narrow your choices.
Then, we suggest trying the remedies you and your doctor agree upon and monitoring the effect they have on you. Remember that some of the remedies, such a chasteberry and black cohosh, must be taken over time to be effective.
In addition to herbal remedies, you may want to try other natural treatments, including:
Mindfulness and meditation
Dietary changes can play a big role in menopause symptoms. Eating a diet that consists of whole foods can help, as can eliminating certain problematic foods, including:
Sugar and artificial sweeteners
Each woman experiences menopause in her own way. As you try different remedies, pay attention to how your body reacts and what provides relief. That’s the best way to determine which herbal remedies work for you.