Menopause symptoms: what works

By Roger Dobson , Tuesday 4 March 2014

Does alternative medicine offer relief for menopausal symptoms? Well, yes, maybe for some women. But you may have to kiss a lot of complementary frogs before you find your therapeutic prince, warns Roger Dobson.
Herbs and drugsHerbs and drugs - what works for hot flushes?

Research at the University of Exeter shows that 50.5% of women now use one or more complementary or alternative medicines to ease menopausal symptoms.
 

Menopause symptoms



  • Hot flushes – suffered by seven out of ten women
  • Night sweats
  • Loss of libido
  • Vaginal dryness and pain, itching or discomfort during sex
  • Palpitations
  • Headaches
  • Mood changes
  • Insomnia
  • Urinary tract infections

Their analysis of surveys found that six out of ten women rated their treatment as successful, and the five most popular therapies were herbal medicine, followed by soy, evening primrose oil, relaxation and yoga.

The rise in the popularity of complementary and alternative medicine has followed a decline in HRT use after reports of links between hormone therapy and increased risk of breast and endometrial cancer, heart disease and stroke although, for many women, the real increase is slight.

Personal factors such as age, weight, family and medical history will affect the level of risk, as will the duration of the treatment.

Nevertheless, research suggests that many women are attracted to alternative treatments in the belief that they are natural and safe – which may not always be the case – as well as being effective.

The challenge for women searching for a natural remedy is finding one that works. Relatively little research has been carried out, and sometimes the evidence is wanting or negative. According to a Yale University School of Medicine report, phytoestrogens (derived from plants), black cohosh and vitamin E may be no better than a placebo in reducing hot flushes, while the Exeter team says the same about evening primrose.

However, a survey of 2,500 German gynaecologists who were asked to rate the effectiveness of each therapy based on observations of their patients found that most of the doctors believed in the effectiveness of at least one alternative therapy. Straightforward lifestyle changes were rated the best, with 54.4% saying that they were effective, while 35.7% reported that they worked sometimes. And alternative treatments that were rated as effective by the doctors were St John’s wort (25%) and black cohosh (21%).

The best bets for managing menopause symptoms



Simple lifestyle changes have been shown to ease hot flushes, including maintaining a healthy weight and stopping smoking, as well as more obvious adjustments such as creating a cooler environment, wearing light and layered clothing and using fans when needed, according to one Yale University study.

Relaxation

Group relaxation therapy can work, according to a 2012 study by gynaecologists at Linköping University, Sweden. Postmenopausal women with seven or more moderate-to-severe hot flushes a day had either relaxation therapy or no treatment at all. In those who had the therapy, the number of hot flushes dropped by five a day compared with 1.9 in the other group after 12 weeks.

Exercise

Aerobic exercise three times a week for three months can have a significant beneficial effect on some menopausal symptoms. One trial at Minnesota University showed improvements in sleep quality, insomnia and depression, but not in hot flushes.

Yoga

A study at the University of California San Francisco showed that eight weekly 90-minute sessions of yoga led to an average drop in hot flushes each week of 30.8%. The researchers say bigger trials are now needed.

Pine bark

According to one study at Keiju Medical Centre in Namao City, Japan, a supplement based on pine bark eased almost all menopausal symptoms, but was particularly effective against hot flushes, night sweats and insomnia. The study involved 170 women taking either 30mg of Pycnogenol French maritime pine bark extract or a placebo a day, and found significant improvements after four weeks in the women on the supplement.

St John’s wort

Better known for its use as an antidepressant, it has been shown to improve quality of life in women around the time of the menopause. The study, at the University Hospital of Quebec, found that after three months of taking St John’s wort, women had significantly better quality of life and fewer sleep problems than those who were taking a placebo.

The jury is still out on these menopause remedies



Black cohosh

Some studies have found black cohosh effective, while others have not. A study funded by the US National Institutes of Health found it to be no better than a placebo for relieving hot flushes. However, a Swiss study based on more than 400 women showed that it was effective: ‘Treatment in patients with hot flushes and night sweats resulted in a significant improvement of symptoms,’ say the researchers. One in four German gynaecologists also considered black cohosh to be effective.

Acupuncture

This ancient Chinese therapy can reduce the severity of symptoms of hot flushes according to a study at Stanford University in California, where postmenopausal women with moderate to severe hot flushes were given nine sessions of acupuncture or placebo needles. Acupuncture resulted in a significantly greater decrease in the severity, but not the frequency, of hot flushes. Other studies have found no effects.

Evening primrose oil

Some research shows that the third most popular natural remedy used by menopausal women is effective, but a report in the British Medical Journal found that gamolenic acid – a major compound in primrose oil – offered no benefit over a placebo in treating hot flushes. However, a study at Shahid Beheshti University in Iran involving the same number of women found primrose oil to be superior to a placebo, with a 42% improvement in the severity of symptoms.

Hops

A number of symptoms, including hot flushes, were eased among women taking an extract of hop flowers daily compared with those who had a placebo preparation. The research at Ghent University Hospital in Belgium found that the reduction in hot flushes was significant after six weeks.

Soy

Some trials show it is helpful, while others have found it ineffective. Its use is based on the idea that soy contains compounds called isoflavones, which have some small oestrogen-like effect. A study at the University of Minnesota concluded, ‘Consumption of 30mg/day of soy isoflavones reduces hot flushes by up to 50%’.

Folic acid


The supplement widely used in pregnancy to lower the risk of birth defects may also be a way to treat hot flushes. Improvement in hot flushes was reported by 65% of the women taking the active treatment (but also by 16% of the placebo group!) in a study at the University of Alexandria. Two weeks after stopping the tablets, hot flushes recurred in all women who had shown an improvement. Folic acid may have an effect on the brain chemical serototin, which has been implicated in hot flushes.

Can you delay the menopause?


Fish

Regular fish-eaters are up to 40% less likely to go through an early menopause, according to research at Demirel University Medical School, Turkey. In a group of women with an average age of 52, fish-eating delayed menopause the most, while lifelong sun exposure increased the risk of early menopause the most.

Red wine

Women who drink red wine have a lower risk of an early start to the perimenopause, the two to eight years leading up to the menopause itself, according to Harvard University research based on around 500 women aged 36 to 45, who were monitored for more than five years. One theory is that it is down to a non-alcoholic compound in red wine, resveratrol, which has oestrogen-like actions.

Milk

Results of a 20-year study of 46,000 women show that the more low-fat dairy products a woman consumed the later her menopause. The Harvard University researchers say that cow’s milk contains compounds that appear to increase the amount of oestrogen and progesterone in a woman’s body, which might cause the delaying effects. Low-fat dairy products contain more of these compounds, which may explain why the same effects were not seen for full-fat dairy items.

Health warning

Talk to your doctor before using complementary and alternative medicines. Some herbal therapies can be dangerous, and can interact adversely with prescription medications, yet in a study of users by Exeter University researchers, more than half of the women had not told their doctors about their use of complementary and alternative medicine.

Before you decide which menopause treatment to try



Before ruling out conventional treatments, it’s worth discussing HRT as well as other prescription medications with your doctor so you can weigh up the relative pros and cons of the different treatments and decide what’s best for you.

Medical treatments for menopause


HRT

Hormone replacement therapy is effective in treating a number of the most common menopausal symptoms, including hot flushes and night sweats, vaginal symptoms and urinary tract infections, such as cystitis.

In the long-term, it can also reduce the risk of osteoporosis. It works by replacing oestrogen whose levels drop as the menopause approaches. It’s available as a cream or gel, a tablet, a skin patch or an implant.

A number of side effects can be associated with HRT, including weight gain, tender breasts, nausea, headaches and mood changes.

According to NHS Choices, HRT slightly increases the risk of developing breast cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer and stroke.

The balance of benefits and possible risks will be different for each individual woman, so it's worth having a full discussion of the pros and cons with your GP before making a decision about treatment.

Testosterone gel

Research at the Karolinska Hospital in Sweden shows that a gel rubbed on the skin boosts libido in post menopausal women. "Testosterone gel of 10 mg had positive effects on several aspects of sexual life such as frequency of sexual activity, orgasm, arousal, fantasies and sexual interest in postmenopausal women on HRT," say the researchers.

Antidepressants

One study, based on more than 2,000 women, showed that compared with placebo, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (or SSRIs) such as Prozac were associated with a significant drop in frequency of hot flushes, and in their intensity. A second study showed that symptoms rapidly returned in more than a third of women after therapy was stopped.


Tibolone

A man-made hormone that works in the same way as HRT, it is effective in treating hot flushes and night sweats and it can also help prevent fractures of the spine. It may also improve sexual problems, such as a decreased sex drive. It has some risks, however, including a small increased risk of breast cancer, cancer of the womb and stroke. It is not suitable for women over 60.


Clonidine

A drug originally developed to treat high blood pressure,  it has been found to reduce hot flushes and night sweats in some menopausal women.


Gabapentin

An anti-convulsant, used for treating seizures and pain associated with shingles, it has been shown to reduce symptoms according to a Wayne State University School of Medicine report, but it is not known how. A study involving 59 women found a reduction of hot flush frequency of 45 per cent compared to 29 per cent for placebo treatment.


Neck cooler

A handheld device with a small metal cold plate has been designed to stop hot flushes before they really start. It is held against the back of the neck at the first sign of symptoms, and is designed to re-set the body's natural heat controls whose malfunctioning is thought to be involved in hot flushes. The Menopod, which is being used in a clinical trial, is designed to be effective within one minute. A trial of the device at Queen’s University in Canada comes in the wake of anecdotal reports of women having immediate easing of hot flush symptoms when they place something cold on their neck, like a chilled soft drink can.


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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  • Eleanor

    Posted: Tuesday 04 March 2014

    Hi Ladies. I am 56 experiencing horrendous night sweats which wake me and disrupts my sleep. If I get 3-4 hrs a night I am lucky. I have tried everything HRT didn't agree with me stopped the sweats but gained weight, sore breasts and starting bleeding. Herbal remedies you name it I have tried them. Sage tablets. Menapause plus. If I could get a good nights sleep I could cope with anything!!!!

  • Jill Atkinson

    Posted: Tuesday 25 February 2014

    Don't just assume the symptoms are always menopausal. Get your iron levels thyroid & testosterone levels checked. Look at the symptoms separately so you don't miss anything. Best thing is talking it through with someone in the same situation .If you have a spouse /partner keep them up to speed with how you feel. We've never experienced this before so we are anxious and out of sorts. Make time for yourself to appreciate this. We can't do what we always have done so lighten up a bit. I could go on

  • Jean Watts

    Posted: Sunday 16 February 2014

    I just want to say to anyone who who is thinking about going on HRT if it suits you I would definetly recomend it the positive sides for me outwayed the negatives but i would not recommend staying on it as long as I did I have just come off it aged 67 and now at this age have to go through everything i Perhaps might have been finished now I will never know

  • Tambu charumbira

    Posted: Saturday 08 February 2014

    Im a woman aged 45 and i have a problem with scalp and forehead sweating.i started when i was in my thirties bt nowadays i sweat a lot and everymorning after a bath i feel weak and i also feel like there is no air aroun me. During the day i i expriance this attacks more than ten times, i hv fibroids and i wonder if they a cause. Pls help me i feel helpless and the sweating embarass me a lot aoz i work with the public.

  • Pam

    Posted: Thursday 06 February 2014

    Have been having hot flushes since age 45 am now 73yrs old have found that Remifemin from chemist helps but still get flushes not so many of them tho just might help others that are suffering this debilitating pest of a thing. Thank you cheers Pam.

  • SORAYA

    Posted: Wednesday 05 February 2014

    LADIES I HAVE HOT FLUSHES AFTER A HYSTORECTOMY LAST YEAR AND HAVE TRIED EVERYTHING, I HAVE 30 PLUS EVERY DAY AND NIGHT, ITS AWFUL. THEN I READ THAT YOU SHOULD RUN YOUR WRISTS INDER THE COLD TAP WHEN YOU ARE HAVING A HOT FLUSH. IT WORKS!!!!!!! IT STOPS THE HOT FLUSH IN ITS TRACKS!!!!!! PLEASES TRY XX

  • lilian street

    Posted: Monday 20 January 2014

    i would be grateful for any advice on how to eliev aageiate hot flushes/ night seats in old have sufferede, andage. I am 73 yrs f ageee and stopped taking HRT three yrs ago after surgerystery for have overysterectomy. i still have my overies. please advice

  • Sofia

    Posted: Wednesday 08 January 2014

    After trying everything like all herbs, magnet & flaxseed, I found out by searching that the apple cider vinegar is working good for hot flashes. I couldnt find organic one but over the counter is helping so much. You have to take 2 table spoon with a glass of water morning and before bed. Its good also overall to your health. It might help u too.

  • joan

    Posted: Friday 03 January 2014

    I was having hot flushes 24/7 and feeling so tired all the time .I researched a lot of remedies and even made the cake,which was awful.Eventually I found that changing my diet to non dairy,and less red meats,plus the supplement Menopace,helped a great deal.Also eating 1 pear a day and drinking more water and less hot drinks.Just one more thing for hot flushes in the daytime,a small fan to have with you at all times.

  • Andrea

    Posted: Thursday 26 December 2013

    I'm 53 and haven't had a period for 6 months. I've been having hot flushes for the last 3 months. Often they are as frequent as every 15 minutes and at other times maybe 3 or 4 times a day. They are quite awful! I feel a general feeling of heat starting then there's a tingling and extreme sweating and heat where I can't bear anything warm touching me. I stand outside in the cold and waft air up my top. I see one of the possible remedies is Gabapentin - it doesn't help!

  • Valerie

    Posted: Thursday 26 December 2013

    I am 73 next month and having hot flushes opprox 8 a day + 6 or more through the night cannot sleep.I took HRT in my 50's but this has been going on almost a year please help

  • olindadsouza

    Posted: Saturday 07 December 2013

    hot water bath also can give relief of hot flashes. tablet like primosa could help some ladies. and cold milk.

  • karen wilson

    Posted: Tuesday 03 December 2013

    reading all the comments here, i now feel that i am not alone, hot flushes are the worst, several in the morning, lots in the evening and bad at night, makes me feel dizzy, sick and its almost like someone has taken all the air out of the room, i am 56 yrs old and been feeling like this for about 3 yrs. also i was worried about all the pain in my legs arms and back, until i read it here i never put it down to the change.
    never thought i would say it but i cant wait for the snow to arrive. help

  • Helenc

    Posted: Monday 18 November 2013

    I have just started with the hot flushes and night sweats. They came from nowhere.
    I am determined to find something to alleviate/stop them, but like most of you the DRs seemed resigned to the fact that there is no cure. I'm scared of HRT and its side effects. I'm also glad(well, not glad if you know what I mean) that some of you have other symptoms, like achy hips arms n legs.My GP didn't think it was anything to do with it. I will write a diary to prove them wrong.

  • Claire

    Posted: Sunday 17 November 2013

    Im 47 and have been experiencing hot flushes for the past few months. Recently I got a repeat prescription for my asthma pump. .and have noticed that these flushes are greatly reduced or non existent if i have two puffs in the morning and two before bed. Might be coincidence but definitely eradicates the flushes for me. Today not having used the pump I've had two burners and been dripping in sweat so there's definitely something in the breathing idea

  • celila frampton

    Posted: Monday 04 November 2013

    I am 70yrs old.I have been on hrt for approx. 25 yrs.having come off
    9months ago.Am experiencing 6-7 debilitating hot flushes day and are not lessen ing.I have had a thyroid test as my mum had thyroid pro's.can you suggest any help,have tried herbal remedies.
    But I feel so. Depleted.
    Kind regards.Celia.

  • Fiona

    Posted: Tuesday 29 October 2013

    My periods stopped at 47, I'm now 51 and have had these flushes since my period stopped. Tried everything under the sun to help them but no avail. Had prescribed drugs, herbal you name it. Dr refused HRT due to the risks, but can anyone offer any help. I never thought that it would affect me for so long, 4 years now and the flushes are as bad as ever.

  • Sakile

    Posted: Thursday 24 October 2013

    I am 45yrs and been having hot flushes and nights sweats and this had been going for more three months. I cant sleep or do anything without being attacked by this horrible thing and this is lowered myself esteem I wanted a baby but I am worried now this could be the end of it. I still receive my periods on and off.

  • Angela Chambers

    Posted: Tuesday 22 October 2013

    Hi
    im 48 now in the last year i have had missed periods and hot flushes which are not pleasant quite a few times day and night
    then 3 months break from sweats 3 months periods then no periods for 2 months started to take sage drops but not sure if they helping. i do an hours exercise a day either walking or gym or swimming. can you recommend any other herbalremedy. oh must mention my colestrol is 7.0 and docs put me on atovastin. could the menopause have an effect on this reading?

  • Shelly

    Posted: Thursday 10 October 2013

    I am 49 & have recently begun to experience hot flushes, day & night, but usually worse at night. I would be interested to hear what other people's FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) levels are, as DR said mine were high - 160. I have a Prolactinoma (Pituitary tumour), but he discounted that as having an effect on the high levels of FSH. Help! This is torture - hate these flushes, no sleep, no energy, no sex life! If this is the future then I dread it! I take Menopace, Isoflavones & Sage.

  • < 1 2 3 4  >

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