Modern Women in Australia are now more conscious of what we are putting into our bodies than in any other time.
In the past, the only therapy for treating the symptoms of menopause was Hormone Replacement Therapy. And even though it has come a long way, HRT still has a bit of a 'reputation'. And there has been scientific evidence that HRT slightly increases the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and very rarely, uterine cancer. Although the risks are very small, they are still risks. So if you are looking for a natural supplement for your menopause - let's look at the current options available, and the pro's and con's of each!
Important Things to Look Out For When Buying Natural Supplements for Menopause
Your health is so important. And when it comes to natural supplements, there isn't any strict medical standard like there is for traditional medicine. So when choosing natural supplements to treat menopause - ensure the following:
- Look for Australian Made products. Australia has the strictest 'food' standards in the world.
- Beware of fake supplements from overseas sold on Ebay and Amazon. They might be cheap, that's because they probably aren't real. They could even contain harmful ingredients.
- Check the ingredients to ensure you are getting the active ingredient you are looking for.
The following are the most popular natural supplements for menopause. We go through each ingredient, where it comes from, what it has been used for and if there is any science behind the ingredients.
Black Cohosh is from a perennial plant that is native to North America. It is also known as 'snakeroot', 'black bugbane', 'rattleweed' or 'macrotys'. Native Americans used Black Cohosh to treat musculoskeletal pain, fevers, coughs and pneumonia. They also used Black Cohosh to to treat menstrual issues and to relieve the symptoms of menopause. Black Cohosh is a tall flowering plant that is a member of the 'Buttercup' family. It is available in different forms, including capsules, tablets, liquid tinctures and dried root for a tea.
Black Cohosh supplements today are used to treat menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, vaginal dryness and sleep disturbances. It is not recommended for pregnant women, people who have liver problems. The recommended dosage for Black Cohosh in safe levels is 20 - 80mg per day.
Con's of Using Black Cohosh:
In 2007 the Australian Department of Health required that all over the counter products containing Black Cohosh be labeled with the statement: 'Warning: Black Cohosh may harm the liver in some individuals. Use under supervision of a healthcare professional". The US followed suit in 2008.
There has also been concern that Black Cohosh may contain plant-based estrogens which can stimulate the growth of breast tumours.
How to Buy Black Cohosh:
Remifemin is available at most Chemists and contains Black Cohosh. It has been on the market worldwide for over 40 years, and 80% of women who tried Remifemin said that it relieved the symptoms of menopause after six weeks.
Vitex is a natural supplement made from the Chaste Tree or Chasteberry which is a tree commonly grown in the Mediterranean. Vitex has been used since ancient times to increase fertility, to reduce symptoms of premenstrual symptoms, to clear up acne, to repel insects like mosquitoes, and to ease the symptoms of menopause.
Fun fact: in the middle ages, Monks took Vitex to reduce their libido (but don't worry - it has no effect of women!).
Researchers believe that Vitex works by decreasing the levels of the hormone prolactin. When prolactin is reduced, this helps rebalance other hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. Small scientific studies have been done on the effective treatment of Vitex, which msot showing improved mood, better sleep and a reduction of hot flushes. Other potential benefits of taking Vitex include:
Bone Repair (important in menopause)
Epilepsy prevention (only in animal studies)
The Con's of taking Vitex:
It is believed that Vitex can interfere with antipsychotic medications, so anyone taking antidepressants should not take Vitex without medical supervision. Vitex can also interefore with birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy. So always let your Doctor know if you are taking natural supplements.
Dong Quai has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over two thousand years. Dong Quai is a fragrant plant that grows at high altitudes in the cold mountains of China, Korea and Japan. Dong Quai is a perennial plant that is a member of the celery and parsley family. It takes three years for the plant to reach maturity, before being harvested for the roots which is dried and ground and made into tablets, powders and teas.
Dong Quai is still used in Chinese Medicine today to treat women's reproductive issues. In fact Dong Quai is given to women via injection form at hospitals and health centers.
Dong Quai is used to treat menopausal symptoms such as menstrual cramps, hot flushes, migraines and PMS. It is also used to treat premature ejaculation when applied to the skin of the penis. There is little scientific evidence about the health benefits of Dong Quai and no clinical trials have proved its reported benefits. However some lab tests have revealed that Dong Quai contains compounds that can reduce pain, and opens blood vessels in the body.
Con's of Dong Quai:
The essential oil of Dong Quai has a small amount of cancer-causing substances. It can also act as an estrogen in the body so people who suffer from hormone related cancers should avoid Dong Quai. It is dangerous if taken in large amounts.
The Evening Primrose plant grows all over the world but is native to North America and has a bright yellow flower that blooms of an evening. The oil is extracted from the seeds and contains lots of omega-6 fatty acids and linoleic acid.
Although Evening Primrose Oil has been popular as a natural supplement to treat hot flushes and cramps associated with menopause, there are no scientific claims to back this up.
The Con's of Taking Evening Primrose Oil:
Evening Primrose Oil can thin the blood, so anyone with a blood or bleeding disorder should avoid taking it. Doctors will always recommend patients who are undergoing surgery to stop taking Evening Primrose Oil at least two weeks before surgery.
A scientific study into the effectiveness of Evening Primrose Oil in reducing hot flushes was conducted in May 2018. Results showed although Evening Primrose Oil did not significantly decrease the occurence of hot flushes, participants did report less frequency and severity of night sweats.
Worldwide, ginseng is one of the most popular natural supplements. It has been used for over five thousand years in Korean and Chinese Medicine for the treatment of various conditions. Ginseng contain 'ginsenosides' which have a fantastic anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Ginsenosides also assist in reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and also keeping blood sugar levels in check.
Scientific studies into ginseng for treating menopause are extensive and extremely positive. Most studies prove that ginseng can significantly reduce hot flushes and associated menopausal symptoms.
The Con's of Using Korean Ginseng:
Korean Red Ginseng can interfere with other medications, so always check with your doctor before taking any natural supplement. Korean Red Ginseng can also keep you awake, so ensure you always take it in the morning.
Women who have a history of breast cancer, pregnant women and breastfeeding women should not take Korean Red Ginseng supplements.
Horny Goat Weed is from the Epimedium plant and is also known as 'Barrenwort'. The species is native to China and has been used in traditional Chinese Medicine for over two thousand years. Horny Goat Week contains 'phytoestrogens' which act similarly in the body to the hormone estrogen. As menopause causes a reduction in the body's estrogen levels, it kind of makes sense to replace estrogen with a supplement that is similar. But does it really work?
Horny Goat Weed has been known to increase blood flow, so it is traditionally taken for erectile dysfunction, for people who have weak and brittle bones, and also to ease the symptoms of menopause.
Scientific studies into Horny Goat Weed shows that it really has 'limited health benefits'. It is also possibly unsafe when taken for a long period of time, or in high doses. However, there is possibly therapeutic benefits for congestive heart failure and osteoporosis (but in rats).
7. Red Clover
Red Clover is a small flowering plant native to Albania. Traditionally it is consumed in a tea. It has a fruity and floral taste. Red Clover has been used as a topical ointment to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and other skin rashes. It has also been used as a short term cough remedy. As Red Clover may increase the effects of estrogen in the body, it is used as a supplement to menopausal women to ease symptoms.
Scientific Studies on Red Clover: The active ingredient in Red Clover is 'isoflavones' which have been associated with an increase in 'good cholesterol'. It also may have blood thinning properties, so should not be taken before surgery.
The Con's of Red Clover:
In some people, Red Clover can cause headaches, nausea and skin rashes.
These are the most commonly used supplements to treat symptoms of menopause. I think it's important to read the science behind each of them to see if they are really going to work for you. Please also be aware of the side-effects. Even though supplements aren't 'controlled' - it doesn't mean that they are safe to take.
By now, we've all heard about the infamous hot flushes, mood swings, and those sleepless nights that menopause can bring. But today, we’re setting sail into uncharted waters, exploring the mysterious, the lesser-known, and the downright quirky symptoms of menopause. Fasten your seat belts (or better yet, pour yourself a cuppa or a glass of bubbly) because we're diving deep!
You've done it! Made an appointment with a Menopause Doctor about your Perimenopausal symptoms! That's great - and a huge step in the right direction. But what should you expect during the appointment - and what will the Doctor ask you? It's always good to be prepared before your first appointment.