The use of herbal remedies for menopause has grown in popularity because they provide relief with less risk than prescription drugs. These often include certain vegetables that contain phytoestrogens, which are very much like the female hormone estrogen, and wild yam which is similar to the other female sex hormone progesterone.
The two primary kinds of phytoestrogens are isoflavones, which are present in peas, soybeans, and chickpeas, and lignans that are available in flaxseeds, whole grains, and some fruits and vegetables.
Almost by accident, researchers discovered that Asian women whose diets were rich in phytoestrogens seemed to benefit from the protection phytoestrogens provided against heart disease and osteoporosis. They also experienced mild menopause symptoms.
Oddly, simply adding isoflavones to western diets seemed to have little if any effect whatsoever on women’s menopausal health. In fact, there is some worry that high levels of estrogen can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. At this point, researchers are continuing to gather information on soy products and their status on whether they are good choice.
My guess as to why western women don’t see the relief that Asian women see, is that the average American women’s body is already overburdened with estrogen from all the estrogenic chemicals in our environment and hormones in the meat supply.
Wild yam is another very popular herb for menopause. It contains phytoprogesterone, also known as phytoprogestins, and is used to make progesterone cream. Many women find that their menopause symptoms are not the result of being too low in estrogen, but rather too low in progesterone instead. Wild yam is a great alternative to synthetic drugs.
Black cohosh is another one of the favorite herbal remedies for menopause. It has been used effectively in northern Europe for over two decades and its use recently migrated into North America. Despite its increasing popularity, the data which has been gathered so far lacks clinical proof of solid benefits in alleviating menopause symptoms. The data does indicate that the benefits of black cohosh that have been noted are sporadic between women in both countries.
What researchers have determined, however, is that black cohosh is one of the safest herbs to use for relieving menopause symptoms because there is a low risk of side effects in the short term and its use is supported by the North American Menopause Society. Whether or not there are side effects in the long term have not yet been established.
Other herbs to help with menopause may be found in dong quai, chasteberry, licorice, flaxseed, borage seed oil, black currant seed oil, and evening primrose oil. Beyond herbs, there are many other natural remedies for menopause that can be helpful, like proper diet and exercise, meditation, deep breathing, avoidance of environmental toxins.
Before taking any herbal remedies for menopause, consider that everyone responds differently. One woman may respond positively to a particular herb, while another woman may not. For example, a woman who has too much estrogen in her body is not going to benefit from phytoestrogens, while a woman who has low levels of estrogen will. Also, note that herbs can interfere with some prescription medications and can minimize their effectiveness. Herbal medicine can be very powerful and can have side effects of its own.
Always consult your medical practitioner or herbalist before using any herbal remedies for menopause. Ask questions, read, educate yourself, and become an informed consumer.