The list of botanicals that have great value for menopause, including some like black cohosh, which have been demonstrated to be superior to hormone replacement therapy, is impressive. But there are quite a few which are less well known, such as pine bark extract and ginseng...
The past few years have seen an important proliferation of choices for women looking for natural menopause solutions.
Flax: Improves Life More than Hormone Replacement Therapy
A very exciting 3-month study compared four groups: 5g of flaxseed + training about menopause, 5g of flaxseed without training about menopause, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or a control group that received no therapy. Menopause symptoms improved by 9% in the flax group, 9.8% in the flax/training group, 10% in the HRT group and got worse by 7% in the control group, meaning that flax is similarly effective to HRT. Actually, though, it's better. Because Quality of Life scores declined even more in the HRT group than in the group that did nothing, but improved in the flaxseed group (1). So flax improves life for menopausal women more than hormones do.
Hops: Help for Physical & Psychological Symptoms
The herb hops contains prenylcaringenin, a powerful phytoestrogen. So, this double-blind, placebo-controlled study tried giving either 500mg of hops or a placebo to 120 women with hot flashes for 90 days. On the Greene Menopausal Scale, the women on hops had significantly lower total symptom scores: there was a 90% decrease in the hops group versus only a 3.6% drop in the placebo group. The women had significantly better scores for anxiety and depression, physical symptoms, hot flashes and loss of interest in sex. Hot flashes dropped by 94.5% in the hops group but by only 0.8% in the placebo group. The hops was very safe: there were no adverse events (2).
Ginkgo, Menopause & Libido
And, speaking of loss of interest in sex, because many women experience some loss of libido with menopause, researchers conducted a triple-blind, placebo-controlled study to see if Ginkgo biloba could help. 63 menopausal women were given either 120-240mg of Ginkgo biloba extract or a placebo for 4 weeks. Sexual desire significantly improved in the ginkgo group compared to the placebo group: 64.5% of the ginkgo group reported moderate to great sexual desire compared to only 34.4% of the placebo group (3).
A double-blind study gave either 500mg of fenugreek seed husk extract or a placebo twice a day to 88 menopausal women. All of the women were suffering moderate to severe discomfort and were experiencing 3-5 hot flashes a day. The women who took the fenugreek had significantly greater improvement on the Greene Climacteric Scale. The women who got the placebo had little improvement: from 34.25 at the beginning of the study to 30.49 at the end; the women who got the fenugreek had significantly greater improvement: from 34.83 to 19.64. Hot flashes decreased by 47.8% on fenugreek, and 32% of the women who took fenugreek had no hot flashes at all. There was also significant improvement in night sweats (57.1%), insomnia (75%) and headaches (53.9%) compared to placebo. Vaginal dryness improved significantly more in the fenugreek group.
Fenugreek was also superior to placebo for psychological symptoms. Mood swings improved by a significant 68.2%. Depression, anxiety and loss of sexual desire all improved significantly more on fenugreek. Compared to placebo, there was also a significant improvement in quality of life in the fenugreek group. The women who took fenugreek experienced improvements in physical and mental fatigue, concentration and interest in daily work as well as overall health, mental health and well-being.
The fenugreek also reduced total cholesterol, the dangerous LDL cholesterol and triglycerides without lowering the heart healthy HDL cholesterol in women who had elevated cholesterol. As we will see soon, this additional benefit does not come as a surprise.
In the fenugreek group, estradiol increased by 120% versus less than 5% in the placebo group. The researchers say that the increase in estrogen and the improvement in menopause symptoms "point towards the establishment of a healthy hormonal balance." There was no toxicity and no adverse events in the fenugreek group (4).
Fennel: a Brand New Herb for Menopause
Here's a new herb for helping you get through menopause. Actually, it's not a new herb at all. But it's new for menopause. This just published study found that fennel can help get you through the symptoms of menopause. The study was triple-blinded and included 90 postmenopausal women. Half the women got a placebo for 8 weeks while half the women took 100mg of fennel twice a day. Though the women had the same severity of symptoms at the beginning of the study, at the end, the women on the fennel had a significant reduction in scores on the Menopause Rating Scale. They were already doing significantly better by the first time they were retested: week 4. In the placebo group, on the other hand, there was no significant improvement. The difference between the ineffective placebo and the effective herb was significant at weeks 4, 8 and 10 (5).
Tomato Juice: Totally New and Unexpected
Here's something totally new and unexpected. Tomato juice helps menopause. What's more, it also helps blood fats. That's a new use of tomato juice and a new option for menopausal women. The study included 93 menopausal women. 41 were premenopausal, 17 were perimenopausal, 28 were postmenopausal and 7 had their menopause medically or surgically induced. The women drank 200ml of unsalted tomato juice 2 times a day for 8 weeks.
At both 4 weeks and 8 weeks, the tomato juice significantly decreased scores on the Menopause Symptom Scale (MSS). The MSS measures hot flashes, sweating, chills, heartbeat, headache, fatigue, aching joints or muscles, depression, insomnia, and irritability. The tomato juice also significantly improved scores on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), showing that tomato juice helps both the physical and psychological symptoms of menopause.
The tomato juice also significantly lowered triglycerides and had a beneficial effect on heart rate. These effects are important because menopause may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. The tomato juice also significantly increased resting energy expenditure, the rate at which the resting body continues to burn calories.
Though not a controlled study, this study provides the surprising suggestion that tomato juice may be a very safe and affordable way of improving several of the aspects of menopause (6).
Exercise & Hot Flashes
Surprisingly, no one has ever asked what the impact of exercising is on hot flashes in menopausal women. Well, now someone finally has.
When 21 post-menopausal women underwent 16 weeks of moderate intensity exercise training, blood vessel dilation, cerebral blood flow, sweating and skin temperature during hot flashes improved, meaning that exercise reduced the severity of the symptoms of a hot flash. The exercise started at 30 minutes of low-to-moderate exercise 3 times a week and increased to 45 minutes of more intense exercise 4-5 times a week.
A second part of the study used "passive heat stress" to induce hot flashes in post-menopausal women. Some of them underwent 16 weeks of moderate intensity exercise training, and some of them who didn't serve as a control group. Training led to significant improvement in hot flashes and hot flash severity and led to greater improvements in hot flash sweating and blood vessel dilation.
So, this study answers the question of whether exercise helps hot flashes. And the answer is yes (7)!
Lavender: Inhaling Your Hot Flashes Away
This double-blind, placebo-controlled study looked at whether something as simple as lavender aromatherapy could help menopausal women with hot flashes.
The lavender was administered to 100 menopausal women for 20 minutes twice a week for 12 weeks. The women in the lavender group had significantly fewer hot flashes: 10.58 a week versus 19.7 (8).
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2. Aghamiri V, Mirghafourvand M, Mohammad-Alizadeh-Charandabi S, et al. The effect of Hop (Humulus lupulus L.) on early menopausal symptoms and hot flashes: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. Complement Ther Clin Pract 2016;23:130-5.
3. Mina Amiri Pebdani, Simin Taavoni, Naima Seyedfatemi, et al. Triple-blind, placebo-controlled trial of Ginkgo biloba extract on sexual desire in postmenopausal women in Tehran. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res 2014;19:262-5.
4. Shamshad Begum S, Jayalakshmi HK, Vidyavathi HG, et al. A Novel Extract of Fenugreek Husk (FenuSMART™) Alleviates Postmenopausal Symptoms and Helps to Establish the Hormonal Balance: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Phytother Res 2016;30(11):1775-84.
5. Rahimikian F, Rahimi R, Golzareh P, et al. Effect of Foeniculum vulgare Mill. (fennel) on menopausal symptoms in postmenopausal women: a randomized, triple-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Menopause 2017 [epub ahead of print];doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000881.
6. Hirose A, Terauchi M, Tamura M, et al. Tomato juice intake increases resting energy expenditure and improves hypertriglyceridemia in middle-aged women: an open-label, single-arm study. Nutr J 2015;14:34.