Women who decide not to supplement their declining levels of estrogen with prescription hormones may want to choose from a variety of “natural” remedies that may help relieve their menopausal symptoms. Black cohosh root may bring some relief from hot flashes (medically known as vasomotor symptoms or VMS), with potentially fewer side effects than estrogen. Creams made from wild yam extract converted in a lab into a form of progesterone have been promoted by some alternative practitioners for the treatment of hot flashes and vaginal dryness, although little research has been done on their safety or efficacy. These products are sold as an alternative to synthetic progesterone (or progestin).
Be sure to talk with your doctor before trying these alternative remedies, as some supplements interact with prescription medication or may harm people with certain medical conditions.
Here’s the rundown on alternative treatments:
Experts have long known that Japanese women, who eat large quantities of soy, suffer fewer hot flashes than women in the West, and preliminary studies in the United States support this observation.
If you want to try soy, check the grocery or health-food store for foods like tofu, tempeh, miso, soy milk, and roasted soy nuts. Many experts advise against taking soy powder until further research is done.
Black cohosh root has long been heralded by herbalists as an effective remedy for various menopause-related complaints. Germany’s Ministry of Health has approved the herb for the treatment of hot flashes. In one study, 80 women who took it for three months cut their average number of hot flashes from five a day to just one.
However, the National Institutes of Health conducted a clinical trial and found no difference between women who took black cohosh and those who took a placebo, or dummy pill, when it came to how many hot flashes they had. And research published in the journal Menopause showed that black cohosh had no effect on symptoms such as vaginal dryness or changes in reproductive hormones.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine says there is not yet enough scientific evidence to draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of black cohosh in relieving menopausal symptoms.
Black cohosh extract is available at most health-food stores; the majority of the studies have used the product Remifemin at a dose of 40 milligrams per day.
(Caution: There have been reports of liver damage from some commercial black cohosh products, although it is not clear if the black cohosh itself was to blame, according to the National Institutes of Health. If you notice any symptoms of liver damage when taking black cohosh, such as abdominal swelling or dark urine, stop taking the herb and see a doctor immediately.)
The Chinese herbal remedy dong quai is frequently promoted as a treatment for