By CAMILLE SWEENEY
AFTER six years on a prescription estrogen patch that alleviated her hot flashes, but did nothing to address her midlife 25-pound weight gain, Martha B. started searching for a natural alternative to treat her menopausal symptoms.
“When I couldn’t button my size 12 jeans, I just told myself ‘Enough’s enough,’ ” said the 57-year-old teacher who lives in Atlanta and requested that her full name not be used.
She turned to an over-the-counter supplement called Estroven, with ingredients that include black cohosh and phytoestrogens — botanical compounds found in soy and other plants that have been shown to have estrogenlike effects in humans.
Without changing her eating habits, Martha said she lost 20 pounds. But after four months off the patch, the hot flashes came back. Now, she said, she is wondering, “What do I do next?”
According to experts, about 70 percent of women experience hot flashes, weight gain, loss of libido and other symptoms as they transition from their fertile to postfertile years and their hormone levels fluctuate sharply. It’s a process that lasts an average of seven years.
Gynecologists estimate that a third of women seeking treatment for menopausal symptoms are on conventional prescription hormones. Another third are on prescription bio-identical therapy. (Bio-identical hormones are synthesized compounds that mimic the molecular structure of human hormones and are derived from plants.)
The remaining third either tough it out, are not bothered by symptoms or are searching for over-the-counter therapies, including natural supplements and topical creams. They may try, for example, a supplement of phytoestrogens derived from soy and red clover, a low-dose progesterone cream, or swear by black cohosh capsules.
In 2002, when the initial findings of a National Institutes of Health study — known as the Women’s Health Initiative project — suggested that women on conventional hormone therapy were at greater risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke and blood clotting, the market for alternative treatments soared. There are now more than 500 products that purport to relieve symptoms associated with menopause, including capsules, tablets, teas, gels and creams. In the United States, the dietary supplement market associated with menopause has grown to $337 million in 2007 (the last year tabulated) from $211 million in 1999, according to the Nutrition Business Journal, a trade publication.
“Ten years ago, it used to be that if you were a certain age, your doctor would hand you a prescription for hormone pills and that would be that,” said Karen Giblin, the director of Red Hot Mamas, an organization that offers educational programs and information on menopause. “Women were popping them like M&M’s. Now, so many women I speak with want to go natural. I call it ‘Happy Hour at the health food store.’ I see them there, say, at the Whole Foods, women of a certain age, poring over the labels of capsules and creams.”
But some, like Rebecca Hulem, a nurse practitioner and menopause coach in Agoura Hills, Calif., said there is confusion about the products. “Many of my patients come in with a bag of stuff they’ve been trying a few weeks here, a few months there, and tell me, ‘Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t,’ ” she said. “They’re relying on word-of-mouth and Internet research or they go by the marking on the label.”
“Women have to be sophisticated consumers about their own health and whatever they’re taking, and ask themselves, ‘Is it safe? Is it effective?’ ” said Dr. Winnifred Cutler, author of “Hormones and Your Health: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Hormonal and Alternative Therapies for Menopause” (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). “Just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s good for you.”
But some experts contend it is not the products that are harmful, but how they are used. “I think over all these products are generally safe, but must be taken in the right circumstances and in conjunction with a mindfully healthy approach to life if they are going to be effective at all,” said Dr. Theresa Ramsey, director of the Center for Natural Healing in Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Still, some studies have questioned the efficacy of progesterone creams, and whether they can even be adequately absorbed through the skin. Other experts have suggested that even small amounts of progesterone can accumulate in fat cells and disrupt the production and synthesis of other hormones. Some studies suggest that the use of soy supplements may lead to an increased risk of breast cancer and other hormone-related cancers in some women.
“There is a lot of confusion,” said Dee Adams, who runs minniepauz.com, a Web site devoted to menopause. “A lot of women went cold turkey after the Women’s Health Initiative results came out. They stopped trusting their doctors. They stopped trusting the pharmaceutical companies. Many see these natural treatments as a way of taking back control of their bodies. The problem is, we have no idea of what’s in them.”
Dr. Tod Cooperman, director of consumerLab.com, a private health, wellness and nutrition product-testing lab, said last year his company studied more than a dozen menopause products. Five failed to gain the lab’s approval, including two products that contained less soy and red clover than their labels indicated, and a black cohosh product in which traces of lead were found.
“Whether or not a product actually contains an ingredient and how much of it, we can’t say,” said Dr. Norman Farnsworth, the principal investigator of a 12-month study of black cohosh and red clover, a collaboration between the Center for Botanical Dietary Supplements Research of the University of Illinois at Chicago and at Northwestern University. The study was paid for by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Office of Dietary Supplements. Results are due in the fall, and the study’s researchers are hoping it will help determine the efficacy of the ingredients associated with menopause symptom relief.
But, the fact remains that even if black cohosh, for example, is found to deliver on its promise to reduce hot flashes, women may still find themselves confused when they are about to reach for something off the shelf.
“There could be a lot of sawdust in there,” Dr. Farnsworth said.
More Online Information: Natural Remedies for Hot Flashes
- Hot Flashes & Night Sweats – Alternative Remedies
- Herbal remedies for women with hot flashes include:
- 1. plants that cool the system, such as chickweed, elder and violet;
2. plants that nourish or increase oxygen utilization in the liver, such as dong quai, dandelion, Ho Shou Wu (polygonum multiflorum) and yellow dock; and
3. plants rich in phytosterols, such as black cohosh.
Herbs and supplements found helpful by Dr. Susan Lark in her medical practice include dong quai, black cohosh, blue cohosh, unicorn root, fennel, sarsaparilla, red clover, wild yam root, yam, bioflavonoids and vitamin E. Dr. Michael Murray finds the four most useful herbs for treatment of hot flashes to be dong quai, licorice root, chasteberry (vitex) and black cohosh.
- 1. plants that cool the system, such as chickweed, elder and violet;
- Hot flashes, Night Sweats: What Can I Do About Hot Flashes and Night Sweats? Power Surge
Hot flashes are sudden waves of heat that can start in the waist or chest and work their way to the neck and face and sometimes over the rest of the body. The upper body, from the chest to the scalp may begin to sweat profusely. You may also “flush,” that is, become red as you flash. Natural remedies work in conjunction with a healthy diet and adequate exercise and tend to work more slowly. . . Evening primrose oil alleviates hot flashes and promotes restful sleep.
- Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Estroven Maximum Strength
Having turned 52, I was having a very hard time with the constant “flashing” related to menopause. I looked over the array of products available at the store and chose this one. I’m glad I did, as it absolutely works for me. I ran out of it at one point and did not run out to replace it right away. Within a few days, those flashes were right back. I RAN to the store and bought the product again and within a week, I was back to normal. No flashes. I will never run out of it again. It just works.
Searchers related: Natural Remedies for Hot Flashes During Menopause
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