(NaturalNews) Physicians should recommend herbal medicines and complementary therapies to women seeking relief from the symptoms of menopause, according to a study conducted by researchers from Brown University and published in The Obstetrician and Gynecologist (TOG).
The research review compared the advantages and disadvantages of various herbal and complementary treatments for menopause symptoms with the once popular but now-discredited hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
"Up to 75 percent of women use herbal and complementary medicines to treat their postmenopausal symptoms," study author Iris Tong said. "Therefore, it is vitally important for healthcare providers to be aware of and informed about the non-pharmacological therapies available for women who are experiencing postmenopausal symptoms and who are looking for an alternative to HRT."
Menopause, considered to begin 12 months after a woman's final menstrual period, is associated with a dramatic drop in estrogen levels. This change in hormone levels may produce a wide range of symptoms including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, urinary tract infections, urinary incontinence, sexual dysfunction, joint pain, and sleep and mood disturbances. For women who actually become deficient in estrogen, long-term health problems such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease may result.
HRT became popular in the mid-1990s, and was promoted by drug companies as a way to relieve the symptoms of menopause. Pharmaceutical giant Wyeth is also being sued for illegally marketing the drugs for uses that had never been proven, such as reducing the risk of Alzheimer's and heart disease.
The use of HRT plummeted after the 2002 Women's Health Initiative study showed that the drugs dramatically increased women's risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and successive studies showed that they also increased the risk of breast cancer and dementia. In 2009, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine declared the link between HRT and breast cancer conclusively proven, citing a dramatic drop in cancer rates among women who had abandoned the treatment, compared with those who had continued with it.
The most well studied herbal treatments for menopause symptoms are soy, red clover and black cohosh, all of which contain plant-based estrogen mimics. The researchers found that between 50 and 75 percent of post-menopausal women use at least one such herbal therapy.
Based on a review of prior studies, the researchers found that 20 to 55 percent of women taking soy experience relief from hot flashes. Studies have also supported the effectiveness of red clover and black cohosh.
Tong said that no significant adverse effects of these therapies have been reported, except in women at high risk of breast cancer or with a personal history of the disease, or those taking the cancer drug tamoxifen. She warned; however, that a lack of regulation means that quality may vary dramatically between different herbal products.
TOG's editor-in-chief, Jason Waugh, noted that there are other, even less invasive but still effective ways to relieve menopause symptoms.
"Even simple behavior modification can make a difference to postmenopausal symptoms, including keeping the room temperature cool, wearing layered clothing, relaxation techniques and smoking cessation," he said.