According to a new review of 62 studies, natural estrogen-like compounds in soy foods called isoflavones, and some herbal remedies, may help reduce menopause symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
But not all complementary therapies have an effect.
Hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness are common symptoms of menopause, affecting up to 80 percent of menopausal women. Many women try herbs or other natural health products to manage these symptoms, but these products may not be useful or safe.
The researchers extracted data from 62 randomized controlled trials of plant-based alternative therapies and their effects on hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness: 36 addressed phytoestrogens – estrogen-like molecules from plants such as soy or red clover, 16 tested black cohosh and 10 tested other medicinal herbs.
Together, the trials included more than 6,600 women ranging in age from 18 to 75 years old, and followed for between four weeks and two years.
Phytoestrogens help manage hot flashes, vaginal dryness
Using phytoestrogens was associated with fewer hot flashes during the day and with less vaginal dryness, but did not influence night sweats.
Some studies found taking black cohosh supplements eased overall menopause symptoms score but not specifically to fewer hot flashes or night sweats. Chinese medicinal herbs were not associated with a decrease in menopause symptoms.
Phytoestrogens like those found in soy can act like weak estrogen in the body, which may explain the beneficial effects on menopausal symptoms.
The long-term efficacy and safety of these plant-based therapies is unclear, however, and “healthy lifestyle changes such as weight control, exercise and smoking cessation should always be addressed.
Discuss natural or herbal products with your doctor before taking them, and ask about potential medication interactions.
Keep in mind there is little evidence for long-term effectiveness – or risks – of plant based therapies, since most studies only last 12 to 16 weeks.
Source: JAMA, online June 21, 2016.
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