A Reluctance to take HRT (hormone replacement therapy) is wise, given the number of studies high-lighting the serious side-effects associated with it. Indeed, in 2003, the chairman of the German Commission on the Safety of Medicines, Professor Bruno Muller-Oerlinghausen, called HRT "the new thalidomide" and branded it "a national and international tragedy".
HRT doubles the risk of breast cancer, and raises the risks of heart attack, blood clots and stroke. It has been responsible for an extra 20,000 cases of breast cancer in the UK alone over the past 10 years (Lancet, 2003; 362: 419-27), and was recently linked to a significantly increased risk of stroke (BMJ, 2005; 330: 342).
But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
After being scared off HRT, women began trying various phytoestrogens, which have been dismissed as either ineffective or dangerous (Drug Saf, 2005; 28: 1085-100). For example, the plant oestrogens equol and enterolactone were found to stimulate the growth of oestrogen-dependent breast cancer cells (Breast Cancer Res Treat, 1987; 10: 169-75).
So, if HRT is unadvisable and soy is suspect (see WDDTY vol 16 no 8) for menopausal symptoms, what else is there?
* Aromatherapy uses essential oils extracted from the flowers, leaves, fruit, bark or roots of medicinal plants. Aromatherapy massage works on the nervous system through the senses of both smell and touch.
A small study carried out in Japan found that aromatherapy can help women with menopausal symptoms. Fifteen women were examined by a gynaecologist before receiving a 30-minute aromatherapy session, involving a consultation, massage and home-massage guidance. All reported significant improvement in their symptoms (J Altern Complement Med, 2005; 11: 491-4).
Sage is said to ease tension and depression as well as balance hormones, while chamomile together with lavender can improve relaxation and calm nerves. Juniper, lavender or rosemary can ease muscle and joint pain, while lavender and peppermint can relieve headache.
* Phytonutrients. Increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables can balance your intake of plant nutrients by reducing the likelihood of your consuming overly large amounts of any one phytochemical. One study showed that women who followed such a diet were at lower risk of premature death from all causes (JAMA, 2000; 283: 2109-15). Foods high in phytonutrients include tomatoes, broccoli, garlic, citrus fruit, blueberries, apples, carrots, spinach, green tea and lentils.
* Omega-3 fatty acids. A Swedish study found that these essential fatty acids can help with menopausal problems, and may also help to prevent postmenopausal osteoporosis, breast cancer and cardiovascular disease (Obstet Gynecol Surv, 2004; 59: 722-30). Omega-3s lower triglycerides, high levels of which are associated with heart disease, particularly in women.
* Flavonoids. There is increasing interest in the possible health benefits of these antioxidant plant pigments owing to their ability to protect against free-radical damage. The flavonoid hesperidin, found in citrus fruits, combined with 1200 mg/day of vitamin C has been found to relieve hot flushes (Chic Med, 1964; 67: 193-5).
* Vitamin E. This can alleviate menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, mood swings and vaginal dryness (NY State Med, 1952; 52: 1289). Taking 400 IU of vitamin E twice daily for four weeks significantly reduced the occurrence of hot flushes (J Clin Oncol, 1998; 16: 495-500).
* Exercise. Observational studies have shown that regular exercise can help relieve the symptoms of menopause (Am Fam Physician, 2002; 66: 1; Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2002; 34: 2115-23).
* Metabolic diet. Although the studies are few, many practitioners suggest following a diet that is right for your metabolic type (see WDDTY vol 15 no 10).
* Homeopathy. Many homeopathic remedies can help with the discomforts of menopause. Consult a qualified homeopath to find the ones best for you and your symptoms.