Not long ago, a reader of a certain age contacted me with a problem. She’d begun suffering hot flashes and night sweats. With the cancer connection, she didn’t want to consider hormone replacement therapy.
But she was overwhelmed by conflicting information on natural alternatives. There are so many studies to sort through… and so many opposing views to consider.
My friend is not alone. So I dug into the subject. And discovered some of our firmest beliefs about menopause relief may be way off the mark.
In fact, a favorite “solution” may be more dangerous than it is helpful. Other herbal solutions could be making your life a whole lot easier. If you knew about them.
Black Cohosh: Not What It’s Cracked Up to Be?
No herb has been studied more extensively for menopausal relief than black cohosh. Native Americans used it centuries ago for “woman problems” – including menstrual pain and menopausal discomfort.
Many studies have found black cohosh is effective. And just as many have found it isn’t. Black cohosh may be the most studied herb for menopausal symptoms. But it isn’t necessarily the most effective.
The story of black cohosh is a bit more complex.
One factor in its favor: Black cohosh has opioid activity. Studies show black cohosh has an affinity for opioid receptors in many areas of the brain. Which may have a link to easing some effects of menopause.
A Chicago-based study linked the action of black cohosh to key factors of menopause: mood, body temperature, and sex hormone levels. Its opioid activity may affect all of these factors.
But black cohosh has another side. In some cases, it’s proven to be toxic to the liver. Researchers have found it may contribute to several forms of liver disease.
A 2010 review of studies found black cohosh is effective… but the shadow of liver problems hangs over this herb.
Fortunately, there are other herbs that appear to be even more effective.
What Really Works: Risk-Free Solutions
Soy has often been linked to menopause relief. But, like black cohosh, the situation is complex. Soy isoflavones have a positive effect on symptoms such as hot flashes. But soy is another situation entirely.
Studies show soy isoflavones have remarkable properties. A 2009 study found soy isoflavones can reverse the bone loss linked to menopause.
A 6-month California study also showed soy isoflavones can help hold off brain fog.
Women aged 55 to 74 were randomized to take either a placebo or soy isoflavones for 6 months. All were in good mental shape at the start of the trial.
After 6 months, doctors found the women taking soy isoflavones were sharper than they had been at the start of the trial… and also performed better than the placebo group at the end of the trial.
These studies focused on soy isoflavones – extracts of soy.
But soy foods? They don’t seem to be so helpful. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes a study that showed soy foods make menopausal symptoms worse.
In a study the NIH calls “high quality,” the only group out of 5 that went downhill was the group that included soy foods in their diet. Black cohosh, other herbs, hormones, and even the placebo worked better.
But volunteers who added soy foods to their diets experienced more intense symptoms as the trial progressed. The isoflavone groups didn’t do any better than the placebo groups… but the soy foods group suffered a real breakdown.
While this study didn’t find any direct benefit from soy, other studies have pointed to significant benefits.
Even More Benefits
There’s a fair amount of evidence St. John’s Wort can ease mood issues linked to menopause. In a review of 37 studies, researchers found evidence St. John’s Wort has sedative, pain relieving, anti-anxiety, anti-convulsive, and muscle relaxing effects.
Most importantly, St. John’s Wort may ease the depression and mood swings linked to menopause.
A 2012 Austrian study found isoflavones from red clover reduced hot flashes and night sweats by 70% – 75%. And a 2017 Danish study suggests red clover extracts may also defend against bone loss.
Studies also show hops – a natural preservative used in beer – has estrogenic activity that can ease the discomfort of menopause.
So, are there natural alternatives for the symptoms of menopause? Absolutely! But they may not be the ones that get the most press. Black cohosh and soy may be underperformers… but hops and isoflavones may offer a much bigger bang for your buck.
The bottom line? Relief is out there. It just may not be exactly where you expected.
About the Author: Jason Kennedy is a celebrated investigative health writer and the author of The X-Factor Revolution and Beyond the Blue Zone. With over 10 years of experience working with today’s leading alternative and anti-aging doctors, Jason shares his insider status and access to the latest breakthroughs with thousands of readers from around world.
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