Many women experience hot flashes during the menopause transition, but supplements can help.
The best-known treatment for hot flashes is hormone therapy but some women, for health or personal reasons, prefer other options like non-hormonal therapies. These include lifestyle changes, mind-body techniques, dietary management and supplements, prescription therapies, and others.
To help healthcare providers deliver the best information and care to women suffering from hot flashes, in 2015 The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) issued a Position Statement on Non-Hormonal Management of Menopause-Associated Vasomotor Symptoms (VMS), also known as hot flashes or night sweats.
Herbal supplements are non-hormonal therapies, available over-the counter (sold without a prescription), and used widely in the treatment of hot flashes by women all over the world.
Businesses have realized the commercial potential and have come up with a vast array of products to treat menopausal symptoms.
Women should understand what products work safely and effectively, how to use them properly, and how to avoid inappropriate and unhealthy therapies. Consult a healthcare provider, knowledgeable in the treatment of hot flashes and menopause, before taking any supplements.
It is important to note that when women take medication to treat their hot flashes, 50% is placebo* effect. In my opinion that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it may even be beneficial, as long as the treatment is safe and doesn’t cause any undesirable adverse effects or interactions with other medications.
There are few studies done by manufacturers on the efficacy and safety of herbal supplements.
Canadian regulations require that all natural health products**, including herbals, have a product license.
Herbals like black cohosh and dong quai have not shown benefits in trials, and may be unsafe for women with certain medical conditions like liver disorder or for those taking anticoagulant medications.
Supplements like evening primrose oil, flaxseed, ginseng, hops, maca, omega-3 fatty acids, pine bark, pollen extract, and siberian rhubarb, have not been proven effective for the treatment of VMS and may worsen certain conditions and/or interact with certain medications women are already taking.
Soy supplements are widely used. Soy contains isoflavones, a phytochemical that mimics estrogen in a woman’s body. According to NAMS “the relative amounts of isoflavones vary, depending on the portion of the soybean from which the material is obtained”. Therefore the therapeutic effect of soy supplements varies greatly from product to product. To complicate matters further, different women metabolize isoflavones differently depending on their genetics. Asian women seem to benefit more from isoflavones supplementation but only 30% of North American women can change isoflavones in their gut into a form that can be used by their bodies and be beneficial. With this in mind, a new supplement S-equol, has been developed but NAMS says: “additional research is needed to determine whether the supplement may be effective for these women”.
Remember, just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it is safe…
- a harmless pill, medicine, or procedure prescribed more for the psychological benefit to the patient than for any physiological effect.
- a substance that has no therapeutic effect, used as a control in testing new drugs.
- a measure designed merely to calm or please someone.
** According to Health Canada: “To be licensed in Canada, natural health products must be safe, effective, of high quality and carry detailed label information to let people make safe and informed choices. You can identify products that have been licensed for sale in Canada by looking for the eight-digit Natural Product Number (NPN) or Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM) on the label. A NPN or DIN-HM means that the product has been authorized for sale in Canada and is safe and effective when used according the instructions on the label.
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