Many herbal supplements are being marketed as alternatives to hormone therapy for menopause. Though they are often marketed with buzzwords like “effective,” “safe,” “natural,” or even “proven,” there’s little scientific evidence to back these claims.
Unfortunately, these supplement companies have tricked many into thinking that their products offer the same results as HRT. At the least, this means spending money on something that simply isn’t likely to help with your symptoms. What’s worse, you could be putting your health at risk by taking these herbs and supplements.
The North American Menopause Society advises doctors against recommending herbal therapies for menopause because they’re unlikely to be beneficial. However, that doesn’t stop some supplement companies from taking advantage. If you’re looking for menopause relief, it’s important to talk to our provider about all your options, including hormone therapy and lifestyle changes. We will discuss the pros and cons of each treatment option to help you make the right decision for you.
The most effective way to help relieve hot flashes is estrogen hormone therapy. HRT has been around for years to help relieve menopause symptoms like hot flashes and may also help with other symptoms like mood changes and vaginal dryness. There are a lot of studies and medical research on hormone therapy for women with menopause, and it’s approved by the FDA.
By contrast, studies haven’t shown clear evidence that herbal remedies commonly marketed for menopause relief are effective. Most studies show mixed results or even no difference between placebo.
Now, you may have heard from a friend, family member, or co-worker that herbs and supplements have helped them with menopause symptoms. However, some experts argue that much of this anecdotal evidence may come down to the placebo effect.
The placebo effect is where people notice positive results from a treatment due to their belief in the treatment. That’s why most studies on new therapies and drugs include a group that takes the medication and one group that takes a placebo, such as sugar pills. This helps researchers determine if the treatment does offer positive effects that aren’t the placebo effect.
What’s important to remember is that even if something is all-natural, that doesn’t mean it’s safe. Poison ivy, for example, is completely natural, but you likely still avoid it. Many of the supplements advertised as menopause treatments can have serious, sometimes even life-threatening side effects. They may even interact with other medications you’re taking.
Black cohosh is one of the more popular herbs marketed as an alternative to hormone therapy. However, no studies have shown clear evidence to support these claims. Instead, research has shown that there’s little difference between this herb and a placebo.
Two studies, conducted in 2006 and 2009 even reported that some women had worse symptoms while taking black cohosh. In the 2006 study, women in the black cohosh group who also ate soy foods had worse symptom intensity. The other study from 2009 noticed that the women’s menopause symptoms were worse in intensity at six and nine months while taking black cohosh. Therefore, there’s a potential that black cohosh could make your menopause symptoms worse.
Also, there have been cases that linked black cohosh supplements with liver damage. Other side effects include upset stomach, headache, rash, vaginal spotting, and even weight gain.
Evening primrose oil (EPO) is in several different dietary supplements marketed for a variety of health conditions from rheumatoid arthritis to PMS. This is also touted as a remedy for menopause symptoms like hot flashes. However, scientific studies have found no differences between EPO and placebo for menopause symptoms.
Also, it has a list of potential side effects that may be concerning, including:
EPO supplements may also interact with medications like blood thinners, blood pressure medications, antipsychotic medications, and antidepressants.
Purported to help symptoms like depression, mood swings, and insomnia, St. John’s Wort is another herb that some say can help with menopause. Once again, studies show mixed results and no clear evidence that it’s effective.
This herb can cause some serious side effects. For example, sensitivity to sunlight, gastrointestinal symptoms, headaches, decreased libido, anxiety, and dry mouth are all listed as potential side effects.
Also, St. John’s Wort may also weaken many different medications, such as cancer medications, heart medications, blood thinners, antidepressants, birth control, and HIV drugs. Therefore, it’s vital to talk to our doctor about these potential interactions.
So, why are these supplements and herbs often marketed as treatment for menopause? The main reason is that supplements aren’t monitored by the FDA. That means that the FDA doesn’t review the evidence of supplements for how effective they are or even how safe they are.
Because supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA. Therefore, the FDA doesn’t test them to see if they even contain the ingredients they claim to include. That means that some supplements may not even contain the herbs in the name of the product.
Also, different batches of these products may even vary widely in dose or amount of ingredient. Quality control and consistency can vary between brands, which can make it difficult to know exactly how much of an herb you’re taking.
By contrast, hormone therapy is FDA-approved, meaning the FDA has evaluated it for safety and efficacy. The FDA also regulates quality control to help with dosage consistency in different batches.
Bioidentical hormone therapy is a type of HRT that comes from plant sources. They are molecularly identical to human hormones, which means your body can’t tell the difference between bioidentical hormone therapy and the hormones your body naturally produces. Our providers use this natural hormone therapy to help with symptoms of menopause.
At HerKare, we’re dedicated to providing advanced, compassionate health care. We believe in empowering you by trusting your understanding of your own body. Our team is here to help by providing you with personalized treatments to help you feel your best. Book an appointment today to talk about your symptoms. We’ll work with you to design an individualized treatment plan to help you feel like yourself again.