What’s the alternative: herbs

Alternative remedies have become a popular alternative for easing menopausal symptoms. In fact Black cohosh is the top-selling supplement for menopause symptoms in the US.

Valu-Med pharmacist Kareen Smith says, “Some women want to try natural products first but we do warn them that they are not usually as effective as prescribed hormonal products.

“I usually tell women that, to be effective, you need to take them for a long time. It depends on the individual but can take up to two to three months.”

The following is a list of the herbs most commonly used, Smith says to tell your pharmacist if you are on any medication, as taking a supplement might interfere with it.

Black cohosh: It’s made from the root of the North American black cohosh plant. Several studies have found it helps, especially with hot flashes, when compared to a placebo, but other studies have not found a benefit. One warning: Don’t use it if you have liver problems.

Flaxseed: Reducing night sweats

Flaxseed and flaxseed oil may help some women with mild menopause symptoms. One study found that when compared with a placebo, flaxseed reduced hot flashes by 35 per cent and night sweats by 44 per cent in women with mild symptoms. But not all studies have shown these benefits.

Red Clover: Popular but unproven

Many women use red clover, hoping that its natural plant oestrogens will ease their menopause symptoms. So far, however, five different studies have not shown that it is effective.

Ginseng: Mood booster

A few studies have found evidence that ginseng might help improve quality of life during menopause. Ginseng has been shown to boost mood and improve sleep.

St. John’s Wort: Controls mood swings

St. John’s wort is a well-known treatment for mild depression. But St. John’s wort may also have a special benefit for women during menopause. There is some evidence, particularly when combined with black cohosh, that St. John’s wort can improve mood and smooth mood swings associated with menopause.

Sage: Sage advice

Compounds in sage have oestrogen-like effects. So sage might help ease menopause symptoms. Preliminary results have been promising.

Dong Quai: Hot flushes Dong quai has been used in Chinese medicine as treatment for women’s health for thousands of years. Research has not found evidence to back this up. The only randomised clinical trial of dong quai on menopause symptoms found no benefits. It can also increase an individual’s sensitivity to sunlight.

Before taking any supplements consult with your doctor.

Vitamin supplements and herbs

If you feel that your diet is not sufficient, there are vitamin supplements that can be taken. Some preparations are tailored specifically for menopausal symptoms and will include a mixture of vitamins and herbs.

Valu-Med sells a couple of products to treat symptoms: Promensil which contains red clover, soy products and some vitamins; and Menopace, containing soya, isoflavones, calcium, starflower oil and evening primrose oil.

Below are vitamins you might consider taking to ease symptoms and to maintain optimum health.

A multivitamin: Includes an already-prepared mixture of vitamins and minerals to promote good health.

Vitamin C: Helps reduce hot flashes; builds up collagen, which is important for your bones and which gives skin its elasticity.

Vitamin B6: Often deficient in women taking oestrogen in the form of HRT; often low during depression; vitamin B6 deficiencies have been associated with osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.

Vitamin D: Stimulates the absorption of calcium, which is essential for women suffering from or at risk for osteoporosis.

Calcium: Helps slow down bone loss and to prevent osteoporosis.

Magnesium: Relieves premenstrual syndrome (PMS) mood swings; alleviates breast tenderness; helps limit weight gain; key mineral for strong bones and the prevention of osteoporosis.

Vitamin E: Reduces hot flashes; reduces risk of heart attacks.

B Vitamins: Also known as “stress” vitamins; alleviate anxiety, tension, irritability and poor concentration.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs): Deficiencies in EFAs contribute to dry skin and hair, cracked nails, fatigue, depression, breast pain, lack of motivation, aching muscles, difficulty losing weight, and forgetfulness – all side-effects linked to menopause.

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Nutrition and diet

* A diet that is as natural as possible and includes essential fatty acids, foods that contain phytoestrogens, omega 3 and plenty fruit and vegetables.

* Cutting back on caffeine and alcohol is also a good idea.

* Take in many fruits and vegetables in every meal. Fruits like melons, bananas and citrus fruits that are rich in potassium along with veggies like spinach, yam, cabbage and broccoli can be a source for the nutrients you need and can even help balance your body’s sodium and water retention.

* Soya. Known to contain phytoestrogens, a chemical that has the characteristics of oestrogen, soy can reduce the possibilities of hot flushes. The best sources of soy include tofu, soy nuts, soy yogurt, and soymilk.

* Eat fibre, especially soluble fibre, on a regular basis.

Eat products that include wholegrain bread, oats, rye and wheat germ. Switch from white rice to brown.

* Opt for virgin olive oil, canola, wheat germ or flaxseed oil instead of processed cooking oils.

* Eat oily fish like salmon and mackerel.

* Snack on nuts (Brazils, walnuts), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, and linseeds), dried fruit (apricots, figs).

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