Despite guidelines on proper HRT use, many women still prefer to try natural menopause remedies, especially for those pesky hot flushes. Here’s what the experts say about what works and what doesn’t…
Natural menopause remedies to treat hot flushes
Suffering from menopausal hot flushes, but unsure about hormone-replacement therapy (HRT), and confused about the natural menopause remedies on offer? A report from the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) reviewed all evidence for non-hormonal therapies and its effects on hot flushes, which could also be applied to the often accompanying symptom of night sweats.
Hot flushes and sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, from peri-menopause to post-menopause, women report the most sleeping problems. Hot flushes seem to be one of the main culprits as they last around three minutes at a time, and can affect women for around a year. Many women report experiencing interrupted sleep and frequent night wakings due to hot flushes, which can cause next-day fatigue, as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which combines sleep hygiene and relaxation techniques (like creating a calming bedtime routine), clinical hypnosis or hypnotherapy, certain low-dose antidepressants, and other prescribed non-hormonal medicines (which require specialist advice) get the NAMS seal of approval.
The National Sleep Foundation also recommends dressing in lightweight clothes to improve sleep efficiency. It’s important to avoid heavy, insulating blankets and consider using a fan or air conditioning to cool the air and increase circulation, even in winter – as hot flushes can occur year-round.
Professor Janice Rymer, a gynaecologist comments, “We don’t know the mechanism by which these work, because we don’t really know what causes hot flushes. However, what they seem to have in common is that they all act on the nervous system.”
This may fit in with the thinking that, although the dip in oestrogen from menopause is somehow responsible, an over-reactive autonomic nervous system that controls things like breathing, heart rate, sweating and the fight-and-flight reflex, could possibly be the immediate underlying cause.
Could be worth a try
A cautious thumbs up goes to isoflavones; plant chemicals found in soya beans, soya milk and tofu; and isoflavone supplements such as red clover. The only snag is that they don’t work for everyone. Your gut bacteria must be able to convert isoflavones into an active chemical called equol.
If you’re not an equol producer, you may still be plagued by hot flushes, no matter how much soya milk you drink or how many supplements you take. Weight loss and mindfulness-based stress reduction may also help, says NAMS, although the evidence isn’t cast iron.
What doesn’t work
Perhaps surprising to the many who swear by them, yoga and acupuncture, NAMS concludes, do nothing to quell flushes. Avoiding trigger factors (hot rooms, drinking alcohol and caffeinated drinks) doesn’t reduce the number of flushes either. Even aerobic exercise gets a thumbs down as a hot-flush treatment, although, of course, it has numerous other benefits at midlife.
Unlikely to work
Herbal remedies such as black cohosh, thought to work by blocking oestrogen receptors; and the Chinese herb dong quai, which has question marks over safety, were also rejected by NAMS.
Chiropractic and nutritional supplements, like linseeds (flax), which contains oestrogen-like chemicals, evening primrose oil, omega-3s, vitamins, and pollen extract, are also dismissed due to inadequate evidence.
Disclaimer: You must not rely on the information on this website/newsletter as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.