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Don’t DIY With Herbs and Supplements for Menopause

by JoAnn Pinkerton | Jun 06, 2016

You’ve seen the ads, articles, and testimonials pop up on the Internet touting this kind of supplement or that kind of herb to relieve hot flashes or help with depression and mood during menopause. But if you’re thinking of trying any of these products to self-treat your symptoms because you’ve heard bad things about hormones, you’ll likely be wasting your money and may even be courting danger. A published report last fall found that thousands of people wind up in hospital emergency departments every year after taking supplements they believed were safe but that had harmful side effects.

NAMS brought together a team of experts to take a critical look at all the available studies on herbs, supplements, and other nonhormonal approaches for treating hot flashes. What did they find? They found that besides maybe soy foods and supplements, no other herbal or supplement showed an effect any greater than a sugar pill (placebo). Soy did get a qualified nod from the team because it may help some women, but only women whose bodies can use soy to produce a compound called equol. An equol supplement that may help other women is being developed, but it’s not on the market yet. The popular black cohosh, which is an ingredient in many over-the-counter combinations advertised for menopause symptoms, not only does nothing for hot flashes, but it may cause liver damage. And proponents of yam creams probably don’t know that they often don’t even contain yam. In fact, some have been adulterated with steroid drugs, including estrogen and progesterone-type compounds.

If you are reluctant to use hormones for your menopause symptoms, there are some nonhormonal approaches you can consider. Studies show that a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, and to a lesser extent, clinical hypnosis can help. Talk to your healthcare provider also about nonhormonal prescription drug therapies proven to reduce hot flashes. And, unless there’s a medical reason you cannot take hormones, you might want to revisit the risks and benefits of them with your healthcare provider, because we have learned over the past few years that hormone therapy begun early after menopause may not pose the dangers that later hormone therapy may.

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Going Mad in Perimenopause? Signs and Solutions

Mood swings, short-term memory loss, and difficulty thinking straight are common complaints from midlife women. However, while many of these symptoms are attributed to menopause, there are other contributing factors to consider as well.

Hormones: During reproductive years, most women become accustomed to their own hormonal rhythm. When this rhythm is disrupted during perimenopause, mood changes may result.

Timing: The timing of menopause may coincide with a multitude of midlife stresses like relationship issues, divorce or widowhood, care of young children, struggles with adolescents, return of grown children to the home, being childless, concerns about aging parents and caregiving responsibilities, as well as career and education issues...

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