Menopause can be a time of significant change for women’s health and wellbeing. Thanks to hormone fluctuations, many women experience some form of menopause symptoms, from hot flushes and nights sweats to thinning hair and weight gain – and it’s a time when menopause supplements can help.
The conventional treatment for relieving menopause symptoms is HRT – hormone replacement therapy. This replaces hormones that are decreasing in your body as you approach the menopause. However, for some women HRT is not a suitable treatment while others prefer a more natural approach to coping with menopause symptoms.
Menopause supplements – typically using natural herbs such as St John’s Wort or sage – may help reduce some menopause symptoms and relieve some common menopause complaints such as hot flushes or ageing skin.
What are menopause symptoms?
Common menopause symptoms include insomnia and waking during the night, night sweats and hot flushes, ageing skin and thinning hair. Some women experience vaginal dryness, weight gain and a lowered libido, along with joint pain and headaches.
What are menopause supplements?
Many menopause supplements are available off-the-shelf in supermarkets, health food shops and over the counter at chemists. As with all supplements, it’s best to get professional medical advice before taking menopause supplements, especially if you are also taking medication such as HRT.
Menopause supplements include herbs that contain phytoestrogens, known as plant oestrogens. These mimic some of the behaviours found in the body’s oestrogen, which may lower during menopause and cause symptoms such as hot flushes. They work by binding to receptor sites in the body in a manner similar to oestrogen, though their effect is weaker than that of your body’s natural oestrogen.
Phytoestrogens can also be found in some foods. If you’re experiencing menopause symptoms, it may be worth adding more foods such as garlic, soy, mung beans, lentils, fennel, sage and parsley to your diet.
For many women, taking natural menopause supplements and changing their diet may help alleviate menopause symptoms. It’s worth knowing that different people respond differently to herbal supplements, and you may need to take a menopause supplement for at least two months before it has a noticeable effect. Supplements also are unlikely to stop symptoms entirely but can help make them more manageable.
We’ve gathered together some of the more popular herbs and vitamins that may help with menopausal symptoms. Most are available in supermarkets, health food shops or at your local chemist.
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Black cohosh menopause supplement
Black cohosh is one of the more popular herbal remedies for menopausal symptoms, with many women swearing by its effectiveness. Made from the root of the North American black cohosh plant, it has a long history of use in Native American traditional medicine. Several clinical studies have found that black cohosh may help alleviate hot flushes and night sweats. Its stress lowering ability means it may also help improve sleep quality.
Black cohosh is not recommended if you have a history of liver problems, so check with a medical professional before taking black cohosh as a menopause supplement.
Red clover menopause supplement
Red clover’s isoflavones – its natural plant chemicals – have an oestrogen-like effect on the body, making it a popular choice for reducing the severity of hot flushes and night sweats.
Studies however, indicate this effect may be minimal. It’s advised that anyone with a history of breast cancer or other hormone-related cancers should avoid taking red clover. Check with your doctor before taking red clover as a menopause supplement.
Red clover is commonly taken in tablet form, either as the sole ingredient or mixed with other herbs. It is also available as a tea.
St. John’s Wort menopause supplement
If you experience low moods or anxiety as part of the menopause, then you may want to try St. John’s Wort supplements. A well-known herbal remedy for mild depression, it is thought that St John’s Wort helps boost natural levels of serotonin and other ‘feel-good’ chemicals in the brain.
For many women, small doses, especially when combined with black cohosh may help boost their mood and reduce mood swings brought on by the menopause.
Vitex agnus castus
Vitex agnus castus – also known as the chaste tree berry – is an adaptogen as it has a balancing effect on your hormones. It acts on the pituitary gland, which causes the ovaries to release hormones.
Vitex agnus castus helps regulate and stabilise the menstrual cycle, particular useful for peri-menopausal women who are experiencing pre-menstrual symptoms and irregularity. It may also help alleviate mood swings and anxiety.
Ginseng as a menopause supplement
Many women entering menopause find their sleep interrupted as a result of hot flushes and night sweats. Ginseng may provide a solution with several clinical trials indicating that it can help improve sleep. A recent study also found that it has a protective effect on postmenopausal women, reducing their risk of cardiovascular disease. A further report suggests that red ginseng may boosts sexual arousal in menopausal women, helping to improve their sex lives.
Fresh sage as a menopause supplement
Traditionally used as a stuffing for roast chicken, this humble kitchen herb may also help combat excessive sweating and hot flushes associated with menopause. In clinical trials, most of the women studied who took fresh sage daily experienced a significant decrease in hot flush symptoms after just a few weeks and, in some cases, flushes were eliminated completely.
Often recommended by herbalist as a natural menopause remedy, wild yam root contains a plant chemical called diosgenin. This compound has oestrogen-type effects on the body which may help ease menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, mood changes and insomnia.
Clinical studies, however, have found little evidence of this but some research indicates that wild yam may help protect against heart disease in post-menopausal women.
Evening primrose oil
Many women take evening primrose oil to alleviate premenstrual syndrome (PMS), breast pain and menopause symptoms including hot flushes. This oil which is extracted from the seeds of the evening primrose plant is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which help your body produce hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. By supporting this process, evening primrose oil is thought to help balance hormonal fluctuations associated with menopause.
Flaxseed as a menopause supplement
Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are rich sources of lignans – phytoestrogens that help balance female hormones. Several studies show that lignans help significantly reduce hot flush frequency and severity in postmenopausal women. A 2013 study published in The American Journal of Nutrition found that even women who were given a low dosage of lignans saw the average number of hot flashes they experienced per week decrease by 44 per cent.
Soy foods as a menopause supplement
British women are more likely to experience menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes compared to women in Asian countries. The reasons for this disparity are complex, but experts suggest diet may play a part – and in particular the regular consumption of soy foods including tofu and soy beans by Asian women. Soy is full of protein, rich in vitamins and packed with phytoestrogens, which mimic some of the biological activities of female hormones. Research is split between the effectiveness of soy in relation to the menopause, but if you are looking to to quell the raging fire within try including some soy-based food as part of a healthy diet.
Taking vitamins as a menopause supplement
Menopause supplements aren’t limited to herbal remedies. Research has shown that vitamins help with maintaining bone health, reducing the damage caused by free radicals, and may help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Here are three essential vitamins that you can take that may help alleviate menopause symptoms.
Vitamin D is important for women of all ages but it’s particularly useful for menopausal women. It’s essential for bone health, which can deteriorate with age. It can also help improve both the quality of sleep and the amount of sleep you get.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidation that fights cell-damaging free radicals, which can increase during the menopause. This along with its anti-inflammatory qualities, means vitamin E reduces stress by stablizing the body’s production of the hormone cortisol. Research shows that vitamin E is an effective aid in reducing the symptoms of menopause, especially hot flashes, fatigue, low mood and insomnia.
B Vitamins offer a range of benefits that can help women experiencing menopause symptoms. Vitamin B6 increases the production of the feel-good hormone serotonin, helping reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve the quality of your sleep. Vitamin B2 and B3 (Niacin) help with the production of estrogen and other hormones, and vitamin B12 boosts energy and reduces fatigue.
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Before taking any form of supplement, it is always worth consulting with a medical professional such as your doctor. Always tell your doctor about any supplements you take. Supplements and herbs can cause allergic reaction or have potential side effects, and they may also interfere with other medication you take so it’s worth getting professional advice beforehand.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek independent advice from a medical professional about your particular situation, and do not make any decisions based solely on the information provided in this article.