Natural Alternatives to HRT
by Dee Atkinson MNIMH
A recent study has found that there may be an increased risk of Ovarian cancer for woman who use Hormone Replacement Therapy or HRT. Research by the University of Oxford found that the risk rises by 40% after five years on HRT compared to a woman who has never used it. It also found that the effect was the same for the two main types of HRT – whether it contained oestrogen only, or contained oestrogen combined with progestogen.
21,488 ovarian cancer patients from a total of 52 studies from across the USA, Europe and Australia were monitored and study co-author Professor Sir Richard Peto, from Oxford University, said: ‘For women who take HRT for five years from around age 50, there will be about one extra ovarian cancer for every 1,000 users and one extra ovarian cancer death for every 1,700 users.’
So, is there another option when it comes to managing the symptoms of menopause?
Research into the effectiveness of professional herbal practice in managing menopausal symptoms has been published in the journal ‘Family Practice’. A pilot trial was conducted in 2007 using 45 women aged 46–59 experiencing menopausal symptoms and not on HRT. They were divided into two groups and the group who received herbal treatment demonstrated a “statistically and clinically significant reduction in menopausal symptoms compared to the control group”. This offers good evidence to support herbal medicine as a treatment choice during the menopause.
I see a lot of women in my clinic who are keen to manage their menopause symptoms naturally and doing so with herbs is safe, gentle and effective. The best route of approach is a consultation with a medical herbalist who will taylor a prescription to your specific needs. Here are some of the herbs that I regularly use to support my patients:
Sage is one of the first remedies to try for Menopausal hot flushes and night sweats. It has a cooling drying action and contains plant oestrogens. It not only reduces sweats but also helps the body adapt to the hormonal changes involved. It has a long history of use as a nerve tonic, calming and stimulating the nervous system.
Vitex Agnus-Castus is of most use in treating menopausal symptoms which exist prior to the cessation of menstruation. It has a hormone balancing action and is best taken in the morning when the hypothalamic-pituitary axis in the brain is most active as it will have the best hormonal influence at this time. It is, to date, the only herb with a progesterone–type activity. Vitex may also help with migraines linked to the menstrual cycle. Vitex is usually used when there are still menstrual periods.
St John's Wort is a very useful herb for menopause. It is of particular use for symptoms of low mood or anxiety which are common in menopausal women and it has also been shown to redeuce hot flushes.
Black Cohosh and Sage is a formula that I developed for women who have uncomplicated menopause symptoms. It is a gentle formula that will support the management of a number of menopause symptoms.
Diet is also an important area in the management of the symptoms of menopause and research has shown that a group of plants containing the compound phytoestrogen may be especially effective due to their oestrogen like actions. These foods include Soya, linseeds, beans and pluses along with plants such as Liquorice, Red clover and Sage. By combining herbs such as these, making dietary changes and using gentle hormone regulators such as Vitex agnus castus, the herbalist is able to tailor make a prescription for the patient.
I have written in more detail about treating the symptoms of menopause with herbs here: /health-concerns/menopause/herbal-medicine-and-menopause