Except for an herbal remedy developed by American Indians, most of the exotic berries, teas, herbs and oils frequently taken by women to ease menopause symptoms have been ineffective in clinical trials, according to a study.
Alternative treatments for menopause symptoms have gotten additional attention since July, when researchers found evidence linking estrogen-progestin hormone supplements with breast cancer and heart disease.
Researchers at Columbia University and George Washington University examined the results of 29 independent studies on alternative treatments for hot flashes and found that only the herb black cohosh appeared to work.
Three of four trials found the herb had a benefit, according to the review in today's issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Black cohosh, a member of the buttercup family, is among the most popular alternative treatments for menopause. Most clinical studies involved a brand called Remifemin, made by GlaxoSmithKline.
Other popular herbal treatments, including ginseng, red clover, dong quai and oil of evening primrose, were found to have no discernible effect on hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleeplessness and other ills blamed on menopause. Researchers said studies have also found few documented benefits from acupuncture, vitamin E, relaxation techniques or progesterone creams.
The study said a few alternative treatments showed promise. Women who ate soybean dietary supplements reported hot flashes that were less intense, though in many cases the benefits disappeared after a few weeks.
Study authors Fredi Kronenberg and Adriane Fugh-Berman noted that most of the trials examining alternative treatments were small and inconclusive. Few looked at the effects of using herbal remedies for many months or years.