Women seeking an alternative to hormone therapy sometimes turn to natural treatments, such as plant-based therapies, to ease menopause symptoms.

Do these alternatives do the job?

This study

The researchers analyzed data from 62 studies, involving 6,653 women experiencing such menopausal symptoms as hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness. They had been randomly assigned to take a plant-based therapy — phytoestrogens such as dietary soy isoflavones and soy extract, herbal remedies such as red clover and black cohosh or Chinese or other medicinal herbs — or a placebo.

Overall, after an average of three months, women who took a plant-based treatment had fewer hot flashes daily and less dryness than the others, but essentially experienced no reduction in the occurrence of night sweats. The researchers described the reduction in hot flashes and dryness as “modest.”

Analysis of specific treatments showed an improvement in night sweats for red clover but no effect on menopause symptoms for black cohosh. Chinese medicinal herbs such as dong quai also had no effect on menopause symptoms, but newer medicinal herbs, such as pine bark extract, did show improvement in hot flashes.

In some studies, red clover helped women experiencing night sweats. (iStock)
Who may be affected?

Women who experience menopause symptoms. A woman reaches menopause when she has not had a menstrual period for one year, though symptoms often start earlier. They may include sleep issues, mood changes, trouble focusing, vaginal and urinary problems, hot flashes and night sweats.

The severity of symptoms varies greatly from person to person, and many women do not need treatment for their symptoms, which tend to go away over time.

Traditionally, hormone therapy — taking medication to replace the hormones that the body has stopped producing — has been standard treatment for those with moderate to severe menopause symptoms, but studies showing an increased risk for cardiovascular problems and breast cancer have prompted many to seek other options.

Caveats

Data on symptoms came from reports made by the participants. Composition of the supplements used in the studies varied, with differing amounts of the active ingredient. The researchers noted that many of the studies were not high in quality.

Find this study

June 21 issue of JAMA (jama.com; click on “All Issues”).

Learn more

Information on menopause is available at womenshealth.gov/menopause and menopause.org.

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals.