Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55 years. It’s marked by the slowing of the production of female hormones and the subsequent end of menstrual cycles. Menopause is often accompanied by unpleasant symptoms including hot flashes and night sweats (vasomotor symptoms – VMS), aches and pains, reduced sexual drive and irritability.
Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT) was a common treatment for the vasomotor symptoms of menopause until research emerged questioning its safety. Following that, the use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) has grown, despite there being little evidence supporting their efficacy. Researchers assessed the prevalence of CAM use by Australian women to treat menopausal symptoms.
Women aged between 40 and 65 years were recruited to participate. They answered a questionnaire that assessed their use of CAMs in the past month, type of CAM used, use of MHT and number of consultations with a CAM practitioner in the past year. They were also asked to report on their menopausal symptoms and the extent to which they were bothered by them. Women were classified as being premenopausal, perimenopausal (shortly before menopause occurs) and postmenopausal.
Nearly 40% of women were using at least one CAM for any menopausal symptom. Phytoestrogens were the most common for VMS, followed by evening primrose oil, ginseng and black cohosh. For other menopausal symptoms, fish or krill oil followed by glucosamine were most commonly used.
Nearly 10% of women reported having consulted a CAM practitioner at least once in the previous year for their menopausal symptoms, with chiropractors and naturopaths being the two most common types.
Complementary and alternative medicines have a reputation for being safe due to their natural ingredients. It’s important to know, however, that all medications can have side effects, even if they are perceived to be natural. CAMs have little evidence backing their effectiveness for treating the symptoms of menopause therefore women need to be careful before taking them for this reason.
Not only could they lead to side effects, they can also be quite expensive. It’s really important that you have an informed discussion with your doctor before starting any medication, CAM or prescription, and ask for the evidence behind any medication that’s recommended to you so you understand the likelihood of the desired outcomes.