There are many women for whom hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may not be necessary or may be dangerous. For these women herbal therapy may relieve some of the common discomforts associated with menopause. Herbal sources are used in the manufacturing of some of the traditional therapies such as progesterone and estrogen. Some plant compounds can produce estrogenic and progestational effects. Vitamin and mineral supplementation may also help correct the vitamin and mineral deficiencies resulting from menopause. These deficiencies may also cause more extreme side effects associated with menopause.
Black cohosh may be used to treat hot flashes. Experiments have shown that the herb has substances that bind to estrogen receptors in animal models and lower LH (a hormone which is elevated in menopause) in both animals and humans.
Evening primrose oil is a good source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid. Evening primrose oil has been used for premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and mastalgia (sore breasts). Flax seed oil is also a good source of essential fatty acids. Flax seed is rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and is also used by many for PMS and breast tenderness.
Ginseng has been shown to prevent the thinning of the vagina seen in menopause. Ginseng may also help relieve the fatigue commonly reported during menopause.
Goldenseal may be useful for post-menopausal vaginal irritation and inflammation and for uterine cramps.
Hawthorn dilates blood vessels and improves circulation. It has been used in combination with ginko biloba to improve post-menopausal memory loss.
Saw palmetto has been extensively studied over the past several years for the treatment of enlarged prostate in men. It is now being studied for possible use in women to treat hirsutism, (abnormal hair growth) and polycystic ovarian disease.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamin A from beta carotene plays a roll in maintaining normal vision, skin, reproductive function, and protection against infection. One study showed that women with recurrent vaginal yeast infections had low levels of Beta Carotene and when they took supplemental Beta Carotene the infections resolved. There may also be a connection between Beta Carotene and ovarian function. A related antioxidant, lycopene, is being studied for it's possible role in preventing cancer.
Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of brain hormones (neurotransmitters). Vitamin B6 levels can be low in depression or in women taking estrogen, in the form of birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Folic acid and vitamin B6 deficiencies have been associated with osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Vitamin B6 has also been associated with a decrease in the incidence of heart disease in women. Vitamin B12 helps keep your folic acid level up which keeps homocystine levels low. Depression has been linked to low levels of vitamin B12 and it has been used along with folic acid to treat depression.
Vitamin C is essential for wound healing, immune function, and hormone production. One study reveled that women with high levels of vitamin C had a lower risk of breast cancer. Another study showed women with low levels of vitamin C had an increased risk of cervical dysplasia and cervical carcinoma in situ.
Vitamin D stimulates the absorption of calcium. Women being treated for or at risk for osteoporosis need to be sure they are receiving adequate amounts of vitamin D.
Boron is a trace nutrient necessary for the prevention of post-menopausal osteoporosis. It does this by activating vitamin D and estrogen. One study showed that postmenopausal women who took Boron daily decreased the amount of calcium lost in their urine and increased their estrogen levels.
Calcium supplementation is generally recommended to help prevent osteoporosis in post-menopausal women. Several studies have shown that calcium supplementation can help slow down bone loss but does not prevent it. In osteoporosis calcium does not replace the bone loss which has already occurred. Women who are taking estrogen, Fosamax, or Miacalcin, for osteoporosis should also be taking calcium.
Magnesium intake is essential in preventing osteoporosis and has been used in the treatment of migraine headache. Several studies have shown that women complaining of PMS have low levels of magnesium in their blood. Two trials have shown that supplementation with magnesium relieved PMS mood changes, breast tenderness, and weight gain in a significant number of participants.
Next month's article, part II, will look at hormone replacement therapy (HRT) alternatives such as progesterone, phytoestrogens, and hormone precursors. For more information on herbs and vitamins for women, visit Menopause Online at www.menopause-online.com.