(CNN)A new study finds that plant-based supplements can offer some relief for menopausal symptoms. More than half of menopausal women experience hot flashes. Though prescription hormone therapy effectively treats this symptom, many women, who worry about possible negative health effects from these drugs, opt instead to use herbal remedies.
The new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that plant-based supplements modestly reduced hot flashes and vaginal dryness as a result of phytoestrogens.
“Phytoestrogens are clinical components found in plants that are very similar to the female hormone, estrogen,” explained Dr. Taulant Muka, lead author of the new studyand a researcher at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands. Soybeans and soy supplements are the richest sources of one class of phytoestrogens known as isoflavones.
Change of life
Menopausal symptoms are not only inconvenient and embarrassing, they’ve been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, says Muka. His previously published analysis that compared women with and without menopausal symptoms suggests that hot flashes, night sweats and other symptoms corresponded to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and cardiovascular disease.
Pinkerton also notes that this new study fails to distinguish between women who have many hot flashes and those who have very few. Based on the frequency of her symptoms, a particular woman might find phytoestrogens more or less effective.
“Overall, we did not find an association between phytoestrogens and night sweats,” Muka said, though a single experiment with red clover found a reduction in the frequency of night sweats. This is insufficient, though, to draw any firm conclusions.
“A main concern of our study was the length of follow-up,” Muka said. Since most of the research included just 12 to 16 weeks of follow-up, he and his colleagues cannot define the long-term effects of phytoestrogen and whether they might have adverse effects over time.
“In general, if women are going to use any supplements, they should recognize that what they are purchasing may vary in dose and amount and that there may be risks if used long-term,” Pinkerton said, noting that it is unclear whether isoflavones might increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer.
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In fact, the North American Menopause Society reviewedall non-hormonal therapies for menopausal symptoms in 2015.
“NAMS recommends caution until we have a stable supplement that has been well-tested in a randomized control trial so women know exactly what they’re taking and that it is working,” Pinkerton said.
However, she still has hopes for “equol,” a particular soy supplement that is undergoing testing. This phytoestrogen, which is available in Japan, appears to be effective in reducing hot flashes, yet its chemical action does not stimulate breast cancer.
Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/21/health/herbs-help-menopause/index.html