"Natural Hormone Balance Found With Herbal Menopause Remedies"
It's been a tough year for any woman searching for safe treatments that address the complex health issues of menopause. So how about a little good news?
When "ineffective" means effective
At first, this didn't look like good news at all. I found an article from the Associated Press with this headline: "Herbal Menopause Remedy Ineffective." Now I know you've heard me rant and rave many times about misleading headlines, but it seems to me that the mainstream bias against complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) always comes through loud and clear in the heads. This one, for instance, could just as accurately have been rewritten like this: "Herbal Menopause Remedy Effective." That's right - "effective" - not "ineffective."
This AP article details a joint study from Columbia University and George Washington University in which researchers examined the results of 29 independent studies on alternative treatments for symptoms of menopause. The Columbia and GWU teams concluded that, overall, only one CAM therapy was shown to be effective in treating menopausal symptoms, and especially hot flashes - black cohosh. Other treatments (such as vitamin E, acupuncture, evening primrose oil, dong quai and red clover) showed no benefits.
It's too bad that the condition called "hot flashes" is not more accurately named. For some, "system meltdown" might be a better way to describe it. For many women, hot flashes can be so severe that the effects sometimes resemble heart attack symptoms. Add to that the typical dizziness, sweating, nausea and general anxiety, and you have an idea of just how debilitating a hot flash experience can be.
Of course, this doesn't mean that any of these treatments are ineffective. Not at all. It only means that in these 29 studies, on average, they showed little "statistical" effect. It's also important to note that the researchers characterized many of the studies as "small and inconclusive." That's largely due to the fact that comprehensive research studies are expensive projects. Recently we've seen larger CAM studies launched, but for now there's simply not a large body of exhaustive research to draw on.
Can't stand the heat
It's too bad that the condition called "hot flashes" is not more accurately named. For some, "system meltdown" might be a better way to describe it. In an e-Alert I sent out some time ago, ("Little Big Horn" 7/17/02) I told you about my cousin Emily who is coping with menopause. For many women, including Emily, hot flashes can be so severe that the effects sometimes resemble heart attack symptoms. Add to that the typical dizziness, sweating, nausea and general anxiety, and you have an idea of just how debilitating a hot flash experience can be.
So now, if we take the Columbia/GWU study at face value, it seems that black cohosh may be the most effective natural treatment for coping with hot flashes. But black cohosh isn't anything new to HSI members. In a Members Alert we sent you in October 1998, we told you about this North American forest plant, first used centuries ago by Native Americans. Among other names, they called it "squaw root" because they found it to be useful in treating women's health problems.
Today black cohosh is very common, and can be found in just about any health food store, as well as many drug stores. Other health problems that are sometimes addressed with black cohosh include rheumatism, fever, and depression.
As with all supplements, it's a good idea to consult with your doctor or health care provider to discuss how black cohosh might interact with other medications you might be taking. The Columbia/GWU study noted that the long-term effects (if any) of supplementation with black cohosh are unknown. Also, because this botanical may have an estrogenic effect, at least two sources I found advised that pregnant women and women with breast cancer should probably avoid taking it.
More to come
The Columbia/GWU research should certainly not be regarded as the last word. For instance, one of the natural treatments that were found to be of no effect was red clover. But this conclusion is contradicted by a study I told you about an earlier article ("Rolling in Clover" 10/24/02). In that study (admittedly, a small one), researchers found that, on average, a group of 15 women reported a 44% reduction in the frequency of their hot flashes. And because that's an average, we can assume that some of those women experienced something close to a 50% reduction. That's a long way from "ineffective."
To Your Good Health,
Health Sciences Institute
Article reprinted with permission from the Health Sciences Institute
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