While some women breeze through menopause with nary a hot flash, others experience symptoms that seriously impact their quality of life. Passionflower, an over-the counter herbal preparation made from the Passiflora incarnate plant, may help with mood alterations and other changes that can occur in menopause. Ask your doctor before taking Passionflower, since the herb can interact with some medications.
Menopausal symptoms occur when estrogen levels fall; and symptoms vary from woman to woman. For some women, low estrogen levels can cause depression, irritability, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. Passionflower may improve these symptoms but has not been suggested to help treat other symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, skin flushing, sweating, vaginal dryness or heart palpitations.
Passionflower may help reduce anxiety by increasing the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, also known simply as GABA, a chemical in the brain. This chemical induces relaxation and reduces anxiety by decreasing the activity of some brain cells. Alkaloids in passionflower may inhibit monoamine oxidase, which would give the herb a similar effect to monoamine oxidase inhibitors, prescription medications sold as anti-depressants. A study entitled "Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam," published in the October 2001 "Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics" found that passionflower was as effective as oxazepam as treating generalized anxiety disorder and had fewer side effects.
You can take passionflower as a tea by steeping 1 tsp. in boiling water for 10 minutes; if you're taking this herb to help with insomnia, drink one hour before bedtime. Passionflower is also available as a liquid extract or as a tincture; follow the directions on the bottle. The dosage may vary depending on the condition being treated. Passionflower is also often combined with other anti-anxiety herbs.
Passionflower may increase the sedation effects of prescription drugs such as barbiturates, benzodiazepines such as Valium or Xanax, or insomnia drugs such as Ambien or Lunesta. This herb can also increase the effects of anti-depressants as well as blood thinners. In a case reported by Australian researchers from The Canberra Hospital in the 2000 "Journal of Toxicology; Clinical Toxicology," a woman taking this herb developed severe nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, rapid heartbeat and electrocardiograph changes. Other potential side effects include confusion, dizziness and inflammation of blood vessels, called vasculitis.