Several traditional prescription medications can be given as the estrogen part of hormone replacement therapy, usually for the treatment of symptoms of menopause. Some of these regimens have recently gotten mixed reviews in terms of long-term safety, according to the American Cancer Society. Because of these reports, widely covered in the media, some women may wish to try natural herbal estrogen replacement therapy for symptoms such as hot flashes or vaginal dryness. Any treatment -- including herbal remedies for menopausal or other hormonal symptoms -- should be supervised by a qualified health professional.
Dong quai is native to China and is also known as Chinese angelica. The root is believed to relieve some of the symptoms of both premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, and menopause. It appears to be a regulator for the female reproductive system. It may work to stop hot flashes by stopping some of the prostaglandins that may be released before a hot flash. It also appears to work better for women who have had a hysterectomy than those who enter menopause naturally. It may cause increased sun sensitivity, particularly when combined with other medications such as sulfa drugs, which cause sun sensitivity. Tell your doctor about all the medications you are taking before using dong quai.
Nutritional consultant Phyllis A. Balch says in her book “Prescription for Herbal Healing” that ginseng may work to stop hot flashes, particularly by increasing ovarian estrogen production in early menopause. Taking ginseng with 800 international units of vitamin E may increase the effectiveness of ginseng, says Balch. As it is most useful during early menopause, it may not work during later stages and will be ineffective for those who have had their ovaries removed. It may interact with a number of drugs, including the blood thinner warfarin and should be taken with other medications only under medical supervision.
Black cohosh comes from the peony family and has been used in folk medicine for women’s ailments for hundreds of years. It reportedly may increase vaginal lubrication, relieve headaches and muscle cramping, and stop irregular bleeding. It may cause stomach upset and may be ineffective if taken with antibiotics, as intestinal bacteria are necessary for it to work. Tell your doctor if you are taking any medications and plan to take black cohosh. Something else to be aware of is that blue cohosh, though similar sounding, is not the same medication, and though it reportedly relieves hot flashes, blue cohosh should not be taken as a substitute herbal remedy for black cohosh.
Red clover contains phytoestrogens, and according to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, it has been widely promoted to relieve menopausal symptoms, but more studies are needed to prove its effectiveness. Red clover extract may act as an estrogen agonist and stimulate cell proliferation of estrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells, according to a study published in the March-April 2002 issue of the journal "Menopause." Women with possible estrogen-dependent cancers, such as breast, uterine or cervical cancer, should talk to their doctors before taking any herbal remedy with estrogenic activity.
- American Cancer Society: Menopausal Hormone Replacement Therapy and Cancer Risk
- "Menopause"; Estrogenic Activity of Herbs Commonly Used as Remedies for Menopausal Symptoms; P. Amato; March-April 2002
- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Red Clover
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Dong Quai; Steven Ehrlich; December 2008
- "Prescription for Herbal Healing"; Phyllis A. Balch; 2005