Menopause is a normal transition in a woman's life, but it can also be stressful. Hormones that have previously played a role in your vitality begin to ebb, and with their departure you may suffer from hot flashes, vaginal dryness, insomnia, irritability, fatigue, headaches, depression and a variety of other symptoms. In an effort to ease the impact of menopause, many women turn to herbal remedies, such as flaxseed oil. However, most of these approaches have proven disappointing in clinical studies. Your doctor can guide your choices of treatments for menopausal symptoms.
After the Women's Health Initiative demonstrated the risks of treating menopausal symptoms with prescription hormone replacement therapy, researchers' attention turned to phytoestrogens, which are plant-based compounds that resemble your own estrogens and exert weak hormonal effects in your body. The two classes of phytoestrogens receiving the closest scientific scrutiny are isoflavones, which are abundant in soybeans and soy products, and lignans, which are found in high concentrations in flaxseed.
Lignans and other phytoestrogens are particularly attractive for treating menopausal symptoms because they are purported to exert a safer, more balanced influence on your estrogen-sensitive tissues. A February 2010 review in "The Journal of Nutrition" explains that phytoestrogens exhibit weak estrogenic properties in tissues where your own estrogen levels are low, but they compete with your own estrogen in organs where estrogen stimulation is undesirable, such as breast tissue. Supposedly, such actions would be beneficial for treating menopausal symptoms or osteoporosis while actually reducing your risk for estrogen-related diseases, such as breast cancer.
Flaxseed Not Helpful
In 2009, scientists at Brazil's University of São Paulo administered 46 mg of flaxseed lignans to menopausal women for 12 weeks and compared their menopausal symptoms to those of a control group. There was no difference between the groups in serum lipid levels, hormone levels or menopausal symptoms at the end of the study. A similar trial, published in the March 2005 issue of "The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism," involving 198 women who took either 40 grams of flaxseed or wheat germ placebo daily for 12 months showed no difference in menopausal symptoms, bone mineral density or lipid levels between the two groups.
Studies have not convincingly shown that lignans from flaxseed help reduce menopausal symptoms. "Ultra-enriched" or "high-lignan" flaxseed oils -- Spectrum or InVite, for example -- contain 15 to 40 mg of lignans per serving, which is comparable to the lignan dosages administered to menopausal women in clinical trials. While some women experience a reduction in menopausal symptoms from taking flaxseed, you may not enjoy the same benefits. Ask your physician for recommendations for coping with menopausal symptoms.
- "The New England Journal of Medicine"; Effects of Estrogen plus Progestin on Health-Related Quality of Life; J. Hays, et al.; May 2003
- "The Journal of Nutrition"; Consumption of a Flaxseed-Rich Food Is Not More Effective than a Placebo in Alleviating the Climacteric Symptoms of Postmenopausal Women; R.L. Simbalista, et al.; February 2010
- "The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism"; The Effects of Flaxseed Dietary Supplement on Lipid Profile, Bone Mineral Density, and Symptoms in Menopausal Women: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Wheat Germ Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial; S. Dodin, et al.; March 2005