5 Tips For Taking Herbal Remedies for Menopause Symptoms

How to take estrogen alternatives

Still life with ceramic teapot, cup of green tea, and branch of tea plant

When my patients tell me that they want to try an herbal or botanical remedy or nutritional supplements to control their menopause symptoms. I never discourage them. I do tell them that with all remedies, "Everything works for some women, but nothing works for everyone." Perhaps your friend found that taking black cohosh, a plant native to North America, successfully diminished the intensity of her hot flashes, but you saw no relief after taking the same supplement.

For a different supplement or herbal remedy, the reverse may be true. That’s not at all surprising for at least two reasons; different people have different experiences, and as you transition into and through menopause, your estrogen levels are also transitioning up and down so sometimes things work for a while and then stop working. Here are my 5 tips for taking over-the-counter and alternative remedies:

•  Set your expectations. While some alternative remedies may make some of your menopausal symptoms tolerable for a while, they don’t have the potency of pharmaceuticals to make hot flashes and night sweats completely disappear like estrogen-based medications.  When it comes to hot flashes, they can be both intense and frequent. With alternative remedies, the best you can typically hope for is to lower the intensity and frequency of your hot flashes and night sweats. You may find that taking evening primrose oil or black cohosh modestly decreases the number of hot flashes you have from twelve to ten a day, or that you wake up fewer times during the night due to hot flashes.

If that’s enough for you, then that’s great. 

•  Be patient. These remedies take time to build up in the body, so they have to be taken regularly, perhaps twice a day, for up to two to three months until results are noticeable. They also have a short half-life, the amount of time necessary for the dosage to be reduced to precisely one-half of a given concentration or amount.

As a result, the effects of most over-the-counter remedies don’t last more than about 12 hours. For more sustained levels, take it in two dosages, 12 hours apart.

Try one at a time. If you take three remedies at the same time and you see results in a few months time, you won’t know which one is helping. For that reason I recommend giving each one a chance for a few months to see if they work. That way you'll know what is and isn't working and you won't have to buy and take two or three OTCs at a time.

Take it regularly.  If you’re going to take a supplement just once a day, take it at bedtime, so the potential benefits are released into your bloodstream when you are trying to sleep and help you at night with hot flashes and night sweats. 

Realize the limitations.  Alternative therapies do not provide the powerful, life-enhancing, ongoing benefits of HT (hormone therapy).  Whereas estrogen has been proven to have positive effects on heart, brain, and bone health, over-the-counter remedies have none.

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