Are plant-based therapies effective treatments for menopause symptoms?

CLEVELAND CLINIC - A new study attempts to determine if there's benefit to using plant-based therapies to treat menopause symptoms. Dr. Holly Thacker is a women's health physician at Cleveland Clinic.

She says the results of the study were a bit of a mixed bag.

"Some of these studies show improvements in hot flashes, but not hot flashes or night sweats, and so I think the take home message is that if you have severe menopausal symptoms, you should see your physician and not be afraid to treat the exact problem, which is hormone deficiency," Dr. Thacker said.

The study was an analysis of more than 60 previous studies that looked at various plant-based therapies, including certain soy products and herbal remedies.

Results showed an association between some therapies that contain estrogen found in soybeans, with a modest reduction in hot flash frequency, but no significant reduction in night sweats.

Dr. Thacker says that women with mild menopausal symptoms who are looking for relief are okay to add soy to their diet through food, but should consult with a physician before trying any supplements.

She cautions that just because you don't need a prescription for a supplement, it doesn't mean that it doesn't carry a risk.

Other studies have shown that overuse of some soy supplements can increase a woman's risk for certain types of cancer. Many women choose to use complementary therapies instead of hormone replacement therapy because of concerns of health consequences.

Dr. Thacker says that these studies highlight the desire that folks have to find a more natural plant-based alternative for menopause symptoms, but that so far, none of them have proven to be substantially effective.

She says that classic menopausal symptoms are a result of a loss of the hormone estrogen, which for many women cannot be treated with complementary therapies alone.

"Even though menopause is a natural life event and not everyone is hormonally deficient, the people that are hormonally deficient should not feel badly about needing to take a hormone to treat that problem," Dr. Thacker said.

Dr. Thacker says menopause is a good time for women to take stock of their health habits, like diet and exercise, and to get a regular examination from a women's health physician.