The idea that certain herbs might reduce hot flashes and treat other menopausal
symptoms and conditions hardly seems far-fetched when you consider how much of our modern
Pharmacopoeia is based on botanical compounds. For example, the root of a wild Mexican yam
has been used as a progesterone source for the birth control pill. Soybean is the main
active ingredient in Provera, the top-selling HRT progestin.
It is generally known that certain plant compounds can produce progestational and
estrogenic effects on humans. Note that some herbs, just like processed drugs, can
exacerbate certain medical conditions and that improper doses can have the wrong effect or
no effect at all. In some cases, many different varieties of a particular herb exist
(ginseng, for example), each of which may produce a different effect.
Two of the herbal roots most frequently cited for hot flash relief are dong quai and
ginseng. Both substances, alternative practitioners believe, quell flashes by putting mild
plant estrogens or plant hormones back into the system, which reportedly help to offset
menopause's estrogen deficit. Other hot flash herbal remedies often prescribed include
black cohosh, motherwort, caste tree or vitex, chickweed, hawthorn berries, and dandelion.
Just as it's not a good idea for a woman with an intact uterus to take pharmaceutical
estrogens alone because of the increased risk for uterine cancer, using a single herb for
hot flash relief may not be wise, caution many herbalists. In some herbs, the active
ingredient is thought to be more progesterone-like; in others, more estrogen-like. For
women with hot flashes who have a uterus, the herbalist may prescribe not only dong
an estrogen precursor, but also licorice root, a progesterone precursor. Herbs are often
prescribed in response to the needs of the whole person, not a specific condition.
See Also: Traditional Chinese Medicine for Menopause for a description of the herbs
commonly used in TCM.
Studies from around the world support the use of many natural alternatives to hormone
replacement therapy. For example, a black cohosh extract can reverse all symptoms related
to menopause within four weeks. Natural progesterone creams are the single most important
natural substitutes for synthetic treatment of menopausal symptoms. Progesterone cream
also promotes a more efficient use of the thyroid hormone by the body, and reverses
osteoporosis, protects against breast cancer, decreases fibrocystic breast disease and
reduces the incidence of ovarian cysts. It prevents fluid retention, fat deposits, vaginal
dryness and urinary bladder infections.
Women who suffer from both stress and a loss of libido will benefit from this herbal
remedy. Natural progesterone cream is absorbed through the skin and goes directly to where
it is needed by the body. Apply it to soft, fatty-tissue areas such as breasts, underarms,
inner thighs or abdomen. Absorption should take three to five minutes. If it is absorbed
in less than two minutes, increase the amount of the cream to 3/4 tsp. until absorption
exceeds two minutes, then return to 1/2 tsp. twice daily for twelve to fifteen days of the
month. The cream also helps dry skin and brown spots on hands and arms.
Diets that regularly contain estrogenic plant components also may help stem hot flashes
by adding to estrogen levels in the body. Researchers speculate that some plant factors
obtained through diet might also reduce the risk for cancer: by binding to and blocking
estrogen receptors, thus diminishing the effects of incoming natural estrogen that other-
wise might lead to tumor growth. (Tamoxifen, an estrogenlike compound and a treatment for
breast cancer, is thought to work in this manner.)
Researchers also speculate that the fibrous part of plants (lignin) may work to absorb
excess estrogen in the system, helping to excrete it. Thus there would be less active
estrogen in the system to perpetuate cellular overgrowth.
One of the few double-blind, placebo-controlled studies to investigate the effects of
menopausal herbal treatment-with positive results-was led by Tori Hudson and Leanna
Standish, naturopathic physicians, in 1993. When the study began, each of the participants
was experiencing one or more menopausal symptoms. While one group was given a placebo, a
second group received formulas containing herbs thought to ease menopausal symptoms:
licorice, burdock, Mexican wild yam, dong quai, and motherwort. After three months' time,
71 percent of the group on herbs reported relief of all menopausal symptoms in comparison
to 17 percent in the placebo group. Relieved symptoms included hot flashes, vaginal
dryness, mood changes, and insomnia.
The study's major limitation was its small number of participants-13 women. Yet Hudson
maintains, "The symptom relief in the group taking herbs was clearly there, well
beyond the range of a placebo effect."
Herbs typically used to treat menstrual irregularity, hot flashes and vaginal
- Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides).
- Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus).
- Damask rose (Rosa damascene).
- Golden seal (Hydrastis canadenis).
- Ladies mantle Wchemilla vulgaris).
- Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca).
- Sage (Salvia officinalis).
- Vervain (Verbena officinalis).
Herbal Tea for Menopausal Symptoms
- 6 tbsp. Chamomile flowers
- 6 tbsp. Lemon balm leaves
- 6 tbsp. St. John's wort, tops
- 3 tbsp. Lavender flowers
- 2 tbsp. Orange flowers
- 2 tbsp. Rose hips, skin only
- 1 tbsp. Valerian roots
Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 3 tsp. of this blend, steep for five minutes; strain
and drink 2-3 cups daily for four weeks.