Complementary therapies are a range of approaches to care aimed at enhancing quality of life and improving wellbeing. They may be used alongside conventional treatments. You may also hear people talk about ‘alternative therapies’. These are therapies that are taken instead of conventional approaches to treatment.
Herbal or complementary remedies should only be prescribed by a naturopath who is trained in their use. Most ’complementary’, ’natural’ or ‘alternative’ therapies have not been fully tested for their effectiveness or safety in treating menopausal symptoms.
It’s important for women to talk to a doctor before taking any complementary or ‘natural’ preparations as they may interact with other cancer therapies. Some herbal preparations may contain oestrogen-like compounds. This can be a concern for women who have had a diagnosis of ovarian or breast cancer.
Most studies show that black cohosh (eg Remifemin) is not effective in treating hot flushes. Black cohosh can also have side effects, including gastro-intestinal upsets and skin rash. There are also concerns about its safety after reports of liver damage.
Phyto-oestrogens and soy
Phyto-estrogens (eg soy products and isoflavones) are not effective in treating hot flushes in menopausal women who have not had ovarian cancer. They have not been tested following ovarian cancer but phyto-oestrogens and soy are unlikely to be effective. Their safety after ovarian cancer is not known.
Vitamin E given at a high dose (800 IU per day) may be mildly effective in some women in reducing hot flushes. Vitamin E is thought to be safe after ovarian cancer.
Other complementary and over-the-counter remedies for menopausal symptoms
There is a wide range of ‘over-the-counter’ medications or herbal remedies available for the management of menopausal symptoms. There’s very little evidence about the effectiveness or safety of over-the-counter menopausal remedies in women who have not had ovarian cancer and very little is known about their effects in women who have had ovarian cancer.
- Dong Quai
- evening primrose
- red clover
- Chinese herbs
Women who are considering any of these preparations should discuss them with their doctor first.
Find out more about:
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in the USA has developed a website with information about complementary therapies. About Herbs, Botanicals and Other Products describes what is currently known about a range of herbal products and supplements. *Please note this is an American website and not all of the products listed may be available in Australia.