More Herbs for Menopause Relief

We have covered about herbs in other articles and this one will go over some other ones that you should know about. We have extensive articles on each of these herbs on other pages so make sure you read those if you want further information.

Red Clover (Trifolium praetense)

We’ve probably all seen red clover in our yards and in fields throughout the world. It grows throughout the world, mainly in the more temperate zones or at higher altitudes. As a bit of an interesting side note, it is the state flower of Vermont and the national flower of Denmark!

Red clover is a fodder plant for cattle and sheep and contains significant levels of calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C. Red clover is also a rich source of isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen.

Traditionally, red clover has been used for cancer and for various respiratory problems, including whooping cough, asthma, and chronic bronchitis.

More recently, red clover has been used to treat menopausal symptoms, breast pain (mastalgia—often associated with menstrual cycles and PMS), high cholesterol, osteoporosis, and symptoms of prostate enlargement.

Red clover contains phytoestrogens, plant substances that in some ways mimic estrogen and in other ways, antagonize, or work against estrogen. It is believed that the positive effects noted in some studies for the relief of hot flashes in menopause may be due to red clover’s phytoestrogen effects. 1 2 Of a total of 6 studies on red clover, 3 of the studies showed positive effects for red clover, while 3 others did not. 3 Other studies have shown promising effects for preventing osteoporosis, lowering high blood lipids and promoting heart and prostate health. So far, the best results have been in reducing breast pain (mastalgia). 4 5 6

Dong quai (Angelica sinensis)

There has only been one study of Dong quai and its effects on menopause, even though it has been used to treat menopausal symptoms for more than 1000 years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Also, that study looked at dong quai used alone, rather than at the traditional combinations of herbs used in Chinese medicine.

Dong quai is also known as the “female ginseng” and is traditionally used to relieve cramps, irregular menstrual cycles, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and menopausal symptoms. It is also used topically on the penis to treat erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. The translation of the name “dong quai” is “return to order” and in TCM, dong quai is thought to benefit especially those women who are in general calm and reserved. It is considered a warming herb, allowing blood to flow and the liver to function better.

One word of caution about dong quai—it may increase bleeding, so if you are taking any blood thinning medications (anti-coagulants), you should talk to a qualified health care practitioner before using any supplement containing dong quai. As far as dosage, most preparations provide about 4 grams per day.

Dong quai seems to work best in combination with other herbs –if you are interested in trying dong quai to deal with menopausal symptoms, it may be useful to find a TCM practitioner or medical herbalist who is trained in the traditional herbal combinations that have been used for centuries.

Chasteberry (Vitus agnus-castus)

The chasteberry is also called Monk’s pepper. It is considered a sort of anti-aphrodisiac—which is why it is also called Monk’s pepper—it was believed to dampen the physical desires of monks who had vowed to remain celibate!

Chasteberry seems to be most beneficial treating PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and breast tenderness/pain associated with menses. It appears to decrease the levels of prolactin in both men and women—prolactin is the primary hormone that promotes breastmilk production in nursing women, but it also is involved in the response to sexual activity. High levels of prolactin are associated with a loss of libido or sexual desire and an increased risk of impotence in men.

As far as treating symptoms of menopause, the studies to date have not shown any significant effectiveness.

Chasteberry is very safe—the only side effects reported are mild gastrointestinal complaints, dizziness, and dry mouth. There have been no herb-drug interactions reported to date.

St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

St John’s wort is a very effective anti-depressant and has been used to treat mood swings, anxiety and irritability during menopause.

St John’s wort appears to work through a number of different brain transmitters including serotonin, dopamine, glutamine, GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) and norepinephrine. The net result is an anti-depressant effect along with decreased anxiety. St John’s wort also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that are noteworthy. St John’s wort appears to be as effective as tricyclic antidepressants (TCA) and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for menopausal mild-to-moderate depression, anxiety and irritability. 7 8 9 10 11 Dosing is generally about 2-300 mg three times a day.

Herb studies in general

It should be mentioned that many of the studies on various herbs are problematic. Many of these studies are conducted as if herbs were drugs—and they are not. Others have technical problems, while still others look only at a single herb rather than look at a combination of herbs. Most trained herbal medicine practitioners will use combinations of herbs rather than just one herb to treat menopausal symptoms.

It is always best to consult with a knowledgeable health care practitioner before taking any herbal supplement. If your doctor is knowledgeable (and unbiased), then you should speak with them. Otherwise, talk to a naturopathic physician who is trained in the use of a large number of different herbs. You could also find a medical herbalist in your area or look for a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner.

Notes:

  1. Beck, V., U. Rohr, and A. Jungbauer, Phytoestrogens derived from red clover: an alternative to estrogen replacement therapy? The Journal Of Steroid Biochemistry And Molecular Biology, 2005. 94(5): p. 499-518.
  2. Carroll, D.G., Nonhormonal therapies for hot flashes in menopause. American Family Physician, 2006. 73(3): p. 457-464.
  3. Hudson, T., Botanicals for managing menopause-related symptoms: state of the science. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, 2009. 8(6): p. 30-37.
  4. Beck, V., U. Rohr, and A. Jungbauer, Phytoestrogens derived from red clover: an alternative to estrogen replacement therapy? The Journal Of Steroid Biochemistry And Molecular Biology, 2005. 94(5): p. 499-518.
  5. Carroll, D.G., Nonhormonal therapies for hot flashes in menopause. American Family Physician, 2006. 73(3): p. 457-464.
  6. Geller, S.E. and L. Studee, Botanical and dietary supplements for menopausal symptoms: what works, what does not. Journal of Women’s Health (15409996), 2005. 14(7): p. 634-649.
  7. Hoegler, N., St. John’s Wort Relieves Menopause Symptoms. HerbalGram, 2000(50): p. 27-28.
  8. Hudson, T., Menopause Symptoms and Lesser-Known Botanicals. Townsend Letter, 2007(287): p. 160-162.
  9. Hudson, T., Top 5 Herbs in Women’s Health. Townsend Letter, 2013(357): p. 80-89.
  10. Oliff, H.S., Combination of Black Cohosh and St. John’s wort Improves Menopausal Symptoms in Korean Women. HerbalGram, 2008(78): p. 32-32.
  11. van Die, M., et al., Effects of a Combination of Hypericum perforatum and Vitex agnus-castus on PMS-Like Symptoms in Late-Perimenopausal Women: Findings from a Subpopulation Analysis. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 2009. 15(9): p. 1045-1048.

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