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Do any herbs work for menopause?

Consumer Reports News: February 02, 2009 04:43 PM

Herbal medicines offer a safe, effective alternative to HRT for menopausal symptoms, right? Wrong. With advertising for these products everywhere, you'd certainly think so. But a team of British researchers writing in the Drugs and Therapeutics Bulletin, looking at commonly used herbs for symptoms like hot flashes, found that at present there's little convincing evidence to support their use.

They looked in detail at research for five herbals. They found:

  • There's mixed evidence for black cohosh. Some studies say it works; others say that it doesn't work better than a pretend (placebo) drug.
  • There's evidence that red clover (a type of phytoestrogen) is no better than a placebo.
  • There's not enough evidence to say whether or not dong quai, evening primrose, or ginseng can relieve symptoms of menopause.

The researchers say that since many of the original studies are flawed, we need further research into these widely used treatments before we can say whether or not they work. We also need more evidence about their safety. The researchers point out that all these herbals may have side effects, and they can also affect the effectiveness of other medicines. For example, there’s a possible link between black cohosh and liver damage, while dong quai may cause bleeding if it's taken with the blood-thinning drug warfarin (Coumadin).

What you need to know. If you're interested in herbal medicines for menopause, it's worth bearing in mind that so far, the evidence is mixed. If you're going to take an herbal medicine, be aware of possible side effects and check with your doctor to be sure it won’t affect any other medicines you're taking.

Anna Sayburn, patient editor, BMJ Group has partnered with The BMJ Group to monitor the latest medical research and assess the evidence to help you decide which news you should use.

For more on black cohosh and phytoestrogens, see our Treatment Ratings (subscribers only) on menopause. And for more on how to save on your menopause drugs, see our free Best Buy Drugs report.

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