This is the second part of my look at natural options for treating menopausal symptoms. In the first, I honed in on the herb black cohosh, which has positive effects. Now I move on to the second tier of options, starting first with soy and isoflavones.
Soy supplements and foods are the second most-studied natural relief for menopause. They contain high amounts of phytoestrogen — namely, isoflavones, lignans and coumestans. Unlike black cohosh, soy and isoflavones have shown mixed results in studies. In a recent review of about 30 studies, the authors concluded that there was no evidence to prove that soy could reduce symptoms.
Still, five clinical trials used red clover and soy in early postmenopause — and managed to significantly reduce of hot flashes. Here are the numbers:
1998: Soy decreased hot flushes by five per day compared to placebo’s 3.4.
2000: Soy reduced hot flushes by 28% (placebo: 20%).
2002: Soy reduced hot flushes by 6.4 a day (placebo: 2.2).
2002: Soy lowered scores on the Kupperman index by 19.7.
2002: Red clover reduced hot flushes by 3.4 a day (placebo: 0.6).
Now for the others. Here is the rest of a cast and crew that may help, but that are not supported by strong evidence just yet.
— Evening primrose oil: In one study involving 56 postmenopausal women with symptoms, evening primrose oil was shown to be less effective than placebo.
— Dong quai: This Chinese medicine is often used for hot flushes. There is conflicting information as to its effectiveness in relieving menopausal symptoms. There is also some concern that its estrogen effects could raise the cancer risk.
— Wild yam: Wild yam cream was studied in 23 symptomatic postmenopausal women against placebo. There were no differences between the cream and placebo for hot flushes or night sweats.
— Panax ginseng: Preliminary evidence says ginseng might be useful in relieving depressive symptoms, insomnia or fatigue in menopause. However, there is no evidence that it helps hot flushes.
— DHEA: Conflicting evidence exists here and, due to the estrogen-cancer question, it’s best to avoid DHEA.
Here is my bottom line. Black cohosh is the best dietary supplement for relieving menopausal symptoms. Soy and isoflavones are only effective in a selective group of early postmenopausal women with mild-to-moderate symptoms. Always tell your doctor about what you are taking.