When it comes to CAM for menopausal symptoms, there are three main categories: 18
- Mind-body practices, including hypnosis, cognitive behavioral therapy, [CBT], relaxation, biofeedback, meditation, and aromatherapy
- Natural products, such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, and dietary supplements.
- Whole system approaches, such as acupuncture, reflexology, homeopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine
Let’s take a quick look at some.
Hypnosis. No, we’re not talking about making you do silly things. Medical hypnosis puts you into a deep state of relaxation, making you more susceptible to suggestions – including your own. Two studies involving five sessions of hypnosis for hot flashes among breast cancer survivors found a significant reduction in their frequency and severity, about the same as with hormone therapy. 18 Other studies find hypnosis can also improve sleep quality and sexual function. Even the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) recommends hypnosis for menopausal symptoms. 19 You can find a medical hypnotist through the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive behavioral therapy is short-term therapy in which you work with a therapist to reframe how you think about and react to your symptoms. One study found a 52 percent reduction in the impact of hot flashes on breast cancer survivors who received CBT compared to 25 percent in women who did not receive the intervention, even though the frequency of hot flashes felt about the same in both groups. 20
Cognitive behavioral therapy is another intervention that NAMS recommends for reducing the impact of hot flashes and night sweats on quality of life, even if it doesn’t reduce the frequency. 20
Mindfulness training. This approach involves learning to recognize and discriminate more accurately between the thoughts, feelings, and sensations of an experience so you can be less reactive to them and observe them in a more dispassionate manner. In one randomized trial, 110 late perimenopausal and early post-menopausal women experiencing an average of five or more moderate or severe hot flashes (including night sweats) a day were randomized to attend eight weekly classes on biofeedback and relaxation, and one all-day class, or to no intervention.
After 20 weeks, women attending the classes saw the “bothersomness” of their symptoms fall 22 percent compared to 10.5 percent for those who didn’t get the training. The women in the first group also demonstrated significant improvements in quality of life, sleep quality, anxiety, and perceived stress, all of which persisted at least three months (the time period they were followed) after the intervention. 21
Yoga. The emphasis on being in the moment as well as the movements and deep breathing inherent to yoga are likely behind the benefits that studies on yoga often find when it comes to the psychological symptoms of menopause, including quality of life, sexuality, and fatigue, although not hot flashes and other vasomotor symptoms. 18
Aromatherapy. You may know that lavender can improve sleep (spray some on your pillow), but did you know it can also improve hot flashes. One 12-week study in 100 women, in which half received lavender essential oil and half a placebo for six weeks, after which they switched, found that the essential oil slashed the number of hot flashes in half compared to a less than 1 percent reduction with the placebo. 22 A simple and safe procedure.
Black cohosh. Black cohosh, or cimicifuga racemosa, is possibly the most-studied herbal remedy for hot flashes. But here’s the thing; although most studies show significant improvements in menopausal symptoms, the improvements aren’t much different from that of placebo.
Nonetheless, the authors of a review of 16 studies concluded that while there wasn’t enough evidence to recommend the use of black cohosh for menopausal symptoms, there was enough evidence to suggest more studies should be conducted. 23 We should point out, however, that the findings in that review were considered somewhat controversial. 24 Plus, as the North American Menopause Society notes, black cohosh is “relatively low risk.”
Meanwhile, a study focused only on the effects of black cohosh on sleep in 42 women just after menopause found significant improvements in sleep in the women who received the herb versus those who received placebo. 25 As with any herbal treatment, be sure to talk with your physician, nurse practitioner or pharmacist before trying it, especially if you are on other medications, to be sure it does not interact or interfere with those medications.
Phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are plant-based estrogens found in soy and red clover. They are often touted as “natural estrogens” and, indeed, they can contain large amounts of the isoflavones genistein and daidzein that may produce “estrogen-like” effects. While clinical trials are mixed, often showing no difference between placebo and the phytoestrogen on menopausal symptoms, NAMS notes that they can reduce menopausal symptoms with no evidence of increased risk of breast or endometrial cancer. In fact, diets high in soy are associated with a lower risk of breast and endometrial cancer. 19 26
Acupuncture. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing system used throughout the world. Practitioners insert hair-thin needles into specific points along the meridians or at the tender points in the body. A year-long, federally funded study found that acupuncture may significantly reduce hot flashes and other menopause-related symptoms, including memory, anxiety, and sleep quality, with the benefits lasting at least 6 months after the acupuncture treatments ended. 27 Numerous other studies also show benefits for hot flashes, sleep, and somatic symptoms such as pain and fatigue. 18
Other herbs with some potential benefits for various menopausal symptoms include St. John’s wort for hot flashes and sleep; 28 29 ginseng for hot flashes and overall well-being, including depression and sexual dysfunction; 29 and flaxseed for hot flashes. 29