Fact Sheet

Alternative Medicine for Menopause

  • Editors
  • Kathryn Martin
    JoAnn Pinkerton
    Richard Santen

What is menopause?

Menopause marks the end of a woman’s menstrual periods. Levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone go up and down in the years leading up to menopause, then decline. Symptoms (what you feel) may include hot flashes (also called hot flushes) and night sweats, disturbed sleep, vaginal dryness or itching, bladder problems, and mood changes.

Women have a number of options for treating menopausal symptoms. These include estrogen—still the most effective treatment for many menopausal symptoms—non-estrogen prescription drugs, and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

What is CAM?

CAM refers to practices and products that are not usually thought to be part of mainstream medicine. CAM includes herbs and other plant-based treatments (botanicals), non-botanical supplements, and mind-body therapies. Some women use only CAM, and others use CAM with mainstream treatments.

Did you know?

Most CAM treatments are safe, but some can interfere with the action of other medicines.

What about CAM treatments for menopausal symptoms?

Many CAM treatments are available (see table). Some women find them helpful, but research studies have not proved that most CAM treatments are more effective than placebo. A placebo is an inactive substance designed to resemble the treatment under study.

Some CAM treatments may have serious side effects, even when they are labeled “natural.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate dietary supplements. Therefore, they might contain more or less of the active ingredients than are listed on the label. CAM treatments can interfere with other medicines. Talk with your health care provider before you try CAM treatments or if you already use CAM.

In general, most doctors know less about CAM than about conventional medicine. Researchers continue to study the safety and effectiveness of CAM treatments for menopausal symptoms.

CAM Treatments: What the Science Says
Botanical Treatments
Treatment What the Science Says Cautions and Side Effects
Black cohosh Not proved to relieve menopausal symptoms more than placebo
  • Not for women with liver disease
  • Can cause headaches and stomach upset
Dong quai Does not reduce hot flashes more than placebo
  • Not for women who take warfarin, a blood thinner
  • May include other untested herbs
Evening primrose
  • No effect on menopausal symptoms
  • May help breast tenderness
Can cause headaches and stomach upset
  • May help improve sleep, mood, and sense of well-being
  • Not proved to relieve hot flashes or improve memory or concentration
Can cause headaches and stomach upset
  • May help relieve anxiety
  • Not shown to help other menopausal symptoms
Possible link between kava and liver damage
Phytoestrogens (estrogen-like substances in cereal, soy, vegetables, and herbs) Soy supplementsmay help hot flashes but not proved Red clover not proved to relieve hot flashes more than placebo May not be for women with conditions affected by hormones (such as breast, ovarian, or uterine cancer); consult your doctor before taking phytoestrogens
Valerian May help insomnia but effects not proved Can cause headaches, dizziness, stomach upset, and fatigue the morning after use
Non-Botanical Supplements
Melatonin Can help older people fall asleep and may help others overcome insomnia May be safe when used short term at recommended doses
Vitamin E Not proved to relieve hot flashes May interact with other medications
Mind-Body Therapies
Acupuncture May help some women with insomnia, mood swings, or hot flashes
Homeopathy (highly diluted natural substances intended to stimulate the body to heal itself) Not proved to help symptoms more than placebo
Magnet therapy Not shown to relieve pain or hot flashes Can interfere with medical devices such as pacemakers
Paced breathing May provide relief of hot flashes when done for 20 minutes three times a day
Relaxation therapies (includingmassage, meditation, and yoga) May relieve stress, insomnia, and fatigue Massage may not be safe for women with certain health problems, such as advanced osteoporosis
Reflexology (pressure or massage applied to the feet) Not shown to relieve hot flashes

Questions to ask your doctor