Herbal Therapy for Menopause Symptoms

Case studies from an herbalists notebook: holistic remedies for menopause.

| November/December 1997

Shortly after she moved to Santa Cruz, Sibyl was referred to my clinic by a friend. She planned to ease off hormone replacement therapy (HRT)—in her case a combination of synthetic estrogen and progesterone—and wanted to know which herbs and foods would support her through this process.

Sibyl seemed to be a “can-do” kind of person, asking a lot of questions and taking notes. She first noticed changes in her menstrual flow during her late forties when she began to experience hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and fairly dramatic mood swings.

Searching for information

When her menopausal symptoms began to develop, Sibyl read reports that estrogen helps prevent osteoporosis and heart disease. Estrogen is a class of sex hormones that helps the skeleton retain calcium stores and therefore fight osteoporosis. It also helps reverse the increased low density lipoprotein (LDL) and decreased high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol associated with menopause, decreasing the risk of heart disease. So her doctor put her on estrogen replacement therapy (ERT), using an oral synthetic estrogen replacement that mimics hormones in the body.

While this lessened her menopausal symptoms, after a few months Sibyl noticed breast tenderness, spotting, and water weight. After another month, she began to have regular periods again. At the same time, she began to take a closer look at estrogen research and found that studies clearly linked its use with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Going holistic

As a result, she decided to visit a holistic doctor, who recommended that Sibyl switch to a blend of estrogenic hormones and progesterone. The doctor told her that progesterone reduced the risk of cancer and the side effects she had been experiencing.

While this new blend was a definite improvement, Sibyl decided that she was ready to let nature take its course and for her periods to stop. But she was still concerned about her earlier symptoms associated with too little estrogen. She heard that certain herbs and foods might have an estrogenic effect without increased cancer risk and HRT-induced menstrual flow—which brought her to my clinic.

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