Perimenopause: Plants for Perimenopause

Check out the plants to help with Perimenopause

| May/June 1999

Soybeans and Soy products have been the subject of many controlled studies and are well-known for their ability to reduce hot flashes and relieve other perimenopausal discomforts. The isoflavones responsible for this effect are antioxidants and are believed to be effective anticancer agents. The best-known source of isoflavones are soy and soy products, but isoflavones are also found in significant quantities in many other legumes, including lima beans, black beans, and lentils. A diet rich in legumes is the surest way to obtain a good supply of the key isoflavones that mimic estrogen in the body. The most common recommendation for daily dietary intake of isoflavones is about 40 mg.

Many other plants also can be useful during perimenopause. James Duke, Ph.D., an Herbs for Health editorial adviser and the developer of an extensive database of plants’ chemical constituents, lists dozens of herbs that possess constituents with hormonal properties. Here is a brief summary of some of the herbs most ­widely used for hormone balancing and as ­female tonics. Most are available in supplement form or can be brewed together for a tea to drink once or twice a day. Herbalists Christopher Hobbs and Kathi Keville, in their book Women’s Herbs, Women’s Healing (Interweave Press, 1998), have created a recipe for a menopause tincture made from many of these same herbs; the tincture is diluted in water and taken three times a day. Additionally, many women’s herbal tea products containing the herbs described below are available in the marketplace and even the neighborhood grocery store nowadays.

For women who don’t have the inclination to eat many beans or soy products, red clover (Trifolium pratense) is an easy way to get isoflavones in dietary supplement form. Naturopathic physician Donald Brown, in a 1997 monograph on standardized red clover extract, reported that a 500-mg tablet containing 40 mg of isoflavones and given daily to eighty-six perimenopausal women decreased the incidence and severity of their hot flashes.

The fruit or fruit extract of the shrub vitex (Vitex agnus-castus, also called chaste tree) is pres­ent in virtually every herbal formula for meno­pause. Researchers have found that it stimulates the release of lutenizing hormone (LH) and inhibits the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), there­by increasing the level of progesterone relative to estrogen. This hormonal balancing act can be effective in relieving hot flashes, regulating the menstrual cycle, alleviating PMS symptoms, and is even used to improve ovulation by women trying to conceive during perimenopause. It shouldn’t be used during pregnancy, though, or while receiving HRT. A typical dose is up to three 650-mg capsules daily.

The root of black cohosh (Cimi­­cifuga racemosa) has long been prepared for use as a women’s tonic. An herb native to North Amer­­i­­ca, black cohosh is widely used in Germany for menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and PMS. An isoflavone in the root has been shown in studies to have estrogenic activity comparable to that of conventional estrogen replacement therapy. It is generally taken in tincture or extract form. It shouldn’t be used by anyone with heart disease. A typical dose is three 500- to 600-mg capsules daily of the whole herb. Black cohosh is considered an at-risk plant by some groups. For information on how to be a wise consumer, turn to page 47.

For thousands of years in China, the root of dong quai (Angelica sinensis) has been used for women’s health. The Chinese infuse the dried root in a tea, sometimes combining it with other herbs, and use it as a toner of the reproductive system and to protect the liver from toxins. Most research on the herb has been conducted in China and Japan and shows that dong quai extracts stimulate uterine contractions and can normalize irregular uterine contractions and improve blood flow to the uterus. It is more commonly available here in liquid extract form and is included in most Chinese formulas. A typical dose is up to six 500- to 600-mg capsules daily, or follow a manufacturer’s or practitioner’s recommendations.

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