With hormone replacement therapy proven to cause potentially harmful side effects, plant-based therapy has been introduced as a safer alternative to battling menopausal symptoms. Phytoestrogen supplementation was discovered to be associated with moderate improvements in hot flashes and vaginal dryness for menopausal women.
Menopause, considered the end of a women’s reproductive life, brings along many variable changes. Symptoms associated with menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness, with 50.3% to 82.1% of menopausal women reporting hot flashes or night sweats. The standard treatment for menopausal symptoms is hormone replacement therapy (HRT), but with its negative health consequences, including potential cardiovascular issues and elevated risk of breast cancer, 40-50% of women turn to an alternative– plant based therapies. Such therapies include the oral use of phytoestrogens such as dietary soy isoflavones and soy extracts, herbal remedies such as red clover and black cohosh, and Chinese and other medicinal herbs.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention studies was conducted, evaluating the association of plant-based therapies with menopausal symptoms. Full texts were retrieved from studies that satisfied all selection criteria. Study populations in the eligible trials included women experiencing menopausal symptoms recruited from health care settings or general populations. 62 articles were chosen for evaluation in this research.
The results, published in this month’s Journal of the American Medical Association, concluded that the use of phytoestrogens was associated with a decrease in the number of daily hot flashes and overall vaginal dryness, between the treatment groups, but not in the number of night sweats. Individual phytoestrogen use, such as dietary and supplemental soy isoflavones, was associated with an improvement in daily hot flashes and overall vaginal dryness. A plausible biological argument can be tied to these findings, as phytoestrogen has a chemical structure similar to estradiol (a form of estrogen), and therefore appears to have estrogen-like properties.
Overall, it can be concluded that phytoestrogen supplementation and individual phytoestrogen interventions, such as dietary and supplemental soy isoflavones, were associated with improvement in some menopausal symptoms. This included modest reductions in hot flashes and vaginal dryness but no significant reduction in night sweats.
Because of the varied nature of the current evidence, further rigorous studies are needed to determine the association of plant-based and natural therapies with menopausal health.
Written By: Rachel Berkovich, BSc