Dear Dr. Jane,
I do not want to take any kind of hormones, natural or synthetic. Are there herbs you could recommend for mood swings and hot flashes?
Hot and Bothered
Dear Hot & Bothered,
There are many non-hormonal approaches to managing symptoms that can occur through the menopause transition. For hot flashes one of the best studied herbal remedies is black cohosh. It appears to cut down hot flashes through a mechanism that is not well understood, but does not appear to be hormonal. In other words, black cohosh does not really act like an estrogen in the body. It may actually be more of a serotonin receptor stimulator. The dose that appears to be most effective is 40 mg twice daily to help moderate or mild hot flashes. In my experience it is not very effective for very frequent and/or severe hot flashes.
Eating soy foods may also have some modest benefit on hot flashes. Taking pills with concentrated isoflavones derived from soy may or may not be effective. Drinking plenty of water, avoiding caffeine and alcohol and less refined foods such as sugars and starches also improve irritability and hot flashes – especially limiting alcohol before bedtime to cut down on night sweats.
To help sleep disorders that can often occur with hormone shifts and imbalances, several herbs such as valerian, lemon balm, melissa and chamomile often have relaxing effects. Likewise aromatherapy with lavender or sage oil in a warm bath or on the pillow case may also be calming. Light exercise in the evening or more moderate exercise early in the day assists good sleep. Many people report sleeping well after swimming in the evening.
Having a balanced lifestyle with healthy nutritious whole foods, minimal refined and processed foods and food additives, less caffeine and more water all help hormone balance. Regular exercise and breathing and stretching are useful, as well as adequate sleep, laughter and joy in your life and good relationships – all the pillars of good health – also help hormone balance!
Jane Murray, M.D.