Alternative therapies and menopause symptoms

2 08 2006

During menopause many women complain of a variety of symptoms such as night sweats, sleep problems or hot flashes. About 40 percent of women seek medical help for these problems.

There was some alarm after a large clinical trial of hormone therapy was halted because of an increased risk of breast cancer. Since then, many patients began to seek alternative treatments for menopausal symptoms.

A recent review titled “Complementary and Alternative Therapies for the Management of Menopause-Related Symptoms” and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, shows that insufficient evidence exists to support the use of complementary and alternative therapies to relieve menopause-related symptoms.

Alternative/complementary therapies reviewed were biologically based treatments, mind-body therapies, a body-based therapy, energy-based treatments; and whole medical systems, such as traditional Chinese medicine or ayurvedic medicine.

The main problems found in alternative therapy research is that the quality of the studies is low. In this review the overall quality and quantity of data was not sufficient to recommend any of the treatments. Even though, some of the individual studies suggested benefits for certain therapies, chiefly biologically based therapies.

These biologically based therapies consisted mainly in dietary supplements based in soy-derived phytoestrogens that in many of the studies had a large placebo effect, meaning that even women who were not assigned to receive active therapy still reported improvement in their symptoms. Authors say that “the placebo effect likely plays an important role in the expanding number of dietary supplements marketed to menopausal women.”

The authors explain that “millions of dollars are spent on over-the-counter products for menopausal symptoms by women who have little knowledge of their quality, safety, or effectiveness”. So, it’s important to note that this study shows the low effect of these dietary supplements, which is opposed to a well-planned diet where soy and soy-derived products, such as tofu, have shown efficacy in treating those symptoms.

With this in mind, it is important to differentiate between a simple phytoestrogen dietary supplement and a soy rich diet. Also we shouldn’t be confused by the cure-all dietary supplements promoted by alternative therapies and the evidence based sciences of nutrition and dietetics.

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