Hot flashes? Insomnia? Moodiness? For the symptoms you most want to treat, here is how both HRT and natural products stack up.
When The Hunger Game’ Katniss Everdeen became “the girl on fire,” hot flashes were probably not what she had in mind.
And yet, for so many with menopausal symptoms, being a girl (er, woman) “on fire” – or sleep-deprived, or violently moody, or tired for no reason – is an everyday reality.
It’s at this stage of life that many women begin talking to their doctors about HRT (hormone replacement therapy) for relief. But what are the side effects of HRT, and do they outweigh its benefits? Another question menopausal (and perimenopausal) women have: do natural products actually work? If the side effects of HRT are too scary – can you reliably turn to a natural alternative? Or is it a waste of money?
Here, we separate fact from fiction on menopause treatment. First, let’s start with HRT, and how it addresses menopausal symptoms.
HRT TO TREAT MENOPAUSE: PROS AND CONS
So how does HRT work for menopause? We like this tidy explanation, from The Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
“Menopausal hormone therapy is prescription medicine to help relieve your menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, if they are severe enough to disrupt your daily life. Menopausal hormone therapy is sometimes called hormone therapy or hormone replacement therapy.
During menopause, your ovaries make very low levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Menopausal hormone therapy replaces some of the hormones no longer made by your ovaries with artificial estrogen and progesterone.
Menopausal hormone therapy can help with hot flashes and other menopause symptoms. It is usually taken as a pill each day. You can also get estrogen or estrogen plus progesterone menopausal hormone therapy as a skin patch. Like all medicines, menopausal hormone therapy has risks. If you decide to take it, use the lowest dose for the shortest time needed.”
So, key points here:
-a prescription is needed for HRT.
-HRT replaces your hormone levels with artificial estrogen and progesterone.
-HRT has risks.
What are some of those risks? We talk about research linking HRT to some cancers here, in our “HRT After Hysterectomy” blog post. Do note, though, that the research into this area is ongoing. As we stated in that article, (citing statistics from Cancer Research UK) here are some of the rough numbers we’ve got at this point in time:
- If 1,000 women start taking HRT at age 50 for five years, 2 more women get breast cancer, and 1 more woman gets ovarian cancer,
- Avoiding HRT could prevent 1,700 cancer cases a year. (But to put this in perspective, keeping a healthy weight could prevent 18,100 cancer cases per year.)
Bottom line: HRT has a long track record of providing some relief of menopause symptoms. But it also has worrying correlations to some cancers, depending on your family medical history and the amount of time you take it.
NATURAL PRODUCTS TO TREAT MENOPAUSE: PROS AND CONS
Probably the biggest (and most obvious) “con” when it comes to natural products for menopause relief is this: sometimes, they just don’t work.
This is due to a variety of reasons, the biggest being: there is a huge (huge!) range of quality, sourcing, and scientific support when it comes to natural products and supplementation.
That’s the bad news. The good news is, 40-50% of women in Western countries already use complementary and plant-based therapies to help ease the symptoms of menopause, and more are joining them now that products are getting better, efficacy is increasing, and the scientific community is starting to take these treatment options seriously.
For example, let’s look at a recent study from researchers from Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands. Their team examined how certain plant-based therapies, including eating soy-rich foods, taking soy supplements, using herbal remedies and Chinese medicinal herbs, affected symptoms of menopause. The results? Approaches using phytoestrogens—chemical compounds in plants that exert a similar action to the female sex hormone estrogen—were linked to a modest drop in daily hot flashes and vaginal dryness. These include whole-food sources of soy, soy extracts and red clover herbal supplements. (Interestingly, the benefits didn’t extend to night sweats.)
What those treatments DIDN’T do was implant artificial hormones into a woman’s body. Rather, the body responds to phtoestrogens as if they were estrogen itself, and levels the body’s internal hormone cascade accordingly.
Let’s linger on that point a moment: natural products are NOT hormone replacement therapy. Rather, the aim of natural products is to blunt the symptoms a menopausal woman is experiencing at a cellular level, or to help the body make more of its own hormones. (More on that in a minute.)
So what are some of the go-to supplements in the natural product space to treat menopausal symptoms? Here’s a short list:
You’ll hear about this one a lot as you research natural remedies for menopause. From Prevention Magazine:
“Black cohosh, a member of the buttercup family, is one of the most researched herbal options for hot flashes. The herb is thought to act like estrogen in the body, decreasing luteinizing hormone (a hormone that’s secreted by the pituitary gland and that may play a role in hot flashes) and affecting serotonin receptors, which are also involved in hot flashes. Nonetheless, the data on this herb are mixed. One study showed that black cohosh reduced hot flashes by 84 percent. In another, it worked just as well as estrogen in reducing hot flashes; still others have found that the herb has little, if any, benefit.”
This is another herb many women and naturopathic physicians reach for to manage common menopausal symptoms. From the Dr. Axe website:
“Can help prevent loss of bone density and lower risk for heart complications. Red clover contains isoflavones that have positive effects in reducing symptoms related to estrogen loss — such as hot flashes, trouble sleeping, weight gain, bone loss, bone fractures or osteoporosis, cardiovascular problems, and inflammation of the joints.”
Vitex or Chasteberry
Like black cohosh, vitex (or chastetree / chasteberry) is one of the most popular herbal remedies for menopause relief, PMS, and women’s hormone balance. Again, from the Dr. Axe website resource:
“For women, it increases luteinizing hormone, modulates prolactin and aids in the inhibition of the release of follicle-stimulating hormone, which all helps balance out the ratio of progesterone to estrogen…It’s important to keep in mind that chasteberry is not actually a hormone, but rather an herb that helps the body raise its own levels of progesterone.”
SO IS ASENSIA HRT OR A NATURAL PRODUCT?
Asensia is a natural product.
The primary ingredient in Asensia’s university-researched formula is vitex, which as you noted above, helps the body produce more of its own progesterone levels, which helps bring estrogen into balance. It’s this critical hormonal dance that gets thrown off during menopause, and can be restored when progesterone levels are healthy again. You can learn more about the relationship between low progesterone and estrogen dominance here. And to learn more about Asensia specifically and how its formula encourages the body to produce more progesterone, visit our How it Works page.
ADDITIONAL LINKS + RESOURCES:
 “Menopause Treatment,” read full article at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/menopause/menopause-treatment
 “Natural Remedies for Menopause Actually Work,” read full article at: http://time.com/4375286/natural-remedies-menopause/
 “14 Natural Remedies for the Worst Symptoms of Menopause,” read full article at: https://www.prevention.com/mind-body/natural-remedies/natural-menopause-solution-hot-flash-remedies/slide/13
 “5 Natural Remedies for Menopause Relief,” read full article at: https://draxe.com/5-natural-remedies-menopause-relief/
 “Vitex or Chasteberry, the Female-Friendly Fruit for PMS and More,” read full article at: https://draxe.com/vitex/