Many women and their health care providers are considering complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) as a result of potential health problems recent studies have uncovered with prolonged hormone therapy, the course of synthetic hormones often used to treat menopausal symptoms. Hot flashes, night sweats and difficulty sleeping are among the troublesome symptoms that can accompany menopause. In March 2005, NIH gathered an independent panel of health professionals to examine the available treatment options, including CAM therapies, for these symptoms.
The panel reviewed the available research on black cohosh, red clover, dong quai, ginseng, kava, soy and DHEA. They found that there’s very little scientific evidence thus far supporting these CAM therapies and concluded that more, better-designed studies are needed to resolve whether they’re safe and effective. A number of NIH Institutes and Centers, including the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), are currently sponsoring many such studies around the country.
The panel did cite three CAM therapies for further study: exercise, paced respiration (or paced breathing, a technique of slow breathing using the stomach muscles) and education about menopause. They noted that these therapies are also relatively safe.
If you’re considering or are already using CAM—including over-the-counter supplements such as herbal formulas—talk to your health care provider to make sure the therapy is safe, particularly when combined with other medicines and therapies you might be taking.