Many menopausal women suffering from hot flashes cannot or prefer not to use hormone replacement and turn to complementary alternative medicines (CAMs) such as herbal remedies. A new study evaluated the effectiveness of these remedies as well as behavioral/lifestyle choices for the relief of hot flashes. The findings were published online in the journal Menopause by researchers in the United Kingdom.
The study authors note that when the Women’s Health Initiative reported in 2002 that HRT increased the risks of breast cancer and cardiovascular events many women discontinued their use. Therefore, they evaluated the use and perceived effectiveness of CAMs for menopausal symptom relief after discontinuation of HRT.
The study group comprised postmenopausal women aged 50 to 65 years who were enrolled in the United Kingdom Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening who were willing to take part in a secondary study. A total of 15,000 women were mailed a survey to evaluate menopausal symptom management. Use and perceived effectiveness of CAMs for relief of hot flashes was evaluated.
Of the 15,000 women who were mailed a survey from July 2 2008 through July 9, 2008 10,662 (71%) responded, and 10,607 women with complete data were included in the study. The percentage of women who had used HRT at any time in the past was 60.2% (6,383 of 10,607 women). At the completion of the survey, (5,060 (79.3%) of 6,383 had discontinued HRT, with 89.7% (4,540 (89.7%) of 5,060) of the latter group reporting the use of one or more CAMs for the relief of hot flashes. Approximately 70.4% (3,561 of 5,060) used herbal remedies; evening primrose oil (48.6%; 2,205 of 4,540) and black cohosh (30.3%; 1,377 of 4,540) were the most commonly used CAMs. Exercise was used by 68.2% (3,098 of 4,540), whereas other behavioral/lifestyle approaches were less frequently reported (6,294 (13.9%) of 5,400). In contrast, more women (57-72%) rated behavioral/lifestyle approaches more effective than herbal remedies (28-46%; rating 4 or higher on a “helpfulness” scale from 1-10). Among medical treatments, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were used by 10% and rated effective by 72.1%.
The authors concluded that although more women use over-the-counter medicines, behavioral/lifestyle approaches appeared to provide better relief of hot flashes. They noted that there is an urgent need for better evidence-based lay information to support decision-making on CAM use for relief of hot flashes.