Life after HRT: many natural options

Just as the largest number of North American women in history are reaching menopause, the medical “treatment of choice” is being called into question. One of the largest and best designed studies on the use of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) was recently abandoned due to the finding that women using HRT after menopause had a significantly greater risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, heart attack, stroke and blood clots than those not on the drugs.

For the millions of women now in or approaching menopause, there is a clear need for alternatives—if they wish to do everything possible to prevent heart disease and osteoporosis, as well as reduce menopause symptoms. Fortunately, there are safe, natural alternatives to HRT and studies show they work.


Eating a healthy diet that is low in animal fats and includes fresh fruits and vegetables goes a long way towards reducing disease risks and giving the body what it needs to deal with hormonal changes. To be on the safe side, consider a high-quality multiple vitamin supplement, extra calcium and essential fatty acids (EFAs). Nutrition expert and author Lorna Vanderhaeghe agrees.

“Most women are so nutrient deficient that simply adding a multi-vitamin with minerals and some EFAs reduces the symptoms of menopause and the risk of heart disease and helps to build solid bone,” she says.


A number of herbs help to balance hormone levels and reduce common menopause symptoms. Here are some of the best to date:

• Black Cohosh: This ancient remedy for hot flashes has been widely studied. A recent study of 976 postmenopausal women found that 40 mg of black cohosh daily reduced their symptoms significantly — hot flashes, mood swings, night sweats, insomnia — compared with controls. Another study of black cohosh extract saw a reduction of symptoms in 70% of women.

• Chasteberry (Vitex): Reported to be the most commonly recommended herb in Europe for PMS and menopause complaints, chasteberry can help balance hormone levels. Researchers believe the herb stimulates the pituitary gland, which regulates hormone functions.

• Red Clover: A source of isoflavones that exert an estrogen-like effect in the body, red clover may also have anticancer benefits. In a study this year, red clover extract reduced hot flashes by nearly 50% in a group of 30 postmenopausal women!

Studies show that, unlike HRT drugs, plant estrogens “don’t stimulate cells that contribute to hormone-dependent cancers,” according to herbalist Mark Blumenthal of the non-profit American Botanical Council.

Sources: Journal of Women’s Health and Gender-Based Medicine, March 28, 2002; Dietary Supplement Information Bureau, The Healing Power of Vitamins, Minerals and Herbs, Reader’s Digest:1999; SciWords, August 13, 2002