Natural Foods Merchandiser

Herbs, Supplements Offer Menopause Solutions

On July 9, the National Institutes of Health announced that a significant portion of the Women's Health Initiative, the largest HRT study to date, was halted because the combination hormone therapy studied, Prempro, appeared to cause more harm than good to the women in the study who were taking it.

For most women older than 40, the hot health topic this summer was hormone replacement therapy.

For many of the approximately 6 million women in the United States taking this hormone combination, the news drove the final wedge of doubt between themselves and HRT, prompting hordes of women to dump their pills. Fortunately, menopausal symptoms can often be effectively addressed with options other than HRT. So what can the naturals retailer do for the women now wandering the HABA aisles looking for relief? Think "P" for plenty ... with progesterone cream and phytoestrogens.

A recent clinical study evaluating the effectiveness of topically applied progesterone cream demonstrated a statistically significant decrease in hot flashes reported by postmenopausal women. Topical progesterone cream can be used to support hormone balance for women before, during and after menopause, and it's easy to use. Women just rub one-quarter teaspoon of cream into their skin twice daily for three weeks out of the month, adjusting their week off to coincide with their period if they're still menstruating. Progesterone cream has been used in the United States since 1978, and currently is the top product women choose for menopausal support.

Herbs containing phytoestrogens have been shown to support hormone balance during the menopause transition and help women address many of the associated discomforts. These herbs do not contain estrogen, but have constituents—phytoestrogens—that are structurally similar to estrogen and can provide estrogenlike effects in the body. There are dozens of clinical studies supporting the use of these herbs, as well as a variety of products from which your customers can choose. Some of the most relevant studies involve red clover, black cohosh, alfalfa and dandelion.

For information on merchandising HRT alternatives, see "Sorting HRT Fact From Fear."
Red clover ( Trifolium pratense) is a rich source of phytoestrogens, particularly isoflavones. Studies have shown it supports cardiovascular and bone health and promotes the relief of hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Red clover is a mild diuretic so it may also help with bloating. Studies show it binds to estrogen and progesterone receptors.

Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), originally used by Native Americans for women's health conditions, has been shown in research studies to be effective support for hot flashes and other menopausal concerns.

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a rich source of phytoestrogens and antioxidants and has been shown to provide valuable support for menopausal hot flashes and night sweats.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) leaves contain vitamins and minerals and have been studied for their promotion of healthy fluid balance in the body. The root has been shown in research to stimulate the activity of one of the detoxifying enzymes in the liver that may support hormone metabolism and hormone balance.

Phytoestrogens are common in most fruits and vegetables, with legumes (soy, chickpeas, etc.) being particularly good sources, so don't forget to send your female customers to the produce section as well. But before they leave the HABA aisles, here are a few additional products that can be helpful around menopause.

For hot flashes: In addition to progesterone cream and phytoestrogens, vitamin E can help reduce hot flashes. And topical cooling agents can soothe women's skin during and after hot flashes.

For vaginal dryness: Natural lubricants and vaginal moisturizers can help reduce irritation. Those containing herbs and nutrients can support vaginal tissue health. Vitamin E also can be used topically for vaginal irritation.

For reduced sexual desire or arousal: Topical products containing warming herbs and nutrients to promote nitric oxide production and blood flow can support the female sexual response, while herbal supplements containing muira puama (Ptychopetalum incinatum), Panax ginseng, Ginkgo biloba and damiana (Turnera diffusa), among others, may support sexual energy and desire.

For sleep disturbances: Progesterone cream can help support healthy sleep during menopause, since progesterone is calming to the brain. Nutrients to consider include calcium and magnesium. Melatonin also can be utilized short term for sleep disturbances.

When guiding customers to supportive options at menopause, keep in mind the following: The choice of taking HRT lies with each woman. Do not advocate medication changes, but rather support a woman's quest for knowledge and products to support wellness during this stage of her life. Herbal products and progesterone creams are not substitutes for HRT, but another way to achieve hormonal balance at menopause. Encourage women to become knowledgeable in the many ways they can take control of their health, and by doing so, empower them to make the decisions that are right for them.

Deborah Moskowitz, N.D., is the director of Transitions For Health's Women's Institute in Portland, Ore. TFH is the maker of women's health products sold under the Emerita and Women's Group Formula brands.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 9/p. 32

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