A couple of recent but unrelated studies have found that flaxseed and pine bark extract may help calm hot flashes and other symptoms associated with pre- and postmenopausal conditions.
A small pilot study published in the summer issue of the Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology reported that the frequency of hot flashes fell by nearly 60 percent for postmenopausal women with hot flashes who took flaxseed but refrained from taking estrogen.
"Hot flashes are a bothersome issue for women experiencing menopause," said Dr. Sandhya Pruthi, the principal investigator for the Mayo Clinic team, in a release. "We hope to find more effective nonhormonal options to assist women, and flaxseed looks promising."
A hot flash is described as a flush of intense warmth across much of the body that may be accompanied by sweating, reddening of the skin, or, occasionally, cold shivers. Hot flashes occur in varying frequency and duration, even during sleep, and often cause or accompany sleep deprivation, anxiety and irritability.
Twenty-one of the 29 participants in the clinical trial completed the study, receiving 40 grams of crushed flaxseed daily. The frequency of hot flashes decreased 50 percent over six weeks, and the overall hot flash score decreased an average 57 percent for the women who completed the trial. Participants also reported improvements in mood, joint or muscle pain, chills and sweating.
"While results were promising, we have more research to conduct," Pruthi said. "Oftentimes, pilot studies show promising results that upon further study in a large, randomized placebo-controlled study turn out to be much less remarkable." The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports on its Web site the science is mixed on whether flaxseeds decrease hot flashes. A 2006 study published in the journal Menopause reported that 99 postmenopausal women received no relief after eating muffins with 25 grams of crushed flax seeds for 16 weeks.
Pruthi's research team hopes to begin a new, larger clinical trial in 2008 to evaluate flaxseed against a placebo to better refine the results, and to determine whether flaxseed is a viable treatment option for hot flashes in women.
In a study to be published in an upcoming issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers found a possible link between pycnogenol, a pine bark extract from the French maritime pine tree, and the reduction of common symptoms associated with premenopause (also called perimenopause).
The randomized, double-blind study involved 155 perimenopausal women. Each day, participants either received 200 mg of pycnogenol or a placebo, and tracked their symptoms. After six months, LDL (bad) cholesterol levels dropped by 10 percent for those taking pycnogenol versus the placebo group, and other perimenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, depression and panic attacks also improved for the former group and not the latter.
"There is a shift away from the use of hormone replacement therapy due to side effects," noted lead researcher Dr. Peter Rohdewald, with the Institute of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at Germany's University of Munster, in a release. Rohdewald said the pine bark extract could prove to be a natural alternative.