Is there an alternative remedy for hot flashes? According to a 2010 study published in Menopause, the Journal of the North American Menopause Society, the severity of menopausal hot flashes might be decreased with the use of St. John's wort.
This herb joins a growing number of plant-based alternative remedies — including black cohosh, red clover and ginseng — that are being studied to alleviate this uncomfortable companion to menopause.
“Alternative remedies for menopausal symptom relief is an option for women who cannot take estrogen prescription treatment,” said Dr. Margery Gass, executive director of the North American Menopause Society (www.menopause.org).
Hot flashes affect 75 percent of women, reaching highest occurrence during the first two years of post-menopause.
The women in the study were given either a placebo or St. John's wort. Those taking the herb experienced a slightly larger cutback in hot flashes, down from four to less than two per day by the end of the study. During the same interval, those taking the placebo dropped to an average of about 2.6 hot flashes per day.
“Based on the article cited above, St. John's wort was effective in alleviating hot flashes. Prior to that, the efficacy of St. John's wort for hot flash relief was not widely accepted,” Gass said.
But the jury is still out for some medical professionals, such as Dr. Heather Boon, an associate professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto and co-director of the Canadian Interdisciplinary Network for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research.
“Usually, St. John's wort in combination with other things, like black cohosh, suggests some benefits of reducing hot flashes,” Boon said. “But I would say it's not conclusive. I think there is likely a placebo effect.”
But Boon did point out one plant that might make a difference: the soybean.
“The one that is most likely to work is soy. We know that soy contains a group of compounds called isoflavones that bind to estrogen receptors,” she said. “Evidence from human trials suggests that people who increase soy content have reduced hot flashes. But not all the evidence is positive.”
Women should consult their doctors before trying any herbal or plant-based treatments, Boon said.
“Any women who are told they should not take estrogen, such as women who have had breast cancer, have to be very careful because most of these products bind to the estrogen receptors.
“That will cause the same problems taking estrogen would cause, possibly stimulating the tumor,” Boon said.