Complementary therapies for menopausal symptoms

Some complementary therapies may help with menopause side effects. Talk to your doctor if you are thinking of starting a complementary therapy. Always make sure you see a certified and registered therapist. Some therapies may be available on the NHS.

Certain breathing techniques may help to control hot flushes. Acupuncture may also help. But check with your cancer doctor or nurse to find out if it is safe for you first.

If you have a hormonal related cancer, doctors say you should not take plant oestrogens, such as black cohosh and red clover. Talk to your doctor before taking any herbal therapies or supplements. They may interfere with your cancer treatment.

Some women use other supplements such as evening primrose oil and sage for menopause symptoms. But there is no strong evidence that it works.

Complementary therapies

There are different complementary therapies that may help control your menopausal symptoms. Some of these have been researched. But for some, the evidence is only based on personal accounts (anecdotal) rather than on facts.

Some of these therapies may be available on the NHS. Your GP can give you more details. If you would like to find a complementary therapist, make sure they are properly qualified and registered.

It is a good idea to talk to your cancer doctor or specialist nurse before using a complementary therapy. Some therapies may affect how your cancer treatment works.


Breathing techniques

Two research trials have shown that using a slow, controlled breathing technique can be an effective way of managing hot flushes. This is called paced respiration. The results showed that the number of flushes was reduced, on average, by between 50 and 60%.

To develop paced respiration it is important to practice for 15 minutes, twice a day. Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably without being interrupted while you practice. Do the following exercise:

  • Keep your rib cage still and breathe in and out by pushing out and pulling in your tummy muscles (using your abdominal muscles).
  • Without moving your rib cage, breathe in for 5 seconds and then breathe out for 5 seconds.

When you are confident doing paced respiration, you can use it whenever you feel a flush starting. You should continue with paced respiration until you feel the flush has passed.

A yoga breathing technique called the cooling breath or sheetali can also help to reduce your body temperature. Contact the British Wheel of Yoga to find a registered yoga teacher near you.


Acupuncture

Acupuncture involves putting sterile needles through the skin at specific points in the body. There is some evidence that acupuncture may help reduce the frequency and severity of hot flushes. Always ask your cancer doctor or specialist nurse if acupuncture is safe for you first.


Hypnosis

Some evidence suggests that hypnosis may help reduce the length and severity of hot flushes. It is unlikely to be available on the NHS. Contact the British Complementary Medicine Association to find a registered practitioner.


Homeopathy

This uses tiny amounts of substances that would normally produce the symptoms being treated. There is no scientific proof that this works. But some women feel that it improves their menopausal symptoms.


Plant oestrogens

Plant oestrogens (phytoestrogens) can have a weak oestrogen-like effect on the body and may help improve menopause symptoms. But there is not enough evidence about how helpful or how safe they are. Doctors advise women with hormone related cancers not to take plant oestrogens. If you are planning to take them, it is important to talk to your cancer doctor first.

The two most commonly used plant oestrogens are black cohosh and red clover.

Black cohosh

Black cohosh contains phytoestrogens and may help improve hot flushes. But the evidence is not clear. Side effects include sickness (nausea), vomiting, headaches and possible liver damage.

Red clover

Red clover contains chemicals called isoflavones, which are a type of phytoestrogen. There is less evidence as to whether or not it can help reduce menopausal symptoms. It may increase the risk of bleeding. This means women taking medication to thin the blood (anticoagulants) should not use it.


Other supplements

Evening primrose oil

Some women find evening primrose oil helpful for relieving menopausal symptoms. But it is expensive and there is no scientific evidence that it works.

Sage

Some women find taking sage tablets or drinking sage tea helps reduce hot flushes. But there is no strong evidence that it works.

Vitamin E

There is no good evidence to suggest that vitamin E helps reduce menopausal symptoms. Its use is not recommended. Recent studies have found that taking vitamin E supplements may be harmful for people who have heart disease.

Back to Menopause

Cancer and the menopause

Some cancer treatments can cause early menopause. There are different ways of managing the symptoms of the menopause.