Complementary medicines and alternative therapies for early menopause: Women’s experiences

There are a range of complementary medicines and alternative therapies that some women try in relation to early menopause (EM), in particular for relief from hot flushes. These include Traditional Chinese Medicine (including herbal remedies and acupuncture), herbal and botanical remedies (e.g. black cohosh, phytoestrogens such as red clover, wild yam cream, evening primrose oil), progesterone cream, bioidentical compounded hormones, naturopathy, and massage. Some women may also try spiritual or religious approaches. There is limited information regarding the effectiveness and safety of many complementary medicines as compared with Hormone Replacement Therapy – to learn more, please see the Box at the end of this Talking Point.

Women’s views about complementary medicines and alternative therapies

The women we interviewed had varying views and attitudes towards complementary and alternative therapies for EM symptom relief. Some held positive views and valued both complementary and alternative therapies and ‘Western’ medicine. Several women commented favourably on the ‘holistic approach’ of practitioners of alternative medicine or ‘integrative’ practitioners who drew on both forms of medicine (See Women’s experiences with GPs). Linda appreciated her GP who was also trained in naturopathy and psychology: ‘she was brilliant because she was quite holistic in terms of her treatment and her ability to identify the flow on, the ripple effects or the potential impact of any treatment.’

Kirsty explained her attitude towards complementary and alternative therapies 

Other women said concerns about conventional pharmaceutical medicine were the reason they had explored complementary and alternative therapies, including in relation to cancer treatments or Hormone Replacement Therapy (see Hormone-based medications for early menopause: Women’s knowledge and perspectives).

Sonia shared her reasons for trying Traditional Chinese Medicine together with dietary and lifestyle changes to help with her hot flushes.

Some women tried conventional and alternative therapies because they could not take HRT as a result of oestrogen sensitive cancer or because they found the side effects of HRT challenging.

Linda had EM following a hysterectomy for endometriosis at 33 then at 39 was diagnosed with oestrogen sensitive breast cancer and had to stop taking HRT. She described her experience of trying complementary and alternative therapies for hot flushes.

Maddy began taking bioidentical compounded hormones for spontaneous EM after a negative experience with conventional HRT, but was not ‘averse’ to trying conventional HRT again in future.

Several women expressed negative views about complementary and alternative therapies. Concerns included cost and the lack of ‘scientific’ evidence underpinning complementary and alternative therapies. Nancy, who had EM after an oophorectomy, had not considered having acupuncture for hot flushes because it was ‘too expensive’, particularly compared with her home country, China. Debra said she had not looked into complementary and alternative therapies for her symptoms of spontaneous EM because of her concern that they were not ‘rigorously tested.’

Although Mary had tried progesterone cream and acupuncture, she was highly sceptical about complementary and alternative therapies as ‘prefers science’. 

A few women were not aware of complementary and alternative medicines for EM, including Eden who said taking alternative therapies ‘never occurred to me. I didn’t know there were [any].’

Trying complementary and alternative therapies

Complementary and alternative medicines and therapies were helpful for a few women. Sonia said Chinese herbs alleviated her hot flushes, Maddy found bioidentical hormones effective, and others said that massage or acupuncture helped them to relax.

Joanna described her experience of having acupuncture and Chinese herbs after EM induced by treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Several women commented that the benefits of complementary and alternative therapies were not significant enough to justify the cost.

Sylvia described her experience with different complementary and alternative therapies.

Kirsty described her change of approach after several years of trying naturopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as conventional medicine for help with spontaneous EM.

Spiritual approaches

A few women mentioned finding spiritual or religious approaches helpful alongside conventional medical treatment. Lydia appreciated ‘quiet times reading my bible’ while Vicki said Christian meditation had been ‘awesome’ for her ‘healing and recovery’. Describing her visit to an Umbanda spiritual healer in her home country in South America, Lorena joked that: ‘I went to speak with everybody [about early menopause] – from this world, from the other world, everybody!’

Sylvia described having a traditional Māori massage before having a hysterectomy for uterine cancer and knowing this would induce early menopause.

Safety and effectiveness of complementary medicines for early menopause – Clinical research evidence

Compared with HRT, complementary medicines are not as effective for hot flushes and also may not have other benefits of HRT such as positive effects on bone health. Bioidentical compounded hormones are not recommended by medical societies or the USA Food and Drug Administration due to concerns about safety – for more information please see the Australasian Menopause Society’s (AMS) Information Sheet Bioidentical Hormones for Menopausal Symptoms. For a summary of the research evidence on the effectiveness of these treatments, please see the AMS’s Information Sheet Complementary and Herbal Medicines for Hot Flushes.

Further information:

Talking Points (Women)

Talking Points (Health Practitioners)

Other resources