Menopause is one of the biggest turning points in women’s lives. It is defined as the permanent cessation of menstruation.  Some women make smooth transitions, while others face torrents of hot flashes accompanied by perfuse sweating, mood swings and debilitating insomnia.  The severity of the symptoms is based on several factors.  Here are a few: genetics, number of cigarettes per day, number of drinks per day, chronic illness, chemotherapy and diet.  What we do about these symptoms is based on cultural background, access to information, fears and believes about what constitutes a good quality of life.

For those who prefer the au natural approach, here is some information on one of the most popular alternative supplements: black cohosh.

Black cohosh is an herb.  For the budding botanists, it is also called Actaea racemosa or Cimicifuga racemosa.  The Native American Indians called it something else altogether but, the most common formulation is Remifemin.  Remifemin is available over the counter and is usually taken twice daily.  It is regulated as a dietary supplement, not a drug; therefore it is not subject to the same stringent testing as your Tylenol, for example.  Does it work?  Not all the studies agree, but most reported a definite reduction in hot flashes, night sweats and irritability.  It absolutely will not help with vaginal dryness.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that black cohosh may be helpful if used for up to six months.  The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, sponsored by the National Institute of Health, studied women in the Philadelphia area with breast cancer who used black cohosh.  They found that black cohosh had a protective effect against breast cancer!  More studies have to be done but this was exciting.

Side effects: stomach cramps and a few reports of liver damage.  One should definitely stop using this supplement if these symptoms develop.  Keep in mind, there are no long-term studies (at least five years) on black cohosh.  Given what we know about black cohosh, when my patients ask for advice about what they can do besides take hormones or antidepressants, I answer, “Eat right, exercise, throw out the cigarettes and try black cohosh.”

There you have it.  Now spread the word!

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