Natural Remedies for Menopause May Be Harmful

Phytoestrogens may cause neurological and reproductive harm.

Natural alternatives to drug therapy may be the best option for some patients, but in some cases, natural products may not offer a clinical benefit over FDA-approved drugs.

A recent review published in the British Journal of Pharmacology discovered that it is unclear whether plant-based compounds that mimic estrogen are safe for patients.

Phytoestrogens are found in different foods, most commonly in soy products. They are structurally very similar to estrogen, and may mildly mimic the hormone.

Some women who are going through menopause may consume phytoestrogen instead of receiving hormone replacement therapy. These phytoestrogens may help ease symptoms of menopause, including common hot flushes.

Hormone therapy is currently the most effective treatment option, and helps prevent bone loss and hot flushes. Other treatments to prevent hot flushes include anti-depressants and gabapentin, a seizure drug.

In the study, researchers reviewed previously published medical studies that analyzed the effects of phytoestrogens.

They discovered that phytoestrogens may offer positive health benefits, such as lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, brain function disorders, and cancer. The phytoestrogens were also seen to ease the symptoms of menopause.

However, phytoestrogens are endocrine disruptors and may cause serious health effects. Endocrine disruptors can interfere with the endocrine system, resulting in infertility, and increased risk of breast and uterine cancers.

They can also have developmental, neurological, and immune adverse effects. Despite the positive findings, researchers were not able to determine whether phytoestrogen had a positive overall effect.

"This implies that a definite conclusion on the health effects of phytoestrogens, positive or negative, cannot be made," said researcher Ivonne Rietjens, PhD.

The effects of phytoestrogens may depend on the individual’s age, health, and gut bacteria, according to the study. Additional studies are needed to determine the factors that may influence the efficacy of phytoestrogens.