Background: Women commonly use soy products, herbs, and other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies for menopausal symptoms. Randomized, controlled trials have evaluated the efficacy and short-term safety of these therapies.
Purpose: To review randomized, controlled trials of CAM therapies for menopausal symptoms in order to better inform practice and guide future research.
Data sources: Searches of MEDLINE for articles published from January 1966 through March 2002, of the Alternative and Complementary Database (AMED) of the British Library for articles published from January 1985 through December 2000, and of the authors' own extensive files. Search terms were hot flash/flush, menopause, and climacteric, combined with phytoestrogens, alternative medicine, herbal medicine, traditional medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM ), Ayurveda, naturopathy, chiropractic, osteopathy, massage, yoga, relaxation therapy, homeopathy, aromatherapy, and therapeutic touch.
Study selection: 29 randomized, controlled clinical trials of CAM therapies for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms were identified; of these, 12 dealt with soy or soy extracts, 10 with herbs, and 7 with other CAM therapies.
Data extraction: Each author extracted information from half of the studies on the number of patients, study design, outcome measures, and results; the other author then checked these results.
Data synthesis: Soy seems to have modest benefit for hot flashes, but studies are not conclusive. Isoflavone preparations seem to be less effective than soy foods. Black cohosh may be effective for menopausal symptoms, especially hot flashes, but the lack of adequate long-term safety data (mainly on estrogenic stimulation of the breast or endometrium) precludes recommending long-term use. Single clinical trials have found that dong quai, evening primrose oil, a Chinese herb mixture, vitamin E, and acupuncture do not affect hot flashes; two trials have shown that red clover has no benefit for treating hot flashes.
Conclusions: Black cohosh and foods that contain phytoestrogens show promise for the treatment of menopausal symptoms. Clinical trials do not support the use of other herbs or CAM therapies. Long-term safety data on individual isoflavones or isoflavone concentrates are not available.