Natural Remedies for Menopause Mood Swings and Hot Flashes

flax seed oil
Getty Images / Jessica Boone.

Women want natural remedies to treat common menopause symptoms, such as mood swings, hot flashes, and insomnia. In fact, many turn to herbs, food, and lifestyle changes instead of potentially risky hormone therapy.

Because there's a dearth of solid research about treating menopause symptoms, sifting through advice from friends and advertisers about treatments can be overwhelming. If you're at a loss about how to manage your symptoms, review the tips that follow. Make sure to consult with your healthcare provider before using natural remedies to be sure they won't interfere with medication or a medical condition.

It's important to remember that natural does not mean safe. Many herbal, plant, and dietary supplements interact with prescription medications or may have a negative impact on chronic medical conditions. Before deciding to use alternative and complementary remedies for your menopause symptoms, check with your medical provider and read up on possible side effects for any treatment you are considering. Natural approaches are not risk-free, and the more you know, the better you can make choices that will keep you safe and well.

Hot Flashes

Hot flashes and night sweats are the most common complaint of women during the menopause transition. While estrogen is very effective in alleviating vasomotor symptoms like these, there are alternative therapies that work quite well for some women. For instance, black cohosh is a nutritional supplement derived from a plant in the buttercup family. It has been used for centuries as a remedy for menstrual disorders and menopause symptoms.

Studies have compared black cohosh formulations, such as Remifemin, to placebo and estrogen. Results have varied somewhat, but a number of them have found that standardized black cohosh is about as effective as estrogen for certain symptoms, including hot flashes and mood swings. It also has a good safety record and may be a great first choice if you want to try something besides estrogen to treat your flashes. The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine has a fact sheet about the supplement that you may find helpful.

How to Know a Supplement is Safely Formulated

Unlike medications, herbal supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and numerous studies have shown their quality can vary significantly, particularly in the United States. To be sure you're indeed buying what a label reports, look for supplement reviews from organizations such as Consumer Reports or ConsumerLab. You can also check the label for the verification mark "USP," which stands for United States Pharmocopeia. This mark indicates the product has been made according to good manufacturing practices and verified to contain the ingredients listed on the label.

Women in menopause have also found flaxseed and flaxseed oil helpful. They contain plant estrogens and oils that are used as a treatment for breast pain and hot flashes. One small, early pilot study showed significant improvement in hot flash symptoms for women who used flaxseed daily. However, a later study by the same group did not find any improvement. Later studies have also reported conflicting results. Some suggest dietary flaxseed can reduce severity and frequency of hot flashes; others report no effect. Since flaxseed is already good for you, there’s no harm in adding it to your arsenal, but know it may be not be as effective as once hoped. 

In contrast, the research on whether soybean products help alleviate menopause symptoms has been mixed. Part of the mystery may have been solved by a study that showed a reduction in symptoms for women who produced an estrogen called “equol” when they ate soy. Some women produce this hormone, and some do not. If you are a woman who does produce equol when you eat soy, it may help your hot flashes and other menopause symptoms.

Red clover is another plant estrogen that some women find effective for reducing hot flashes. Studies show a very modest effect of red clover on hot flash symptoms.

Why You May Not Need Supplements to Treat Symptoms

If the idea of taking supplements to treat your menopause symptoms doesn't appeal to you, consider relaxation techniques and acupuncture for relief. Slow, deliberate, deep breathing and progressive relaxation techniques have been shown to decrease hot flashes by up to 60 percent. Breathe in slowly through your nose, counting to five. Then breathe slowly out through your mouth, counting from five back to one. If you practice it ahead of time, you’ll have better luck with this technique. Start breathing as soon as you feel a hot flash coming on.

Acupuncture does seem to help hot flash symptoms. It’s not clear whether this is because of the acupuncture itself or because you relax during the treatment. One study suggested that true acupuncture and “pretend” acupuncture had the same effect on hot flash symptoms. In any event, it can’t hurt to give it a try, and many insurances now cover acupuncture and other forms of alternative medicine.

Meditation is another practice that may help treat the general symptoms of menopause, including mood swings. Taking time each day for short sessions of meditation can subtly alter your brain chemistry and reduce your stress. Learning to meditate could be the best all-around menopause remedy you try. It’s a small investment for a big payoff.

Mood Swings

Mood changes are another major complaint for women during menopause. Women describe themselves as “wanting to bite someone’s head off” or “sad for no reason at all.” The more sensitive you are to hormone changes, the more likely you will notice some mood swings with menopause.

St. John’s wort has been shown in studies to help mild to moderate depression in the general population and menopausal mood problems for some women. It has been taken and studied for many years in Europe and has gained popularity in the United States as an alternative to antidepressants for managing depression.

Vitamin D plays a role in moderating many body processes. It has been linked to the prevention of cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and many other chronic diseases. It has also been proven to moderate mood in people who are deficient. The current recommended daily dose of vitamin D (400 IU) is seen by many health practitioners as too low to maintain optimal levels of this vitamin in your system. It is generally agreed that doses of 1,000 IU per day are not harmful and can help correct a vitamin D deficiency. Getting 15 to 20 minutes of sunlight each day, sans sunscreen, can help you maintain a healthy level of vitamin D as well. (Any more sun than that should be avoided without using a sunblock to minimize the chance of developing skin cancer.)

Lastly, for many years, kava was recommended for mood disorders. Recent research increasingly shows evidence that it is toxic to the liver, so it is not recommended as a natural remedy for menopause symptoms.

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  2. Black Cohosh. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine. NCCIH Publication No. D268. September 2016. 

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