If you're unable to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or decide not to, you may want to consider alternative ways of controlling your menopausal symptoms.
This page covers the following alternatives to standard HRT:
Bioidentical or "natural" hormones
The following lifestyle measures can help reduce some menopausal symptoms:
- Take regular exercise – regular activity can reduce hot flushes and improve sleep. It's also a good way of boosting your mood if you feel anxious, irritable or depressed. Weight-bearing exercises can help keep your bones strong.
- Have a healthy diet – a balanced diet can help ensure you don't put on weight and can keep your bones healthy.
- Stay cool at night – wear loose clothes and sleep in a cool, well-ventilated room if you experience hot flushes and night sweats.
- Cut down on caffeine, alcohol and spicy food – as they have all been known to trigger hot flushes.
- Try to reduce your stress levels – to improve mood swings, make sure you get plenty of rest, as well as getting regular exercise. Activities such as yoga and tai chi may help you relax.
- Give up smoking – if you smoke, giving up will help reduce hot flushes and your risk of developing serious health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.
- Try vaginal lubricant or moisturiser if you experience vaginal dryness – several different types are available to buy from shops and pharmacies.
Tibolone (brand name Livial) is a prescription medication that is similar to taking combined HRT (oestrogen and progestogen). It's taken as a tablet once a day.
It can help relieve symptoms such as hot flushes, low mood and reduced sex drive, although some studies have suggested it may not be as effective as combined HRT.
It's only suitable for women who had their last period more than a year ago (known as the post-menopause).
Side effects of tibolone can include tummy (abdominal) pain, pelvic pain, breast tenderness, itching and vaginal discharge.
Risks of tibolone are similar to the risks of HRT, and include an increased risk of breast cancer and strokes. Talk to your GP about the risks and benefits of tibolone if you're considering taking it.
Two types of antidepressants – called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) – can help with hot flushes caused by the menopause, although they're not licensed for this use.
This means they haven't undergone clinical trials for this use, but many experts believe they're likely to be effective and your doctor will discuss the possible benefits and risks with you.
Side effects of SSRIs and SNRIs can include feeling agitated, shaky or anxious, feeling sick, dizziness and a reduced sex drive.
Any side effects will usually improve over time, but you should visit your GP if they don't.
Clonidine is a prescription medicine that can help reduce hot flushes and night sweats in some menopausal women. It's taken as tablets two or three times a day.
It doesn't affect hormone levels, so unlike HRT it doesn't carry an increased risk of problems such as breast cancer. But research suggests it only has a very small effect on menopausal symptoms.
Clonidine can also cause some unpleasant side effects, including dry mouth, drowsiness, depression and constipation.
It may take two to four weeks to notice the effects of clonidine. Speak to your GP if your symptoms don't improve or you experience any troublesome side effects.
Bioidentical or "natural" hormones
Bioidentical hormones are hormone preparations made from plant sources that are promoted as being similar or identical to human hormones.
Practitioners claim these hormones are a "natural" and safer alternative to standard HRT preparations.
However, bioidentical preparations aren't recommended because:
- they aren't regulated and it's not clear how safe they are – there's no good evidence to suggest they're safer than standard HRT
- it's not known how effective they are in reducing menopausal symptoms
- the balance of hormones used in bioidentical preparations is usually based on the hormone levels in your saliva, but there's no evidence that these levels are related to your symptoms
Many standard HRT hormones are made from natural sources, but unlike bioidentical hormones they're closely regulated and have been well researched to ensure they're as effective and safe as possible.
Several products are sold in health shops for treating menopausal symptoms, including herbal remedies such as evening primrose oil, black cohosh, angelica, ginseng and St John's Wort.
There's evidence to suggest that some of these remedies, including black cohosh and St John's Wort, may help reduce hot flushes, but generally, many complementary therapies aren't supported by scientific evidence.
Even when there is some supporting evidence, there's uncertainty about the appropriate doses to use and whether the health benefits are sustained. Some of these remedies (especially St John's wort) may also cause serious effects if taken with other medicines.
These products are often marketed as "natural", but this doesn't necessarily mean they're safe. The quality, purity and ingredients can't always be guaranteed, and they can cause unpleasant side effects.
It's a good idea to ask your GP or pharmacist for advice if you're thinking about using a complementary therapy.