When they experience the hot flashes, mood swings and other symptoms of menopause, many women who do not want to take estrogen pills turn to alternative therapies for relief. These include vitamins and nutritional or herbal supplements such as soy and black cohosh. But researchers from the Oregon Health Sciences University say they found no consistent evidence of benefit from any of the therapies.
Dr. Anne Nedrow, lead author of the study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, says she wanted to find some benefit. "We were looking to find something, so we could advise women [about] something that would help them." She expected they would, admitting that she had biases when the study began. "I thought, 'exercise helps people, black cohosh helps people.' I thought I knew that, I thought I believed that. That's not what this shows."
Nedrow and her fellow researchers combed through more than 10,000 articles and journal abstracts about alternative therapies published in English. They were looking for studies with rigorous scientific designs. "So if you have 50 women and you try something for them for their symptoms, that would not make our criteria," she explains, "because it had to be against something else, either another medication or placebo. There had to be a control for it to be included." They found only 48 studies of high enough scientific quality to include in their review.
Nedrow says the research indicates many therapies may have a strong placebo effect. That happens when patients take something they think is helping them and - they feel better. "Because most people with these symptoms feel better if they do anything. Fifty percent will feel better, anything they try, anything they do. So when we say effective in this study, it had to beat placebo."
Some of the treatments showed promise, but Nedrow would like to see more rigorous scientific research about them. In the meantime, she says women should be more skeptical of claims made about alternative therapies.