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Women's Health

Taming Hot Flashes Without Hormones

Some three-quarters of North American women have menopausal hot flashes, but many cannot use hormones for medical reasons or choose not to. Numerous products and techniques are promoted for hot flashes, but do they work and are they safe? To answer these questions, a North American Menopause Society (NAMS) panel of experts weighed the evidence and made recommendations in a position statement, “Nonhormonal management of menopause-associated vasomotor symptoms,” published online September 23rd in the society’s journal, Menopause.

A release from NAMS reports that from 50 to 80 percent of women approaching menopause try nonhormonal therapies for hot flashes. Many don’t really work, and sticking with those therapies can just prolong the misery. With little guidance on what does work, many women just experiment with products or suffer. “Many women try one thing after another, and it is months before they stumble upon something that truly works for them,” said Janet S. Carpenter, PhD, RN, FAAN.

US surveys show just how uncertain women are about these therapies, with one survey demonstrating that nearly half feel confused about their options for managing menopause symptoms and another showing that 75% don’t feel fully informed about herbal products. But with this careful, critical look at all the available studies, healthcare providers can confidently advise women on how to handle hot flashes without hormones.

The NAMS panel found solid evidence that a few therapies do work, including two behavioral approaches and certain nonhormonal prescription medications. Other lifestyle and behavioral approaches, treatments, and a supplement under study look beneficial, but the evidence is not as strong. And the evidence for other lifestyle approaches, herbs, and supplements is insufficient, inconclusive, or just plain negative.

Randomized, double-blind, controlled trials–the gold standard for determining therapies’ effectiveness–showed that a cognitive-behavioral therapy approach that combined relaxation techniques, sleep hygiene, and learning to take positive, healthy approaches to menopause challenges was significantly effective in reducing women’s ratings of hot flash problems (although not their number). And randomized, controlled trials of clinical hypnosis demonstrated the approach was significantly better than a “structured attention” therapy approach in postmenopausal women with frequent hot flashes and significantly better than no treatment in breast cancer survivors. The panel recommends these two mind-body approaches.

Evidence that isn’t as strong suggests that some other approaches may be beneficial, including weight loss, stress reduction, a soy derivative under study (S-equol), and stellate ganglion block (a type of nerve block), so the panel recommends these with caution.