Menopause: a Disease or Natural Process?
The menopause is a natural transitional process, which usually affects women from their mid forties onwards. It marks a stage when the body goes through considerable hormonal changes, and the ovaries cease to produce eggs, so the woman can no longer conceive naturally. The majority of women pass through the menopause experiencing only minor physical and emotional symptoms, which do not require medical help, and a lucky few remain symptom free throughout the process. However for some women the menopause is a time of misery, plagued by a range of debilitating and/or embarrassing physical symptoms.
Often, these physical symptoms are accompanied by emotional issues such as mood swings, irritability, forgetfulness, and even depression. Because of these unpleasant symptoms, the menopause is often regarded as a disease as opposed to a natural process, and over the years it has become increasingly medicalised.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is usually the first treatment option offered to women suffering from menopausal symptoms. Although HRT does help some women, it can have side effects more severe than the original symptoms. Women with a family history of breast cancer, stroke, heart disease, liver disease, and high blood pressure are usually advised to avoid HRT.
Effective Alternative to HRT
Fortunately, homeopathy can provide a highly effective alternative to HRT. As a practising homeopath, I am often consulted by women experiencing menopausal symptoms, which can range in intensity, from being just a bit inconvenient to being totally overwhelming.
I always start by taking a detailed description of my patient’s symptoms, which includes going back in time to record her menstrual history (normal, regular, irregular, painful, heavy etc.), and if she has children, I ask for information about the pregnancies. Often, after taking this journey back in time and returning to discuss the current situation, there in a spontaneous change of emphasis, and my patient begins to tell me about her emotional state. From the homeopathic perspective, this is always an important moment, because I can begin to identify the symptoms that make my patient a unique individual.
The best and most effective prescription will always be one that has been individualised to suit the specific mental, emotional and physical needs of my patient.
There are a number of homeopathic medicines that can be used to successfully treat menopausal symptoms. For the best results you really do need to see a qualified homeopath who can decide which medicine is most appropriate for your particular needs. However, there are some over the counter homeopathic preparations that might be worth considering if you are looking for a non-hormonal treatment option, and there is research to prove that homeopathy works!
Positive Outcomes from French Study
A study has just been published in the September issue of Drugs in R&D which concludes that homeopathy has a significantly positive effect on the treatment of menopausal hot flushes, and could therefore be considered as a safe therapeutic option for women who do not want to receive hormone replacement therapy for this condition.
This “discovery” will not come as a surprise either to practitioners, or to the countless patients who have had their unpleasant, and sometimes debilitating menopausal symptoms, successfully treated with homeopathy.
The “remedy” group experienced a significant decrease in hot flushes
What is important is that this trial followed “gold standard” protocols. It was a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled study (RCT), which took place in France between June 2010 and July 2011. One hundred and eight women participated, and they were assessed and supervised by gynaecologists in private practice, working from thirty-five different centres across France. The women were all over fifty, and had not had a period for at least a year. They were selected because they had all been experiencing hot flushes for over two years, which were sufficiently severe to negatively impact upon their lives.
The women were divided into two randomly selected groups, one control and one placebo. The groups were similar in age, weight, lifestyle, smoking and professional status. They were required to take between two to four tablets orally, on a daily basis for twelve weeks. The tablets for both groups looked identical, and were dispensed in the exactly the same packaging.
It is important to note that the homeopathic prescription given to the non-placebo group was not individualised. In France, a combination remedy, known commercially as “Acthéane”, is available for the treatment of menopausal hot flushes. The purpose of this trial was to test the safety and efficacy of “Acthéane”, which was re labelled “BRN-01” during the study.
The women used a questionnaire to record the frequency and intensity of their flushes, based on a scale of 1 (mild) to 4 (severe). They also recorded the effect of the flushes on their private and professional life. Life impact was, for the purposes of this trial, regarded as secondary evaluation criteria. The researchers collected data generated by the questionnaires on a regular basis throughout the study. A few adverse events, which were recorded in detail, occurred in each group during the trial. These events were not attributed to either treatment method.
Both groups experienced a reduction in the number and severity of flushes, and other symptoms, such as reduced libido, irritability, insomnia etc., also improved, but the BRN-01 fared significantly better than their “placebo” colleagues.
Decrease in hot Flushes
To summarise the results, the “remedy” group experienced a significant decrease in hot flush occurrences during the twelve week treatment period, when compared to the placebo group, and their response time was also more immediate. After just the first week, the hot flush score of the “remedy” group was 17 per cent lower than the score of the placebo group. By the end of the trial, this difference had grown to an impressive 33 per cent, which represents a highly significant reduction.
Clearly the physical symptoms (hot flushes) responded well to this non-individualised homeopathic prescription, demonstrating a big difference between the two groups. “Quality of life” symptoms such as insomnia, irritability, libido disorders, palpitations, energy loss etc., also significantly reduced in both groups during the trial, but there was very little difference between the two groups. Arguably, this is not a surprising result for several reasons: All participants experienced an improvement because they were monitoring their symptoms closely, and were being supported throughout the process. Just to be taken seriously, and to be offered a potential solution to their ongoing health problems, is likely to have had a positive effect on both groups of women. The fact that the difference between the groups was not statistically significant could be directly attributed to the prescription itself, which was non-individualised.
As homeopaths we know that we need to address the underlying cause in order to effectively remove the physical symptoms, otherwise old symptoms may return, or new ones develop. This takes both time (more than the allotted twelve weeks of this trial), and in-depth case management. This is one (of several) problems associated with applying RCT protocols to a trial involving homeopathic medicine.
What is both surprising and encouraging, is to observe how well a non-individualised prescription of homeopathic medicine performed within the constraints of a conventional RCT.
What price HRT?
It is estimated that HRT reduces the frequency and intensity of menopausal flushes from between 75 per cent to 79 per cent. By comparison, during this trial BRN-01 demonstrated an average reduction of 57 per cent. Although HRT appears to be more effective, this comes at a price. There are potential side effects associated with HRT, which include headaches, breast tenderness, weight gain, nausea, bloating, mood swings and depression.
More seriously, several recent large-scale studies have shown that women taking HRT have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. There is also growing evidence of a link between HRT and the occurrence of deep vein thrombosis.
During the trial, BRN-01 demonstrated considerable efficacy in the treatment of hot flushes. Furthermore, no side effects or adverse reactions were observed which could be attributed to the homeopathic prescription.
If you are considering trying homeopathy, just bear in mind that the medicine used in the trial is not readily available outside of France. However most homeopathic pharmacies would be able to make up a similar combination, though your best option is to seek a full consultation with a qualified homeopath so that you can receive an individualised prescription.
Karin Mont is co-founder and chair of the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths (ARH). She has been practising homeopathy in rural East Sussex for over twenty five years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org