Alternative Therapies

Alternative and complementary medicines for the management of the symptoms of the menopause have seen an unprecedented popularity in recent years. This has been fuelled mainly by the series of 'scares' hitting the headlines about the possible adverse effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Many women perceive alternative therapies as being safer than HRT, and since they are not generally prescribed by doctors, some women report that alternative therapies make them feel they are in control of their health. Other reasons given for avoiding HRT include fear of cancer or side effects (such as vaginal bleeding) and the few that, as the menopause is a natural transition, it requires a more 'natural' remedy.

Menopausal women account for one of the largest segments of alternative medicine users: 80% of women aged 45-60 have reported using non prescription therapies for the management of menopausal symptoms. These therapies include herbal remedies, meditation, traditional Chinese medicine, vitamins and minerals, homeopathy, acupuncture and chiropractic. The regulation of alternative therapies has not kept pace with the fast growth of the industry: For example, the UK has one of the highest sales of vitamins and minerals in Europe, but also the least stringent regulations.

In the USA, large discrepancies have been found between label contents and the active ingredients found in many complementary medicines, most of which are passed off as dietary supplements. Some herbal supplements have been found to contain unreported contaminants, including undeclared pharmaceuticals or heavy metals. In addition, the claims made by manufacturers or dietary supplements do not have to hold up to rigorous clinical standards. The situation in similar in Europe, where the law that should regulate the pre-marketing requirements for proof of safety and efficacy of food supplements and alternative medicines is still in draft form.