Hot flashes are like a female rite of passage on the road to menopause, and there are few reliable remedies to combat them. One natural remedy, red clover, has gotten a lot of attention for hot flashes in recent years but has still been considered questionable by many scientists, including those at the National Institutes of Health. Until now.
A new study out of Aarhus University in Denmark confirms that red clover reduces the number and frequency of hot flashes as long as it’s taken in fermented form. The study was published recently in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One.
For the study, the researchers recruited 130 women who complained of menopause symptoms. Through blood testing and interviews, the researchers whittled the group down to 60 women between the ages of 40 and 65 whose hormone levels indicated the onset of menopause and who reported having more than five hot flashes per day. For a period of 12 weeks, the women were given what they were told were “menopause supplements.” In actuality, half were given fermented red clover extract (34 mg per day) in liquid form, and half were given a placebo. At the end of the 12 weeks, the women’s hot flashes were measured using a “skin conductor” device applied to the underside of the wrist that determined the number and severity of hot flashes based on sweat secretion.
The results left the researchers “speechless,” researcher Max Norman Tandrup Lambert said in a press release published by Eurekalert. “There was a much greater effect than we had even hoped for.” He believes that this is due to the fermentation process. Red clover contains estrogen-like compounds known as “isoflavones” (also known as “phytoestrogens”), which have been known to help balance the hormones of menopausal women. The challenge with isoflavones is they can be difficult for the body to absorb, but the study shows that this problem goes away when red clover undergoes fermentation.
This study also found that fermented red clover can slow down menopausal bone loss. “These findings are very promising, as the benefits take place without any of the side effects of prescribed hormone therapies, which can increase the risk of cancers and cardiovascular diseases,” Dr. Tandrup Lambert said.
Nevertheless, the National Institutes of Health urge women to think carefully before using any natural remedies for hot flashes. Guidelines issued in 2011 by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists reflect concerns that red clover and other phytoestrogen-based remedies might have harmful effects on hormone-sensitive tissue in women with a personal or strong family history of hormone-dependent cancers, thromboembolic events, or cardiovascular events. Therefore, the effectiveness of these remedies should be balanced carefully with the current lack of data on long-term safety.
It’s worth noting that supplements in general are not FDA-approved and may have side effects that are not fully researched, according to Maria LoTempio, MD, a board-certified New York-based plastic surgeon specializing in surgery for women. Dr. LoTempio specifically asks that her patients refrain from using non-FDA-approved supplements in the month prior to any surgery. “Many supplements can affect bleeding during surgery,” she says. “A patient could bleed too much, or clot too much.” It’s not a risk she sees as worth taking, at least not without more information on exactly what a given supplement’s side effects might be.
In the meantime, here are the natural remedies for hot flashes that actually work, and a few that don’t.