My Dream: West Meets East…Someday

Posted by on Sep 4, 2008 in herbal medicine, Meditation/mindfulness therapy, women's health | 3 comments

In 2005, a panel convened by the National Institutes of Health issued a statement emphasizing that menopause is not a disease. Yet, only yesterday, I ran across a newly-issued primer on menopause that is geared towards primary care physicians. In the introductory paragraph, I found the following statement:

“Managing menopausal health requires an ongoing effort to keep up with date with data on medical management of menopausal symptoms and treatments designed to prevent a number of disabling conditions associated with menopause and aging…”

Delving deeper,  I found only eight paragraphs devoted to alternative therapies (namely, phytogestrogens, black cohosh and bioidentical hormones). What jumps out on the one full page on which they are reviewed are statements such as:

“…controversy regarding long-term safety issues.” (black cohosh)

“…these same hormones are used in less expensive, FDA-approved estrogen products.” (bioidentical hormones)

“…evidence to date suggests that phytoestrogens do not ameliorate hot flushes or other menopausal symptoms. In addition there are not data to support the safety of long-term therapy with phytoestrogens and other herbal medications.” (phytoestrogens).

I’ve got a few bones to pick.

  1. Historically, controlled studies with herbal preparations have been underfunded and undersupported by national institutions in this country, which is why the Western practitioner often claims “scant evidence.” Yet, if you do a search on alternative therapies on PubMed, there appears to be a growing interest in their utility and an increasing amount of time and resources devoted to studying them. Studies are published regularly in peer-reviewed journals such as Menopause. I’ve blogged about controlled evidence on a regular basis for months now. And, even the Nationa l Institutes of Health is in on the act; with trials currently underway evaluating the role of meditation, soy estrogens, herbal alternatives (e.g. black cohosh, red clover) for menopausal symptoms.
  2. The controversy over long-term safety issues and black cohosh is being seriously addressed. I blogged about this only a week ago, noting that the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements has publicly stated that millions of individuals have safely used black cohosh with no ill effects.
  3. The North American Menopause Society-sponsored monograph highlights several advantages that bioidentical/compounded hormones might offer over conventional products, including greater dosing flexibility, lower doses for women who are especially sensitive and the avoidance of potential allergens.

The primer to which I refer was developed specifically to help primary care physicians understand the challenges that their menopausal patients face so that they can provide better care. However, the monograph does a great disservice by its sole emphasis on Western medical approaches verses Eastern whole-body approaches.

Physicians- if you’re listening, hear this:


A few thoughts:

  • Please review your data, read alternative peer-reviewed journals and educate yourselves about  alternatives for your patients who have been scared off by the negative findings surrounding HRT and antidepressants and other pharmaceuticals.
  • Pay attention to the fact that well-respected journals such as Menopause and Climacteric and the Journal of the British Menopause Society actually devote pages to alternative therapies that have been evaluated in well-controlled studies.
  • Embrace multidisciplinary collaboration and invite educated and credentialled alternative practitioners into your fold who might be able to offer you and your patients important solutions when Western ways fail.

Over 5,000 women enter menopause daily. Many of these women are going to call on your for help with managing this very natural transition that we call the menopause. Why not take a moment and meet the challenge without pigeonholing it?

Thoughts anyone?


  1. 9-4-2008

    excellent post, Liz (and nice photo too)

  2. 12-9-2010

    I really disagree with you. Menopause is truly a disease. There are many so called true diseases that cause far less damage to a womens body.

    • 12-9-2010

      Kate. I respect all opinions. Yet, many of the ravages to a woman’s body are actually due to aging, not menopause. Best to you.


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