Posts made in January, 2012

Wednesday Bubble: More flack about flaxseed

Posted by on Jan 4, 2012 in hot flash, menopause | 2 comments

First Bubble of the year!

Ya know, the news on flaxseed continues to be less than stellar, at least in so far as its effect (or lack thereof) on hot flashes. And while the flaxseed story continues to build on benefits in terms of bone health and even breast cancer reduction (see these links), you may want to seek alternatives when those flashes start taking over.

In fact, results of a well-designed, scientific, controlled study in which women ingested a daily flaxseed bar or a placebo bar failed to show much benefit at all. The study, published in this month’s Menopause journal, analyzed the effects of flaxseed (containing 400 mg of the estrogen like antioxidant, lignan, 6 gm of protein and 20% fiber) in 188 women in menopause who reported having anywhere from 4 to more than 10 hot flashes a day over a period of 9 months or more. Participants ate flaxseed or a placebo bar (containing 2 gram of protein and 20% fiber) for six weeks. The bars were eaten all at once or throughout the day and the women were asked to record the frequency and severity of their hot flashes in a personal diary.

The results? Regardless of whether or not the women ate flaxseed or placebo, their hot flashes were reduced fairly equally, with about about a third of the women in each group reduced their hot flash scores by 50% or more. Another third of women in each group noted that they didn’t experience any effect at all. Moreover, both types of bars caused gastrointestinal problems, namely bloating, gas and diarrhea, most like due to their considerable fiber content.

Meanwhile, if you like flaxseed, there is absolutely nothing wrong in eating it. It may help your bones, fight cholesterol and keep you regular. But in so far as the flashes go, you definitely want to look elsewhere.

[Evidently, this study first appeared online in September. Thanks to Ivan Oransky over at Reuters Health for the heads up. And if you want to read more, here’s their piece on the same study.

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Newsflash: black cohosh – one of these is not like the other

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in herbal medicine, hot flash, menopause | 2 comments

Love the first line of this editorial:

“Black cohosh preparations are not all the same.”

That is,

“Vigilance must be exercised when interpreting data.”

In other words, sometimes it appears that black cohosh is a significant and real alternative to hormones for battling hot flashes and even some other menopausal symptoms. And other times, it appears that it’s not. The reason? Product variability and dosage.

A bit of geek: you may recall that black cohosh is an herb from the buttercup family. Its scientific name is Cimicifuga racemosa. But, there are many different types (or species) of Cimicifuga and researchers say that when the continents split, these plants took different directions and ended up with distinct chemical compositions. Moreover, when they analyzed the products for certain active components, they found significant variability.

Add this to the fact that researchers studying black cohosh have used dosages ranging from 2.8 mg to 160 mg, and that these formulations were pure or were what they call “multibotanicals” (i.e. containing other herbs believed to be effective to qualm flashes and mood swings) and well, you have a veritable melting pot of clinical crap that defies logic. Add in a dash of more scientific geekdom know as a bell shaped response, in which low doses of a drug may be ineffective, moderate doses are effective and at higher doses, benefits disappear again, and well, it’s almost impossible to draw any firm conclusions.

Wow. Pretty scary, right?

The Menopause Industrial Complex will have you believe that the only effective preparations for ‘treating’ the disease they call menopause are pharmacological preparations manufactured by a large company and that has undergone rigorous, controlled scientific analysis. A lot of Western practitioners will have you believe that not only have herbs not be rigorously tested and studied under the same scientific conditions, but that they are downright ineffective and sometimes downright dangerous.

Guess what?

Both camps are incorrect. Because when you peruse the archives of the National Library of Medicine or esteemed journals like Maturitas or Menopause, you will find scientifically controlled evaluations of herbs. And, when researchers take the time to tease out data rather than drawing automatic conclusions (as the authors did in the piece I am referring to, which was published online in Maturitas at the end of December), they find that perhaps, the herbs are more effective than believed and that there are reasons for disparate results.

So, black cohosh, yay or nay?

Let’s get back to the original thought:

Black cohosh preparations are not all the same.

For me, a standardized extract that has undergone rigorous clinical study – Remifemin – works wonders. And I hear that it does for a lot of women. But not all women are the same either.

Two words.

Be vigilant.

Five more:

Don’t believe everything you read.

Happy New Year. Let’s approach this year as the year for opening our eyes and taking back our aging process.

Menopause? It’s not a disease and symptoms can be effectively and safely ameliorated with certain herbs. Just. Be. Vigilant.


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