Can natural remedies help combat symptoms of the menopause?

Sarah Rodrigues
·5-min read
Rebekah Brown founded MPowder turned away by her GP - Beth Crockatt
Rebekah Brown founded MPowder turned away by her GP - Beth Crockatt

When I was pregnant with my first child, there would scarcely have been enough hours in the day to accommodate all of the magazines, supplements, appointments, support groups and antenatal exercises that society suddenly proffered.

Yet as Rebekah Brown, founder of MPowder, points out: “We don’t all choose to be mothers – but we are bound together by menopause because we all go through it.”

Despite this, the years between fertility and fertiliser remain largely unrepresented – although online platforms are pioneering change in this area. In the health arena too, this universal phase of women’s lives has only recently begun to be recognised – indeed, this October 18th marks just 11 years since the first World Menopause Day.  

With more conversation around the subject, a number of supplements aimed at alleviating those mid-life symptoms have entered the market. At Holland & Barrett, sales of these are up by a year-on-year average of 10 per cent. 

“Women have used herbs and supplements to ease menopausal symptoms for centuries,” says Sophie Rose, Trading Director VHMS (Vitamins, Herbs, Minerals and Supplements) at Holland & Barrett. “Many of these now have robust scientific research demonstrating their efficacy for symptoms including hot flushes and mood changes.” Among the retailer’s most popular products, she lists sage and black cohosh supplements; the latter has been shown to reduce hot flushes and night sweats by as much as 26 per cent. 

Despite their “natural” tag, these supplements should not be taken without medical advice warns midlife trainer and health coach Mary Nash. “Some, such as St John’s wort, can interact with medication, while black cohosh can cause issues with the liver.” In her practice, she has seen beneficial results from essential oils, including clary sage, to support hormone balance. “Others can help relieve unwanted menopausal symptoms, such as lavender improving sleep, peppermint cooling hot flushes, copaiba reducing anxiety and rosemary improving brain function,” she says. “As with supplements, however, the efficacy of remedies is largely down to the individual and what is going on with their body at the time.” 

For MPowder’s Brown, who has over 20 years’ experience as a researcher,  the available offerings did not go far enough. Turned away from her GP because she was “too young” to be experiencing symptoms, she set out to create a MPowder – a range of vegan-friendly supplements aimed at specific stages of midlife. The Peri-Boost formulation, designed for women who have begun to experience symptoms of perimenopause such as irregular periods, is available now; Meno-Boost and Post-Boost will be available from next year.

Peri-Boost’s star ingredient is Moldavian dragonhead extract, which Brown was led to because of changes she had begun to notice in her own skin. A traditional botanical remedy, it “has a positive effect on skin elasticity and density; it seems to impact on hair and nails, too,” she says. Other ingredients include Vitamin D, calcium, protein, soya and cacao, which has antioxidant properties and boosts energy levels, as well as plant extracts and fibre.

MPowder Peri-Boost
MPowder Peri-Boost

That’s not to say that a daily scoop of the powder – which I, personally, have been blitzing with almond milk, half a banana, and a drizzle of manuka honey – is the magic bullet. Brown also made lifestyle changes, introducing more plant-based foods to her diet, reducing alcohol and increasing both her water intake and exercise. 

Nutritionist May Simpkin agrees that such simple changes are vital – and can be just as effective as supplementation. “Specific foods and nutrients can contribute directly to the production of hormones as well as addressing hormone imbalances,” she says. “Alcohol, on the other hand, can cause excess hormone production and adversely affect metabolism. It can also disrupt sleep, which your body needs for rest and repair, and for bringing cortisol levels back in line.” 

As for exercise, a South American study found women exercising fewer than three times a week were 28 per cent more likely to experience severe menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flushes and low mood – although Simpkin cautions against over-exercising, which can increase cortisol levels. For Brown, the restorative effects of cold water swimming and hot yoga have been “amazing”. 

Almost one month into my own MPowder experiment and I can report feeling more switched on, more lucid, less prone to overwhelm and bloating. My psoriasis, a long standing issue that’s flared up in recent years, has also settled down – an irony that’s not lost on me, given that an ingredient called dragonhead seems to have reduced my own unsightly scaliness. On another positive note, subscription to the product grants you access to The Powder Room, where you can access expert talks, and connect, discuss and share with others at your stage of life, allowing open conversations around a topic that’s previously been stifled, or ignored. 

Understandably, there are those within the medical community who remain unconvinced about the efficacy of natural supplements. 

“There’s a huge community trend to avoid pharmaceuticals as they are perceived as negative,” says Professor Susan Davis, president of the International Menopause Society. “Where menopause is concerned, our research has shown that many women feel they are ‘failing’ if they take hormone therapy, and that they should be able to ‘tough it out’.” 

There is also a strong perception that HRT raises the risk of breast cancer, although recent studies have shown that the risk is not substantial – around 63 in 1000 women between the ages of 50 and 69 are likely to develop the disease, a number that rises to 68 per 1000 using estrogen-only HRT for five years from the age of 50. 

“Estrogen is the best treatment for symptoms of menopause,” says Davies, “and for the majority of women, estrogen therapy is not only effective but safe.” 

Brown, however, is at pains to point out that MPowder’s mission is not to replace medical intervention. “It can be critical for some,” she says. “Many of the women in our community use MPowder alongside HRT, and we regularly hold talks on HRT from doctors to ensure that people understand its value.” 

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