Herbal Therapy: Natural Options for Menopause

Is It Right For You?

Q: Is it safe to take phytoestrogens, like soy, if I have breast cancer?

A: It's a very controversial issue right now, and you'll find more than one opinion without definitive answers. If you want to take phytoestrogens, do so under doctor's supervision. I also feel that eating soy foods is safer than taking high-dose soy extractions. Generally, most of the safety data comes from observing Japanese women and their diets, so we should try to approximate what they do.

Q: Is black cohosh safe to use if I have breast cancer?

A: While the results are far from conclusive, researchers in a couple of in-vitro studies found black cohosh inhibited the growth of cancer cells. They also tested for interactions between black cohosh and Tamoxifen (an estrogen-blocking drug used in the treatment of breast cancer) and found the black cohosh did not weaken the Tamoxifen. There's a far jump from a test tube to a person, but in low doses, we feel it's safe.

Q: What about dong quai?

A: Customarily in Chinese medicine, dong quai is never used alone but rather as part of a formula, and depending on the specific symptoms, may not be at all appropriate. Unless it's part of a formula recommended by a certified practitioner of Chinese medicine, I'd say skip it.

Q: Where can I find herbs and how much do they cost? Can I get insurance to cover them?

A: You need to identify a local source of good herbal products. You can start with your neighborhood natural food store. More and more pharmacies are stocking herbal products these days, so I'd look there too. Your herbalist or physician should also be able to make recommendations as well. Most herbs cost less than $100/month, but generally those costs are out of pocket.

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