As women enter perimenopause and start to experience the various changes that accompany the menopausal transition, many may find themselves looking to dietary supplements to help ease their symptoms. Spurred by this interest, the global menopause market is expected to swell to more than $24 billion by the year 2030, according to a recent report by Grand View Research.1
As the number of menopause supplements available continues to grow, so may your feelings of overwhelm as you start to consider your options. Some common questions may arise as you think about the potential of incorporating a supplement for menopause into your routine, including: are menopause supplements safe? Do they work? What are the common side effects of menopause supplements?
Learning more about some of the more common menopause supplements—including how they support the body and their potential side effects—can help you decide which ones are right for you.
Why Take Supplements for Menopause?
Starting during perimenopause, levels of estrogen and progesterone, along with other hormones, begin to fluctuate significantly, and oftentimes drastically.2 These hormone fluctuations typically trigger a wide range of symptoms; in fact, there are currently 34 recognized symptoms of menopause that may affect a woman’s well-being during the menopausal transition.3 Dietary supplements can sometimes offer the possibility of alleviating a selection of these symptoms.
Below we take a look at some of the more common supplements touted for their ability to help manage menopause symptoms.
Common Supplements for Menopause
The list of dietary supplements marketed toward the management of menopausal symptoms is a long one, but some products have been shown over time, and through scientific research, to work better than others—and have therefore gained notoriety and popularity. Here are some of the most common supplements for menopause that women consider, as well as some side effects to be aware of.
Vitamin D insufficiency isn’t uncommon among menopausal women, especially during the winter months in the Northeast when sun exposure is limited. Research suggests adequate amounts of vitamin D may help alleviate symptoms such as vaginal dryness, however more research is needed in this area to determine just how effective supplementation can be for this symptom. Additionally, vitamin D supplementation may also help in reducing the risk of bone loss and cardiovascular problems in menopausal women.4
Vitamin D is generally considered safe but may be harmful in doses over 4,000 IU per day. It’s important to note that some individuals, especially those with documented low vitamin D levels, may be prescribed higher daily doses of vitamin D, coupled with careful monitoring by their healthcare provider, if deemed necessary. Otherwise, potential side effects of too much vitamin D may include nausea, constipation, confusion and kidney stones.5
Red clover contains compounds called isoflavones (a type of phytoestrogen) that may help reduce certain menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats, mainly because they mimic the effects of estrogen in the body.6
Red clover is generally considered safe and isn’t linked to serious side effects. However, patients with hormone-sensitive cancers should consider avoiding red clover due to its estrogenic properties.7 As always, it’s important to check-in with your healthcare provider before taking any new supplements, especially those that may have estrogen-related side effects in the body.
Black cohosh is often touted as a popular menopause, and hormonal health supplement because, it too, functions as a phytoestrogen, and may cause estrogen-like effects in the body. According to one clinical study, black cohosh was shown to help reduce the severity and frequency of menopause hot flashes8, however more conclusive studies need to be conducted in order to determine the true effectiveness of this supplement. Black cohosh may also help with sleep and weight management issues during menopause, but again, more studies are needed to validate these benefits.9
The most commonly reported side effects of black cohosh include nausea and rashes. Additionally liver enzymes may become elevated with prolonged use, so be sure to check with your healthcare provider before considering this supplement.10
Flaxseeds contain another type of phytoestrogen called lignans that may help ease menopause symptoms by mimicking estrogen. One study found that supplementing with 40 grams of ground flaxseeds had similar effects to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in regard to the improvement of menopause symptoms.11
Like red clover mentioned earlier, flaxseed is generally considered safe, however when consumed in large amounts, with not enough water, flaxseed may cause bloating, gas or diarrhea.12
Soy is another nutrient, also commonly supplemented and favored by women during the menopausal transition because it contains isoflavones that mimic estrogen, which again potentially help to reduce some menopause symptoms. Clinical studies suggest women who consume 20-60 grams of soy per day generally have fewer or milder hot flashes and night sweats.13 Common food sources include tofu, edamame or miso.14
Soy is yet another estrogen-mimicking nutrient that should be considered carefully by people with hormone-sensitive cancers. People with kidney disease or hypothyroidism should also check with a healthcare provider before using soy; otherwise, common, mild side effects of soy supplements include upset stomach, constipation and diarrhea.15
Magnesium levels drop along with estrogen during the menopausal transition which can contribute to the onset of some symptoms. Magnesium supplements have been shown to help manage certain menopause symptoms, such as insomnia and anxiety, while also potentially mitigating bone loss and protecting the heart.16
Magnesium from food doesn’t pose a health risk because the kidneys filter out any excess. However, high doses of magnesium from dietary supplements can cause diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramping, with extremely large doses (around 5,000 mg/day) having been linked to a condition called magnesium toxicity, that can cause low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and even cardiac arrest.17
Research suggests supplementing with ginseng root may reduce certain menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, and generally improve quality of life for women as they move through menopause. Ginseng belongs to a category of herbs called adaptogens that help the body adapt to internal and external stressors.18
Ginseng may not be safe for everyone, including those with breast cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. Possible side effects of ginseng include breast tenderness, headache and trouble sleeping.19
When to See a Healthcare Provider
Still unsure how you feel about menopause supplements and their side effects? Have other concerns about the way menopause symptoms are impacting your health—and your life? Don’t hesitate to speak with your healthcare provider. Together, you can discuss your management options and come up with a plan that’s customized for your unique needs, keeping in mind any potential downsides or side effects.