Alternatives to HRT

by Dee Atkinson, Medical Herbalist, MNIMH

Over the last few years I have seen many patients who are looking for alternatives to hormone replacement therapy. The onset of the menopause can bring with it a lot of unpleasant symptoms, and the ones that often persuade women to take hormone replacement are hot flushes and mood swings.

Varying in intensity from mild episodes of heat to extreme fluctuations in temperature and sweating they can make ones life miserable. At the other end of the scale the most common reason for women to want to come off their hormone replacement is worry about the possible side effects of the drugs, especially if they have been on them for over five years and unhappiness with the weight gain that often goes hand in hand with hormone replacement.

Many of my patients are directly referred to me by their doctor, this has been increasing over the years as Herbal Medicine has moved more into the realm of main stream medicine, and the worries about HRT have increased. The decision on whether or not to take hormone replacement needs to be made by the patient themselves in discussion with their Doctor or Herbal practitioner.


There are certain foods that can help to ease menopause symptoms. The buzz word here is ‘phyto oestrogen’. These are plants and even foods that have oestrogen like actions. Their chemical structure resembles that of oestrogen, but is not identical. They are able to occupy oestrogen receptors in the body with out actually activating them. A bit like putting a key in a lock but being unable to turn it.

Soya, linseeds, beans and pluses are some foods that exhibit these properties. Liquorice, Red clover and Sage are plants that also exhibit these properties. By combining herbs such as these, making dietary changes and using gentle hormone regulators such as Vitex agnus castus the herbalist is able to tailor make the prescription for the patient.

Exercise and diet are important parts of everyone’s health care, and this is especially important for women going through the change of life. Exercise helps to keep the weight under control, the cardio vascular system healthy and helps prevent osteoporosis. This is a time when many women can feel particularly low and unable to motivate themselves to exercise and eat healthily.

Qualified practitioners will be able to help women work out a treatment plan that includes all aspects of the problem and will use natural remedies to help the body through what is after all a very natural process. The length of time one needs to take herbs for can vary. The majority of my menopause patients are on herbs form anywhere between 6 to 18 months.


In the early days, when they are peri-menopausal, we often find that a few months of herbs will correct the problems and we then have a good spell symptom free spell. Often herbs regulate the cycle and the peri-menopausal symptoms are eased The longer the gaps between periods, we often find that menopause symptoms become more pronounced. One is not considered menopausal until a year has elapsed since their last period.

Menopause symptoms are varied, and can include, hot flushes and night sweats, mood swings, forgetfulness changes in the texture of skin and hair, palpitations, anxiety, sleeplessness, weight gain, joint pains, vaginal dryness and lack of libido. These symptoms can come and go, and they don’t all happen at the same time. It can be a confusing time and often a time when women have other stresses with teenage children and elderly relatives to care for. Herbal formulas, as prescribed by a herbal practitioner are built for the individual and can have a profoundly beneficial effect.


One word of caution. Just as one would never take hormone replacement with out first consulting their doctor, only embark on a course of herbs after consultation with a qualified practitioner. If you are on HRT and want to stop, consult a herbal practitioner before you stop. If you have undergone treatment for cancer and are wanting to use herbs, you must never try and self treat. I help many women who have undergone cancer treatment to manage their health, and we can use herbs to reduce menopause symptoms, but we do need to make sure that we use the correct herbs. Many herbs are contra indicated in this situation.