What is 'natural therapy', 'complementary therapy', 'complementary medicine' and 'alternative therapy'? Do they mean the same thing? Every culture throughout the world has at some point used healing plants as the basis for its medicines and many have used acupuncture, homeopathy, nutrition, remedial therapies and traditional Chinese medicine. Herbs including black cohosh, dong quai, ginseng, hops, lavender, linseed, red clover, St John's wort and wild yam can be used in the management of mood changes, fatigue and in menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes, night sweats and vaginal changes. Vitamin and mineral supplements such as calcium, folate, iodine, iron, omega-3, vitamin B12, vitamin D and zinc can also have health benefits depending on your individual needs.
'Natural therapy', 'complementary therapy', 'complementary medicine' and 'alternative therapy' do not all mean the same thing, but they describe therapies and approaches to health and healing that are not considered parts of conventional, evidence-based (Western) medicine. The common catch-all term for all of these is 'complementary and alternative medicine' (CAM).
Nearly every culture throughout the world has at some point used plant-based substances as the basis for its medicines, and many people today use acupuncture, homeopathy, nutrition, remedial therapies and traditional Chinese medicine.
Safety of natural therapies
Natural therapies are often considered safe and harmless because they are 'natural'. However, this is simply not the case. Just as there are risks and unwanted side effects to conventional medical treatment such as painkillers and prescription drugs, there can be risks and unwanted side effects to natural therapies. Generally, the risks are smaller when it comes to natural therapies, but they are real and need to be respected.
Effectiveness of natural therapies
Given so many women use natural therapies on a regular basis, it's an important topic to understand. While it might seem like a straight-forward question – are natural therapies effective? – there is, unfortunately, no straight-forward answer.
Vitamins & supplements
For many people, at many times throughout their lives, eating a well-balanced diet - one that provides you with all the vitamins and minerals that you need - is not an easy task.
For example, vegetarians and vegans need to select foods more carefully to ensure they get all the nutrients they need, while some people - such as pregnant or breastfeeding women - need more of certain nutrients.
If your diet is lacking in a particular nutrient, one option is to use dietary supplements. Supplements can help you meet your recommended dietary intake (RDI), which is the daily amount of a nutrient your body needs in order to function and remain healthy.
Herbs used in the management of menopause
Every culture throughout the world has at some point used healing plants as the basis for its medicines. The plant parts that are used as medicinal herbs may be leaves, seeds, roots or flowers. Herbs including black cohosh, dong quai, ginseng, hops, lavender, linseed, red clover, St John's wort and wild yam are used in the management of health problems such as mood changes or fatigue, and in menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes, night sweats and vaginal changes.
Phytoestrogens (plant oestrogens) are substances that occur naturally in plants. They have a similar chemical structure to our own body's oestrogen (one of the main female hormones), and are able to bind to the same receptors that our own oestrogen does.
Phytoestrogens behave differently to female oestrogen and this depends on the oestrogen's environment (whether a woman is in her reproductive years and has higher oestrogen, or is postmenopausal with lower oestrogen), how they bind to the oestrogen receptor and particularly to which oestrogen receptor they bind to.
Eating phytoestrogens can produce either some of the same effects as human oestrogen (oestrogenic effects) or opposed effects (anti-oestrogenic effects). Which effects are triggered depends on existing levels of oestrogen in the body and how the phytoestrogens bind to receptors in the body.