woman holding menopause supplements and a glass of water in her hand.

Menopause supplements: Should women take them?

If you’re a woman approaching or going through menopause, you may find yourself experiencing some uncomfortable symptoms. These can include hot flashes, night sweats and irregular periods, just to name a few.

There are many supplements on the market for easing these symptoms, but which ones make sense for you to take?

What exactly is menopause?

Menopause is the timeframe when a woman permanently stops having menstrual periods and can no longer become pregnant. It usually begins between the ages of 45 and 55 and can last 7-14 years.

During this time, a woman’s ovaries are slowly and naturally beginning to fail and make lower levels of two key hormones: estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen controls the menstrual cycle, and progesterone supports pregnancy.

Additional menopause symptoms

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As estrogen and progesterone decrease, the body reacts in various ways. In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, a woman may also experience things like:

  • Mood swings
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Changes in sexual desire
  • Trouble concentrating or with memory
  • Urinating more often
  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Heavy sweating
  • PMS-like symptoms
  • Thinning hair
  • Dry skin
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of breast fullness

“Some women also lose their sense of wellbeing during menopause,” said Dennis Sands, MD, a gynecologist at OSF HealthCare. “In these cases, they just don’t feel right. They no longer feel good about their lives or themselves.”

Best menopause supplements

Several over-the-counter medications are touted as being able to help with some or all of these symptoms. But women should be cautious before believing these claims.

“In general, a lot of the at-home remedies are marketed very well. They are promoted as cure-alls or things that will work for the most common complaints, like hot flashes,” Dr. Sands said. “However, we’ve discovered that most of them don’t work, and there’s often no data that shows they work.

“Also, many of these medicines, including natural menopause supplements and remedies from plants, are marketed as dietary supplements, not pharmaceuticals. This provides manufacturers with wiggle room to make claims about their benefits that don’t require FDA approval.”

However, two effective supplements are low-dose estrogen and progesterone hormones. They’re usually recommended for women who are under 60 years of age or within 10 years of the start of menopause.

“These are currently the best menopause supplements because they’re the only ones that have been studied and proven effective,” Dr. Sands said. “They come in the form of a patch or cream that is applied to certain parts of the skin. They also come in pills that are very safe in most patients.”

Menopause vitamins and minerals

As a woman’s natural estrogen level falls, her risk of bone loss increases. This can be helped by getting more calcium, vitamin D and magnesium. However, it’s best to get these nutrients through food instead of relying on supplements.

“The biggest reason for getting these things through food is improving absorption through the digestive system,” Dr. Sands said. “While some nutrients in supplements are absorbed into the body, a lot of them aren’t. Instead, they just go out in your urine. A lot of folks won’t tell you that, but it’s reality. This is one reason why a balanced diet is so important.”

Supplements for bloating and belly weight

During menopause, a woman may experience bloating and increased belly weight. But instead of turning to supplements, much of this is better addressed in other ways.

“Bloating is caused by the body retaining water, which can be caused by sodium,” Dr. Sands said. “You can decrease the amount of sodium in your diet by avoiding chips, not adding salt to food, etc. Exercising two to three times per week – 20 to 30 minutes each time – can also help quite a bit because you burn off salt by sweating.

“With regard to weight, our metabolism slows as we get older. However, menopause also causes it to slow down. So, avoiding polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats as well as exercising regularly can help you lose weight.”

The impact of overall health

While some recommended menopause supplements can help symptoms in healthy women, they’re not cure-alls or effective for everyone. This is why it’s important to talk to your gynecologist to find out what’s best for you.

And even though treatments vary, one piece of advice every woman is likely to hear is the importance of maintaining her overall health.

“We’ve noticed that women who exercise, get the right amount of sleep, have good relationships and are in good overall health will generally do pretty well in the menopausal transition,” Dr. Sands said. “On the other hand, it seems that a lot of women have more difficulty when they’re under more stress, don’t get enough sleep and just aren’t as healthy as they should be. So, getting the right balance in your life can help decrease menopausal symptoms.”

A health care provider can also determine if other medications you’re taking are making your menopause symptoms worse.

“If you’re struggling, see your health care provider and review all the options,” Dr. Sands suggests. “There are some great options that are effective and safe. Generally, they’re only used for a short time to get people through the transition. If you find a supplement that you want to try, talk to your doctor first. Some things may not be harmful, but they also may not be beneficial.”

Last Updated: May 29, 2024

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About Author: Luke Legner

Luke Legner is a writing coordinator at OSF HealthCare. He joined the Ministry in April 2021 after several years working in corporate communications in the heavy equipment industry. A Pontiac native, he graduated from Illinois State University in 2002 where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication.

Luke and his wife, Ashley, reside in Bloomington and have one son and two daughters. When he’s not tackling a home improvement project, you can usually find Luke watching his beloved Chicago Cubs or The Andy Griffith Show.

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Categories: Women's Health