The symptoms of menopause range from changes in mood, period, or sex drive to sleep trouble, anxiety, depression, and the well-known hot flashes. This stage in a woman’s life can also increase the risk of health issues, such as osteoporosis or heart disease.
Physicians often recommend hormonal therapy (HT) for managing menopausal symptoms, as well as preserving bone density. However, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) caution against the health risks that HT often poses, including that of a heart attack, stroke, and breast cancer.
Additionally, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend that women take the smallest dose of HT for the shortest period of time possible.
Because of the adverse health effects associated with HT, many women turn to complementary, plant-based medicine for symptom relief during menopause. Plants such as red clover or soy contain phytoestrogens – substances similar to the estrogen produced by the human body but derived from plants.
However, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) report that the efficacy of phytoestrogens in relieving menopause symptoms has been inconsistent.
But new research – published in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) – suggests that the phytoestrogens found in fennel help manage postmenopausal symptoms and pose no adverse effects.
Fennel – or Foeniculum vulgare Mill – is a herb known for its culinary and medicinal uses. Fennel is commonly used as a spice, and fennel tea is known to relieve indigestion or premenstrual cramps.
Fennel led to reduction in menopause symptoms
The new research consisted of a randomized, triple-blind trial – an experiment in which the details are kept secret from the participants, those administering the intervention, as well as the committee of researchers in charge of evaluating the outcomes of the experiment.
The study comprised of 90 Iranian women between 45 and 60 years old who lived in Tehran. The average age at which Iranian women get their menopause is younger than that of American women. The former is 48.2 years, compared with 51 years in the U.S.
Participants were administered capsules containing 100 milligrams of fennel every day, twice per day, for a period of 8 weeks. The participants were divided into two groups of 45 women: one that received the treatment and one that received placebo.
Using the Menopause Rating Scale (MRS), the researchers compared the results of the treatment group with those of the placebo group at 4, 8, and 10-week intervals after the intervention began.
Based on the participants’ responses, fennel was found to be “an effective and safe treatment to reduce menopausal symptoms in postmenopausal women without serious side effects.”
The study revealed significantly lower MRS scores in patients who had received the treatment compared with the placebo group.
In the treatment group, a Friedman test revealed significantly lower scores at 4, 8, and 10 weeks, compared with the baseline. In the placebo group, the same test found no significant differences.
This is one of the first clinical trials to investigate the effects of fennel on menopausal symptoms.
“This small pilot study found that, on the basis of a Menopause Rating Scale, twice-daily consumption of fennel as a phytoestrogen improved menopause symptoms compared with an unusual minimal effect of placebo. A larger, longer, randomized study is still needed to help determine its long-term benefits and side effect profile.”
Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of NAMS