Herbal remedies vs. conventional remedies

Menopause may be a natural fact of life, but that doesn’t make its symptoms any easier to deal with. Around two thirds of women who go through menopause will experience symptoms such as bone density loss, fatigue, weight gain, and hot flashes.

Many women turn to the use of herbal remedies for symptom relief. This might be due in part to concerns about traditional hormone replacement therapy.

Herbal supplements are usually made with extracts from the seeds, flowers, or even the leaves and stems of plants. These get manufactured into teas, capsules, and other formulations.

Here we break down the use of red clover for menopause.

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is a flowering plant. Like chickpeas and beans, it’s a legume. Red clover contains isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogens have a similar chemical makeup to estrogen, the female hormone that declines with menopause.

For this reason, it may have benefits for menopausal symptoms. People sometimes take it for bone density loss, hot flashes, night sweats, and/or high cholesterol.

Red clover is available in tablet form, both as a sole ingredient or mixed with other herbs. Since red clover supplements have multiple manufacturers, it’s important to read the recommended dosage indicated and talk about herbal supplements with a doctor. Red clover is also available as a tea.

Most of the research done on red clover indicates that it’s only minimally effective at reducing menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes:

  • A scientific literature review reported in the Journal of Women’s Health found that three out of four clinical trials showed no significant difference between red clover and a placebo for reducing hot flashes. The reviewers also indicated that some of the trials may have had limitations, such as length of time of the study.
  • In one trial, where women took supplements of red clover isoflavones versus a placebo, the women who took the supplement lost significantly less bone density than the women who took the placebo.
  • In other research, one small study reported in Gynecological Endocrinology found that red clover supplementation decreased menopausal symptoms and reduced triglyceride levels.
  • An animal study reported in Phytotherapy Research indicated that red clover may help reduce skin aging by increasing collagen levels which could have connection with and impact on menopausal conditions like vaginal atrophy.

No studies done to date on red clover have indicated that it causes any serious side effects when taken for one year or less. Like any phytoestrogen, red clover might increase the risk of endometrial cancer or other types of cancers if taken long term.

Red clover may cause minor side effects in some women, such as:

  • headaches
  • swollen neck glands
  • vaginal bleeding and other types of bleeding
  • reduced blood clot formation
  • breast tenderness
  • vertigo
  • hypertension
  • skin rash
  • acne

Red clover is not recommended for use by women with hormone-dependent cancers of any kind or for people with blood-clotting disorders.

Around 70 percent of women who take herbal supplements, including red clover, fail to tell their physicians. For your safety, it’s important to let your doctor know if you take red clover or any other herbal treatment, including teas. Red clover may interact with certain medications. These include:

  • birth control pills
  • anticoagulants (blood thinners)
  • over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin)
  • NSAIDS, for example, naproxen (Aleve or Midol)
  • tamoxifen
  • any medication that’s metabolized in the liver
About herbal supplements

Herbal remedies are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as dietary supplements, not as medications. This means that manufacturers aren’t required to do as much research so dietary supplements aren’t as regulated as traditional medications.

Herbal supplement manufacturers are also not required to get FDA approval prior to selling their products. This puts a higher responsibility on consumers to look into potential benefits and risks of the herbal supplements they choose.

There are many natural remedies that people take to try to find relief from menopausal symptoms. These include black cohosh and herbal teas. There is disagreement among researchers about the efficacy of black cohosh to relieve menopause symptoms. However, it’s one of the most widely used supplements for this purpose.

As with your research for red clover, do your research on these as well as teas people take medicinally, like ginseng tea and dong quai tea.


Soybean is another plant that contains phytoestrogens. It’s also used to reduce menopausal symptoms — as a supplement and as a food.

While it may not be appropriate for women with hormone-dependent cancers to use, for others, it may provide some relief from symptoms associated with menopause, such as post-menopausal osteoporosis, hot flashes, and weight gain.


Paroxetine is the first and only nonhormonal medicine approved by the FDA for effectively treating menopause symptoms. It’s a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) with other formulations used for the treatment of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

The FDA-approved menopause medication is known by the brand name Brisdelle. It’s effectiveness for treating hot flashes, or hot flushes, was established based on two randomized clinical trials with a total of 1174 women over the course of 12 weeks and 24 weeks.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

The North American Menopause Society has an effective nonhormonal way to manage menopause symptoms recommends cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). One study found CBT provided a moderate improvement in women’s symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats.

There are a number of ways that a doctor can help treat menopause symptoms. Speak to them about all your options.

Talk to your doctor about the types of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and any concerns you may have about HRT. Your age, health history, and the amount of time that has passed since your menopause started, make a difference in the safety and effectiveness of HRT.

Other treatments for menopausal symptoms include conventional menopause medications as well as “off-label” medications primarily used to treat other conditions:

  • Gabapentin: This is primarily an epilepsy medication but is also used for the treatment and prevention of hot flashes and other conditions.
  • Antidepressants: These are primarily used to treat depression but are also used for the treatment of hot flashes and night sweats.
  • Vaginal estrogen: This is used to treat vaginal atrophy resulting from a menopausal decrease in estrogen.
  • Osteoporosis medications: These are used for bone density loss that may or may not be related to menopause.
  • Clonidine: This is primarily used as a blood pressure medication but it is also used for treating hot flashes.

Red clover may be helpful for reducing night sweats and hot flashes. It’s available in supplement form and in teas.

There’s no conclusive evidence indicating that it’s beneficial, but several small studies indicate that it may provide relief for some women. There may be more effective options out there, both hormonal and nonhormonal.

It’s important to follow the dosing directions on supplements exactly, since they are manufactured by a variety of companies.

It’s also important to let your doctor know about any herbal supplements you take and questions that you have.