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The effects of milk thistle on the menopause

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The menopause will affect every woman at one time or another, but how can we relieve symptoms the natural way?

According to a recent study of 1,000 women aged between 40-55 years, 84 per cent of women have suffered from the many symptoms associated with the peri-menopause or the menopause.

The menopause describes a woman's natural loss of fertility in later life when her monthly periods come to an end and her ovaries lose their reproductive function. The average woman in the UK goes through menopause at the age of 51 but the symptoms can begin even earlier in what's known as the 'perimenopause'.

The symptoms associated with the perimenopause and the menopause include:

  • Hot flushes and night sweats
  • Anxiety and low mood
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Lower self-esteem
  • Headaches and migraine
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Tiredness
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Low sex drive
  • Aching joints and muscles
  • Urinary problems (cystitis, incontinence)

What is milk thistle?

Not to be mistaken for milk of magnesia, milk thistle has long been used as a herbal remedy. Milk thistle's beneficial properties derive from the seed, which contains high levels of the compound 'silymarin', believed to have specific antioxidant properties, local anti-inflammatory activity and toxin-blocking properties.

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How does milk thistle help the menopause?

"The active ingredient in milk thistle, silymarin, can help to support hormonal balance through its protective action on the liver," says Catherine Jeans, nutritional therapist and co-director of The Orange Grove Clinic, which specialises in women's health.

"Any excess hormones we have in our body are detoxified and excreted via the liver and gut, which makes milk thistle an excellent herb to help support hormonal balance," she adds.

One of the most common symptoms of the menopause is irritability and low mood and self-esteem, thanks to hormonal fluctuations. Typically, everyday stresses can seem even more overwhelming than before the start of menopause, but milk thistle is thought to help reduce feelings of anxiety and improve depression.

If you choose to go down the HRT (hormone replacement therapy) route, you may find that your medication slows down bile production, causing constipation. Milk thistle can assist the liver with bile production.

It is important to talk to your GP before taking milk thistle tablets, as THR products and some non-THR supplements can interfere with medication.

What other supplements can help with the menopause?

A number of other herbs and supplements can help to improve the symptoms of the menopause, including:

Sage

Described as a mild phytoestrogen (a plant oestrogen), sage has been used for thousands of years. In a recent study, women who took the herb experienced a huge reduction in hot flushes; those rated as 'very severe' decreased by 100 per cent.1

Pycnogenol

Sourced from the Europen pine tree, a study in Panminerva medica found that eight weeks' supplementation with Pycnogenol improved six of the most common menopause symptoms; hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, irregular periods, loss of libido and vaginal dryness.2

Soy isoflavones

A form of natural plant oestrogen similar in structure to oestrogen, isoflavones can be found organically in soy beans and other plant-based foods such as bean sprouts, chickpeas, flaxseed and sesame seeds.

A 2019 study found that "isoflavones reduce hot flashes even accounting for placebo effect, attenuate lumbar spine bone mineral density (BMD) loss, show beneficial effects on systolic blood pressure during early menopause, and improve glycemic control in vitro."3

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