Menopause is an inevitable rite of passage for all women between 45 to 52 years old. It is at this stage when their menstrual cycle begins to cease, and there are changes in hormonal status. For a lot of women, this stage comes with many problematic symptoms such as night sweats, sleep disturbances, weight gain, and mood disorders. One of the most common and particularly bothersome symptoms of menopause are hot flashes.
What are hot flashes?
A hot flash is an intense warm feeling on the skin, oftentimes accompanied by redness on the face, ears, chest, or other areas of the body as well as heart palpitations, sweating, or a tingling sensation in your fingers. It can either appear suddenly or one may feel them coming on over a period of a few minutes.
Up to two-thirds of women will have hot flashes during menopause. This makes it difficult for them to sleep if they occur at night. Some have hot flashes that they barely notice, while others experience very severe symptoms that can affect their daily life. Hot flashes last about three minutes on average. Their frequency, severity, and duration can vary from day-to-day.
Hormone therapy using estrogen and/or progesterone has been the primary treatment for menopausal symptoms like hot flashes. However, there are documented side effects and risks associated with hormone therapy. The side effects include bleeding, bloating, breast tenderness or enlargement, headache, mood changes, and nausea. For those taking hormones long-term, there are increased risks for breast cancer, stroke, heart attack, and blood clots.
There are complementary and alternative options to help alleviate hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms such as natural and herbal preparations. These are perceived to be safer, and one of the most popular herbal remedies for hot flashes is evening primrose oil.
What is evening primrose oil?
Evening primrose oil or EPO is the oil derived from the seeds of the evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) plant. This plant is most commonly found in North America and in some parts of South America. Native Americans have used this plant for medicinal purposes for over a thousand years. In the past, the plant has been used for common ailments such as stomachaches, respiratory infections, and hemorrhoids.
Nowadays, EPO has become popular for treating hot flashes. Most commercial preparations are usually made from its essential oil, which is extracted from the seeds. In recent years, one of the most important ingredients scientists have isolated from EPO is a fatty acid called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is also found in other plant-based oils. GLA is an essential fatty acid involved in the production of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. By increasing the production of prostaglandins, EPO is thought to help counteract hormonal changes associated with menopause.
To prove of its popularity as a remedy for menopausal changes, a report published in Menopause found that 70.4% of postmenopausal women aged 50 to 65 years old used natural remedies, with evening primrose oil as the most commonly used. Another survey published in The Medical Journal of Australia found that EPO is the second most commonly used remedy for hot flashes, after phytoestrogens such as soy.
Evening primrose oil is available in either oil form or capsules. Generally, high-quality EPO will be certified as organic by a reputable third party and is packaged in light-resistant containers.
If one plans to take evening primrose oil for menopause, talk to a doctor first. This herbal remedy may interact with other medications such as anticoagulants, medications for blood pressure, certain antidepressants, and medications for seizures. It is also not advisable to take this within two weeks of scheduled surgery.
As with other dietary supplements, do not expect immediate results when taking EPO; it might take six to eight weeks for benefits to appear.
Safety and possible side effects
According to the National Institutes of Health, evening primrose oil is likely safe for most people. However, the use of EPO supplements may cause side effects such as an upset stomach, headache, nausea, and diarrhea. Stomach pain and loose stools or diarrhea can mean that the dose you are taking is too high. There are rare side effects include increased bruising, bleeding, low blood sugar, allergic reactions or seizures.
If one is considering to try evening primrose oil, they should discuss it with their healthcare provider first to best address their concerns and improve their well-being.
While there have been some success stories from women who are using EPO as an effective menopause treatment, traditional treatment options and lifestyle changes should not be ignored. They should consider lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly, following a balanced diet that is also rich in calcium, practicing relaxation techniques, and taking up yoga.
Talk to a health care provider so that he or she can help in weighing one’s options for managing the symptoms of menopause.