Menopausal Supplements - What Women Think: United States
Women choose supplements over conventional methods in treating menopause because they believe these are safer, they prefer a more natural approach, and sometimes, refusal to use medical treatment is due to distrust and disappointment with the medical system.
Women and Menopause: Overview
- Only 35% of participants in a study conducted to assess health and lifestyle behavior of women going through menopause felt prepared for menopause.
- The same study shown that women rated weight loss as the main reason to join a lifestyle program during menopause and would consider a lifestyle modification program targeting weight loss and mitigation of metabolic impairments and symptoms as a potential alternative to Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), also known as hormone therapy (HT).
- Women often feel confused about their options and rely on the internet as their primary source of information.
- A Yale University study discovered that while 60% of women with significant menopausal symptoms seek medical attention, nearly three-quarters are left untreated.
- A survey conducted in Europe shown that women avoid treatment for menopausal symptoms for a variety of reasons including discomfort discussing vaginal symptoms and safety concerns regarding HRT.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
- Two large studies during 2002 and 2003 raised concerns regarding HRT, revolving around an increase in breast cancer and heart diseases. These results created panic among some users and new guidance for doctors prescribing it. Even though the results of those studies are now viewed differently by doctors, the conversation is still driven by fear, while more “natural” methods are considered to be safer.
- Even though HRT is still the most effective way to fight menopause symptoms, a relevant percentage of women express several safety concerns.
- In an online survey from a British menopause-focused website, 70% of 1464 respondents were in favor of HRT, and 40% believed that the risks of HRT had been exaggerated in the media. On the other hand, 41% of perimenopausal women reported that they would never use HRT, and 77% said they would try alternative therapies before taking HRT.
- A recent study with 1,611 women showed that 585 (37%) have tried HRT against 1,014 (63%) who haven’t.
- As for the reasons they did not try, 35% said they never considered, 12% were not suitable candidates, 47% prefer not to take it, and 6% said that other remedies helped.
- Negative impressions of HRT generally stem from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study in the United States, and from the Million Women Study in the United Kingdom (UK). The use of HRT for the treatment of menopausal symptoms was widespread in the 1990s, but abruptly plummeted globally following the release of these study data.
- Current consensus recommendations include HRT as an option for many women, and state that treatment decisions for menopausal symptoms should be individualized based on an analysis of each patient’s health status, age, symptoms, and personal preferences.
Alternative Therapies (Including supplements) and why women prefer them
- Some women are expressing an overarching distrust of a medical system that they perceived to be dismissive of their concerns and overly reliant on pharmaceuticals in place of greater clinical attention.
- Others expressed the perception that many clinicians were too ready to prescribe conventional HRT, rather than work more collaboratively with patients to identify a treatment approach that would effectively manage their symptoms in ways aligned with their overall approach to health and wellness.
- A study conducted on women using CHBT showed that many participants suggested that clinicians’ dismissal of women’s concerns and their reliance on pharmaceuticals should be understood as implicit gender-bias or racial-/ethnic-bias in health care.
- Other studies have shown that doctors are not really prepared to deal with menopause, as also shown by the Yale study previously mentioned.
- In a recent survey by Women’s Health, 95% of women said they would try alternative therapies before HRT because they think they are more natural and because they are worried about health risks of HRT.
- Most women using those alternative methods do not discuss it with their health care providers.
- A survey conducted in the UK discovered that 20% of the participants tried alternative and complementary treatments such as herbal remedies and "natural" hormones. About 15% classified it as very effective, 44% fairly effective, 22% not very effective, and 14% not at all effective.
- A study shown that approximately 51% of women use some sort of alternative relief and more than 60% perceive it to be effective for menopausal symptoms.
We started our research by looking for polls and surveys that could give us some insights as to why women choose supplements to treat menopause. We looked for that information in health-related sites like NCBI, Harvard Health, Women’s Health, MedScape among others. We also checked specific sites like Menopause, NIH, MenopauseWhispers, etc. We were not able to locate research about supplements, but we did find some studies about alternative therapies that were used in this report (supplements are mentioned as alternative therapies in most studies).
We then broadened our research outside of the US in order to find more relevant results. Due to cultural and ethnic differences, we excluded any study from Asia and Africa, but we decided to include some studies with European women, especially in the UK, that provided interesting insights.
Next, we inverted our research, instead of looking for reasons why women choose alternative methods such as supplements, we looked for reasons why they stay away from more conventional ones, like hormone replacement therapy. With this approach we found some new information, such as the distrust and disappointment with the medical system. It is important to note that we found some sources with testimonials of women and reviews of products, however, these sources are not used due to the obvious bias. We decided to focus our research in more reliable sources and controlled studies.
As for the reasons, since we could not find sources detailing exactly why women choose the supplements, we used the information that was available to make connections and understand the way they think. Different studies mentioned the safety concerns and how alternatives (like supplements) are viewed as safer, so we included “safety” as one of the reasons (even though some doctors alert to potential harm those supplements could cause, they also mentioned that women in general are unaware of them, we included a Forbes story about this). Several reports noted that the medical system is not ready to deal with menopause and women are not feeling like doctors take their symptoms seriously, so we included “distrust of the medical field” as another reason. “Natural” is also a word that came up in different sources when referring to alternative therapy and supplements preferences, so we included that as one of the reasons as well. “Convenience” could be used as one of the reasons, since a lot of women are reportedly taking their information from the internet and friends and some studies pointed out that they don’t feel comfortable discussing menopause symptoms, which could lead to more online purchases, however, since this reason is a judgment call, we excluded it from the final answer.