Hot flashes, the bane of flushed middle-aged women everywhere, are responsible for everything from outbursts of sweat and uncomfortable overheating to the source of serious sleep problems. A prescription of hormones to counter the effects is often considered the most effective treatment for menopause, which is triggered by the withdrawal of estrogen from the body. But hormone therapy comes with a host of frightening potential side effects — many of them serious — including blood clots and the possible increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Which is why the search for effective alternative remedies has so occupied scientists and healers.

Their hunt has not been in vain. Researchers from the Swedish Linkoping University and Hospital have found that group therapy for relaxation produced a 50 percent reduction in menopausal problems. A team from the Group Health Research Institute, University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute found that women who eat more soy-based foods are more likely to experience fewer hot flashes, while researchers from Baylor University's Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory have found that hypnotic relaxation therapy reduced hot flashes by as much as 80 percent.

And now, a team from the University of Hong Kong has conducted a study on herbal remedies that shows success in tackling hot flashes. Their work was reported in the journal Menopause.

Professor Professor Yao Tong and his team conducted a controlled trial involving 108 perimenopausal women who experienced frequent hot flashes. The women were given an herbal formula or placebo twice a day for 12 weeks. The team found a reduction in the frequency of daily hot flashes of 62 percent for the herbal formula group, compared to a 52 percent reduction among those taking the placebo.

The herbal remedy, EXD (Er-xian decoction), is made of compounds extracted from the leaves, stems or roots of six different Chinese herbs that are processed into a drinkable tea. The researchers noted that previous studies had shown EXD to reduce hot flashes, but the prior studies were not considered high quality.

Results of the Hong Kong study showed that EXD reduced frequency of hot flashes from 5.8 per day to 2.2 per day; although the placebo group also had a reduction of hot flashes from 5 per day to 2.5 per day. Meanwhile, hot flash severity in the EXD group dropped from a rating of 3 to 1.6 (out of four); it fell from 3 to 2.3 (out of four) in the placebo group.

The study’s authors conclude that, "The Chinese herbal formula EXD is superior to placebo in reducing the frequency and severity of hot flushes and in improving menopausal symptoms in Hong Kong perimenopausal women. It is well tolerated, with no serious adverse events noted during the study period."

Although the difference between the EXD group and the placebo group weren’t huge, the overall reduction in frequency and severity for both groups is impressive. (Perhaps the most effective remedy is just being in a menopause study?)

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