Tracing the history of menopause treatments back before the early 20th century is difficult because hormones were not officially “discovered” until 1902 by English physiologists Ernest Starling and William Bayliss. Before this time, the female reproductive process and menstrual cycle mystified men and women alike. Regardless finding a solution for these bodily changes has always been a subject of great interest. Originally treated with herbal remedies, the discovery of hormones brought great pharmaceutical advances to menopause treatments. Read on to learn more.
Ancient Civilizations and Menopause
Even in the most ancient civilizations, the cessation of menstruation marked a critical period in a woman's life, as it signified the end of her fertility. While women might not have had a technical explanation for what was going on, they still sought out treatments for what we now know where menopausal ailments. These treatments often came in the form of homeopathic remedies like herbs and acupuncture.
In Native American cultures, black cohosh was popularly used to treat menstrual irregularities and reproductive problems. Ancient Chinese civilizations on the other hand used dong quai and acupuncture techniques to treat menstrual and hormonal irregularities.
In recent years, women have shown renewed interest in these and other herbal supplements, as they are thought to be a safe and natural alternative to pharmaceutical options like HRT and the other bioidentical hormones often used to treat menopause.
The Hormone Therapy Breakthrough and Bioidentical Hormones
Canadian researcher James Collip made the first breakthroughs in hormone therapy in the 1930s when he extracted an orally active estrogen from the urine of pregnant women. These estrogens were first marketed in the 1940s as a treatment for menopause under the name Premarin.
There are two types of therapies that have stemmed from Collip's findings: hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and bioidentical hormones. Hormone replacement therapies treat menopause by introducing synthetic estrogens and progesterone into the female body. Bioidentical hormones are taken from soy or yam plants and engineered in a laboratory setting to copy the effects of naturally-occurring hormones. Both have gained popularity due to celebrity backings from Suzanne Somers and Oprah Winfrey. However, they also come with a range of side effects. Long-term usage has been linked with the increased risk for breast cancer, heart attack, and stroke.
It's always best to consult your doctor before choosing a treatment for your menopausal symptoms. Along with herbs for menopause and pharmaceutical options, women may also make lifestyle changes to encourage hormone balance.
- BMJ Group. "Menopause: What is it?" Patient Leaflet. 2007.
- Hopkins, Virginia. Lee, John R. M.D. What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause. New York: Warner Books Inc., 1996.
- Love, Susan M.D. Menopause and Hormone Book. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003.
- Martin, Raquel. The Estrogen Alternative. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2000.