Can traditional Chinese medicine relieve symptoms of menopause

A woman experiencing the odd hot flush when glimpsing Brad Pitt decked out in his 'Troy' gear might be normal, but uncontrolled flushing because of menopause usually isn't so welcome. A new clinical study by the University of Western Sydney is set to discover if Traditional Chinese Medicine can help relieve the hot flushing and night sweats that come with the 'change of life'.

To be conducted by the UWS Centre for Complementary Medicine Research (CompleMED), the team needs 100 Sydney women between the ages of 45-65 years for the 16-week trial, which will use Chinese herbs to improve their symptoms caused by hormonal changes.

The trials will be carried out at various clinics across Sydney, including the Chinese Medicine Clinical Research Centre at Liverpool Hospital - a joint collaboration between UWS and South Western Sydney Area Health Service - and the Menopause Clinic at Royal North Shore Hospital.

CompleMED researcher, Ms Corinne Patching, says the study aims to find an alternative to Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) that can give women back their quality of life.

"Ask any woman over 50, and she'll tell you the hot flushing and night sweats are probably the most annoying symptom of menopause," says Ms Patching.

"70-80 per cent of menopausal women suffer from these uncomfortable and embarrassing symptoms. At the moment, the only way to treat it is with Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), but with recent research casting doubt on its long-term safety, some women are reluctant to embark on this kind of therapy.

"We're hoping this research will help contribute to finding a safe and clinically-proven option for women that can help them through menopause."

Ms Patching says an important offshoot of the research will be testing if the herbal preparation, which is taken in tablet form, also has a positive effect on bone metabolism.

"Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a long history in treating bone disorders. A number of the Chinese herbs being used in this trial have been reported to have a favourable effect on bone metabolism, especially bone formation. This may be seen by measuring specific chemicals in the blood and urine," says Ms Patching.

"We want to clinically test this, so some of the women will also take part in a pilot study to look at what effect the herbal formula has on bone metabolism. Should the results prove promising, we will conduct further long-term studies."

With complementary medicine use booming in Australia, Ms Patching says it's important to gather scientific evidence about these forms of treatment.

"Studies show significant numbers of Australian women are turning to complementary medicine to relieve their menopausal symptoms, but until now there's been very little research done to test if it works," she says.

Participants must be experiencing six or more hot flushes per day or at least 42 per week, not had a period for at least 12 months, and must be in reasonably good health.

Prior to starting the trial, participants will be interviewed and will undergo a detailed health assessment, to exclude other medical conditions. Those selected will receive Chinese herbal treatment on a monthly basis.

The research has been approved by the UWS Ethics Committee, and the two hospital ethics committees. All herbal medicines used in the trial are approved for human consumption with the Federal Government's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and can be bought over-the-counter.

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