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A study suggests there is a dearth of scientific evidence to say whether alternative treatments are good for minimizing the symptoms of menopause.Patti Gower/The Globe and Mail

Bad news for women seeking alternative and complementary therapies for the annoying discomforts of menopause. A study released this week suggests there is a dearth of scientific evidence to say whether any of these treatments are good for minimizing hot flashes, heavy sweating, vaginal dryness and other menopause symptoms.

Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland reviewed 70 pervious trials of a wide variety of therapies, ranging from the black cohosh herbal remedy to magnets. Most of the trials utilized small groups of patients and lasted for relatively brief periods of time. "We would need larger studies or longer studies to conclude whether these treatments are going to work for the management of menopause," said Anne Nedrow, who led the research team.

She also noted that there appears to be a huge placebo effect associated with many menopause treatments. In some cases, the volunteers reported feeling better on the placebo than the actual therapy. "In almost every study, everyone gets better no matter what they do," she said.

So, what's wrong with taking something that makes you feel better even if it is just a placebo effect? Dr. Nedrow said women should be concerned about the long-term effects of untested therapies. In one of the few lengthy trials -- a five-year study of a soy-based product -- a handful of women developed endometrial hyperplasia, a precancerous lesion.

Dr. Nedrow said women should tell their physicians if they try an alternative treatment. That way the doctor can be on the lookout for potential side effects. What's more, they should use the product at the lowest effective dose for the shortest period of time necessary.

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