June 2015 Health Bulletin

New research from WHRP published in the Medical Journal of Australia and Maturitas

Our cross-sectional study involving 2,020 women aged 40-65 years, recruited from across Australia has resulted in two new publications that have attracted substantial national and international interest.

Our paper, published in the journal Maturitas in July 2015, reported on the association between moderate-severe vasomotor symptoms (hot flushes and night sweats) and psychological general well-being in women1. Our analysis took into account socio-demographic and lifestyle factors known to impact well-being in women of this age. Psychological and general well-being was assessed by a validated questionnaire that captures 6 dimensions of wellbeing. We found that moderate-severe vasomotor symptoms was independently, strongly associated with poorer overall psychological general well-being.

The other factors independently associated with lowered psychological general well-being were:

  • housing insecurity,
  • being un-partnered,
  • being obese, and
  • being a current smoker.

In contrast, older age and undertaking paid and/or volunteer work were each positively associated with better well-being.

Approximately 1 in 10 women in our study reported that they were not confident about their housing security. We found that the adverse impact of moderate-severe VMS on well-being was as great as housing insecurity, and greater than that of obesity and being a carer. This striking, and previously unrecognised, finding demonstrates how severely women can be affected by menopausal symptoms.

The second report, published in the Medial Journal of Australia in August 2015, reported on the prevalence of, and factors associated with, the use of, complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) for vasomotor and other menopausal symptoms in Australian women aged 40-65 years2. The women who participated in our cross-sectional study were provided with a comprehensive list of CAMs used by for hot flushes and night sweats and other menopausal symptoms, and the extent to which they were bothered by menopausal symptoms was measured by the Menopause-specific Quality Of Life questionnaire.

13% of the 2,020 women in the study said they were using a CAM to manage their hot flushes/ night sweats. The most commonly used CAM was phytoestrogens, followed by evening primrose oil and ginseng. This is concerning in that none of these are effective therapies for hot flushes/ night sweats. Evening primrose oil is recommended for breast pain, not menopausal symptoms. Ginseng is used in Chinese Medicine to boost energy and alleviate fatigue. Of note there are many different varieties of ginseng and scientific studies of all the varieties are still limited.

This study also showed that women at midlife are also highly likely to be taking other CAMs, such as fish oil and glucosamine, primarily for the prevention of heart disease (fish oil) and management of joint pain (glucosamine). Most people are not aware that the efficacy of these treatments remains controversial.

It is extremely important if you are taking any herbal remedies or supplements that you tell your doctor exactly what you are taking. Some supplements interact with commonly prescribed medications. For example fish oil makes platelets less sticky and therefore reduces blood clotting. If taken in combination with aspirin this could put a person at significant increased risk of bleeding. You should also be wary of claims made about complementary therapies, these are not always accurate and may not be scientifically substantiated.

  1. Gartoulla P, Bell RJ, Worsley R, Davis SR. Moderate-severely bothersome vasomotor symptoms are associated with lowered psychological general wellbeing in women at midlife. Maturitas. 2015;81(4):487-92.
  2. Gartoulla P, Davis SR, Worsley R, Bell RJ, Gartoulla P, Davis SR, et al. Use of complementary and alternative medicines for menopausal symptoms in Australian women aged 40-65 years. Med J Aust. 2015;203(3):146.

Information provided might not be relevant to a particular person's circumstances and should always be discussed with that person's own healthcare provider.