Sea buckthorn, a bright little berry which grows on a shrub in coastal and high altitude areas, has been hailed as a health food for lots of reasons. However, this unassuming fruit has gained popularity in recent years as one of several menopause natural remedies. Let’s take a look at how sea buckthorn can help ease the symptoms of menopause and the science behind the claims.April 27, 2022 4:45 pm March 09, 2021 3:56 pm
A quick recap on sea buckthorn
Sea buckthorn is a small orange-yellow berry which grows in many regions around the world, including the UK. It has a tart, energising flavour, similar to gooseberry but with hints of tropical pineapple.
It has attracted lots of attention in recent years thanks to its impressive nutritional profile. For example, it is rich in vitamin C; per 100g, it contains significantly more vitamin C than oranges.
It also contains other healthy nutrients such as beta-carotene. This pigment gives sea buckthorn berries their colour, but our bodies can also convert it into vitamin A. This vitamin is vital for our eye and skin health, as well as supporting our immunity.
Sea buckthorn is also a source of omega-7. This unsaturated fatty acid is quite tough to find in the plant world, and in fact sea buckthorn is the best known plant-based source of it.
Its role in the body is still being investigated, but it’s thought to help facilitate communication between different types of tissue. Scientists have also linked with with skin, eye and mucous membrane health.
Most of the omega-7 supplements on the market are derived from sea buckthorn.
Sea buckthorn for menopause
So, why has sea buckthorn been linked with helping with menopause?
There are two main reasons for this.
Firstly, a number of scientific studies have found that taking sea buckthorn helped women going through menopause with some of their symptoms and discomfort.
Secondly, many doctors prescribe estrogen to help manage symptoms of menopause. During menopause, your estrogen levels tend to drop off quite dramatically. Low estrogen can cause unpleasant symptoms like headaches, weight gain and ‘brain fog’.
Sea buckthorn contains phytoestrogens, which are plant-based compounds which work in a similar way to human estrogen. For this reason many people have become interested in whether sea buckthorn phytoestrogens could support or even replace treatment with synthetic estrogen.
Firstly, let’s take a look at the studies we already have about sea buckthorn as a menopause natural remedy.
Sea buckthorn may help with vaginal dryness
Vaginal dryness is a common symptom of menopause. It occurs because when your body produces less estrogen, the walls of your vagina become thinner (sometimes called vaginal atrophy).
Glands in your cervix also produce a natural lubricant which helps to keep your vagina clean and healthy. During menopause, these glands often produce less lubricant, creating a feeling of dryness. This can lead to itching, burning and pain during sex. It is very common in menopausal women (around 45% of women experience it).(3)
So, how can sea buckthorn help?
One scientific study looked at the effects of sea buckthorn oil on a group of 116 post-menopausal women experiencing vaginal dryness.
The researchers found that the vaginal epithelial (skin) health of the women in the sea buckthorn group was significantly improved versus the placebo group.(1)
Another promising study found that three out of five patients showed improvement of chronic vaginal inflammatory atrophy. However, more clinical trials would be needed to confirm the result of a study with such a small number of participants.(2)
Despite these promising results, t’s important to note that a meta-analysis of studies into menopausal remedies did not find a significant improvement. The researchers did acknowledge, though, that the study period may have been too short to find completely accurate results.(3)
"Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring plant compounds which behave in the human body in a similar way to our own estrogen (albeit a weaker version)."
Phytoestrogens and omega-7
Now, let’s look at the evidence for sea buckthorn’s estrogen-like effects.
In the studies cited above, the researchers based their results on sea buckthorn oil or extract. They did not isolate one particular nutrient to examine its effect.
As such, we don’t know precisely why sea buckthorn shows the promising results we have see above. There seem to be two areas of interest; omega-7 and the natural phytoestrogens in sea buckthorn.
In one study where an improvement in vaginal health was noted, the researchers noted that the sea buckthorn extract given to participants did not increase their circulating estrogen level. So, it’s unlikely that sea buckthorn was in any way replicating the effect of medical estrogen treatment.(2)
Many scientists think that it’s probably to do with sea buckthorn’s high levels of omega-7.
Omega-7 is likely to be helpful because it cares generally for mucous membranes.
Phytoestrogens to isoflavones: getting past the jargon
That said, sea buckthorn does contain phytoestrogens.
These are naturally occurring compounds which behave in the human body in a similar way to our own estrogen (albeit a weaker version).
For this reason a lot of people have looked to them as a possible natural alternative to estrogen treatment during menopause.
Phytoestrogens are surprisingly common in the plant world. For example, soy beans (and soy products like tofu), linseeds, oats, barley, lentils, apples and carrots all contain them in varying degrees.
The difficult case of soy
There is still lots of debate in the scientific community about phytoestrogens and their role in our health. In fact, high levels of phytoestrogens in some foods (particularly soy products) has been the source of some controversy over the years, as it’s not totally clear how they work.
We know that they can interact with our oestrogen receptors, but their exact effect isn’t clear. For example, in some cases phytoestrogens seem to promote estrogen activity, where in others they act as an anti-estrogen.
For this reason soy phytoestrogens in particular have had some bad press linking them to estrogen-linked diseases such as breast cancer. This has been linked back to isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen found in soy.
The debate continues to rage, particularly around processed soy products such as soy protein powders, soy yoghurt and other products which use soy isolates.
However it seems that whole soy products (including tofu and tempeh) present less of a risk and are generally thought to be safe when eaten in moderation.
Phytoestrogens in sea buckthorn
There’s little evidence to suggest that sea buckthorn (in its natural, or whole food form) exerts an estrogenic effect.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be helpful if you’re going through menopause.
Its potential benefits for vaginal dryness are probably down to the caring effects of omega-7 and other nutrients naturally present in sea buckthorn oil.
It’s important to note that there are lots of phytoestrogen supplements out there, being marketed as ‘natural alternatives’ to estrogen treatment.
We’d recommend being cautious about using these. Not much is known about their safety, and they may not even have a significant effect.(4)(5)
In short, we simply don’t have enough information on phytoestrogen supplements to know if they’re good for you, bad for you, or do very little at all.
However, it’s perfectly fine to eat whole foods which contain phytoestrogens. Here, the levels of phytoestrogens you consume are likely to be too low to cause significant effects.
Some people remain concerned about soy, but the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health notes that soy products are safe to eat several times a week, and are probably more beneficial than detrimental to your health.(6)
Taking sea buckthorn for menopause
If you’d like to try taking sea buckthorn to help with vaginal atrophy or dryness, we recommend using sea buckthorn oil. This is what was used in the successful studies cited above.
It’s also exceptionally high in omega-7, with 35g of omega-7 (also called palmitoleic acid) per 100g of product.
You can take 20-40 drops per day neat, or drizzle it over your favourite recipes. We love it over porridge, or in salad dressings.
Plus, you can also make use of sea buckthorn oil’s other myriad benefits. It contains 15mg of vitamin E per 100g, and is thought to support your skin elasticity and collagen production.
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