When female friends hit their 40s and 50s, they start talking to me about their sleep. “I never had insomnia before in my life.” “I wake up with hot flashes.” “I get these feelings of anxiety and I just can’t sleep!”
Perimenopause and menopause cause an uptick in sleep problems, insomnia, chief among them. Hormonal changes are clearly involved. Starting in perimenopause, our bodies secrete less estrogen, and products containing phytoestrogen—a plant hormone similar to estrogen—are said to help with menopausal symptoms. Soy products are high in phytoestrogen, and supplements containing ginseng, red clover extract, and black cohosh are, too.
But insomnia that occurs in midlife women hasn’t gotten much attention from sleep researchers, nor have these phytoestrogen-containing products. Do they help with insomnia and other menopausal symptoms? All we can do is to try these alternative treatments and see.
French Maritime Pine Bark Extract
Another plant-based supplement shows promise for women looking for relief from insomnia and other menopause-related symptoms. It’s made from the bark of the maritime pine, native to the western Mediterranean, and sold in the US as Pcynogenol.
Pycnogenol contains naturally occurring chemicals called proanthocyanidins, found also in peanut skin, grape seed, and witch hazel bark. Compared to placebo, Pycnogenol supplements taken daily for several weeks have lessened menopausal symptoms in three studies published over the past six years:
- In Taiwan, Pycnogenol alleviated menstrual pain and all other menopausal symptoms, favorably altering the LDL/HDL ratio of study subjects as well.
- In Italy, Pycnogenol significantly reduced the occurrence of hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, irregular periods, loss of libido, and vaginal dryness.
- In Japan, Pycnogenol was found to be especially effective in alleviating insomnia and vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes, palpitations, and vaginal dryness.
In none of these studies was Pcynogenol associated with significant side effects.
Other Uses of Pycnogenol
Studies also suggest Pycnogenol may
- improve exercise capacity in athletes
- increase elasticity in dry and sun-damaged skin
- reduce the duration and symptoms of the common cold when combined with zinc and vitamin C.
Pycnogenol sounds too good to be true! But remember, these studies are all preliminary. And, as is the case with many plant-based alternative treatments for insomnia, Pycnogenol may have to be taken for several weeks before it has a noticeable effect. So will it help with sleep problems and other menopausal symptoms? The only way to know is to try it and see.
What plant-based supplements have you tried for insomnia, and have they worked?