Does It Work? Can Sage Help With Night Sweats?

 

ONE Of our readers sent in a question about whether taking sage would help with night sweats. This older gentleman said he was generally healthy, but taking a number of heart medications. The night sweats were waking him up every night, and he had been recommended by a health food shop to take sage tablets. He discussed this with his GP who thought it might be worth trying.

A number of different plants are called sage, but the one of most medicinal interest is common sage, or Salvia officinalis. This plant is native to the Mediterranean region, but now widely grown as a kitchen and medicinal herb. Its light purple flowers also make it attractive in gardens.

Sage is widely used to flavour dishes, and has a long reputation as a herbal remedy. The Latin name, Salvia, means “to heal”, and sage has been recommended at one time or another to treat almost every ailment known to humanity. One of these traditional uses has been for the relief of menstrual problems and menopausal symptoms. Night sweats are one of the more common menopausal symptoms, which most recently has led to sage being recommended to relieve night sweats in men and women.

EVIDENCE FROM STUDIES

A relatively large amount of laboratory research has been done on sage. This has identified numerous compounds in the leaf and the plant’s volatile oil. Many of these are biologically active in various tests.

The use of sage in treating night sweats and hot flashes was tested in an Italian study involving 30 menopausal women. The women were given a product containing both sage and alfalfa extracts. All the women showed improvements, with the majority reporting complete relief of symptoms.

It is not possible to know if the results were due to sage or alfalfa or the combination of the two. In addition, the study did not include a control group which is necessary to compare the intervention with other treatments or no treatment. This is especially important in studying symptoms which vary in their intensity, which can happen with menopausal symptoms. In spite of these promising results, however, no further reports of other studies could be found.

PROBLEMATIC ASPECTS

In general, as a food additive and a remedy used in low doses, sage does not appear to cause problems. However, one of the ingredients found in the volatile oil is known to cause seizures in high doses. Anyone liable to seizures, or taking anticonvulsants, should avoid sage. Some concerns have also been raised that taking sage for a number of weeks could affect blood pressure or blood sugar levels.

These concerns are based on a small number of reports.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The use of sage to treat night sweats, or any menopausal symptoms, is based on evidence from one, small uncontrolled trial. While the results were encouraging, further research is needed before sage can be recommended. A small amount of research also suggests caution about the use of sage as a herbal remedy by anyone with diabetes, epilepsy or blood pressure problems. Again, however, much further research is needed to determine how much caution is needed here.

Night sweats are problematic, especially when they disturb someone’s sleep. The evidence to support using sage is very weak. Other potential sources of the problem should be pursued, such as excessive consumption of caffeine-containing drinks or spicy foods. Additionally, a number of medicines can cause night sweats in some people taking them. Those with bothersome night sweats should discuss this with their GP or other healthcare professional, especially to check if they might be a side effect of a medication or due to some other medical condition.

Your questions about herbal remedies or food supplements are welcome at healthsupplement@irishtimes.com


Dónal O’Mathúna has a PhD in pharmacy, researching herbal remedies, and an MA in bioethics, and is a senior lecturer in the School of Nursing, DCU