Irrelevant, unproven or unhelpful items are being marketed at women seeking relief from symptoms. By Sophie Morris

Although not knowingly perimenopausal, at 43 I am in the age bracket, and my social feeds have started pushing everything from a chocolate “menoshake” to a menopause “Motion Lotion” oil-based lubricant.

There’s even an entire skincare range from Clarins called “Super Restorative”, which is apparently an “innovation for menopausal skin”. I love Clarins and would happily splash out on face cream, but what have all these products got to do with menopause?

“Menowashing is a massive problem,” GP and leading menopause expert Dr Louise Newson tells i. “If it’s labelled menopause, it’s a marketing thing”.

She’s not the only one who sees a problem. “Stick ‘meno’ in front of the product, whether it be a food supplement, or a skin cream, and you can double the price and sell more,” says Dr Sarah Berry, chief scientist at the Zoe nutrition project, on a podcast about the issue.

“People are trying anything,” she says. “A recent survey showed that 30 per cent of [menopausal women] are trying herbal remedies, 30 per cent are trying vitamins, and 51 per cent are trying any kind of dietary therapy as an alternative to HRT (hormone replacement therapy).”

I suspect there was a run on the dietary supplement black cohosh after the podcaster Elizabeth Day mentioned it as a menopause aid a few weeks ago. A herbal supplement derived from a North American wildflower, it is said to ease hot flushes. Day has found it helpful.

Although I’ve never had a hot flush, I can imagine trying anything to ease one. Menopause, which usually occurs between 45 and 55, can bring a range of such uncomfortable symptoms.

While hot flushes are the most talked about, the Zoe health study found that among 8,000 women in perimenopause, sleep disturbances were the most common symptom reported - by a staggering 82 per cent of women.

It also found that over 50 per cent have brain fog, weight gain, low libido, joint pain and memory loss. Some find the symptoms debilitating: the Fawcett Society found that 10 per cent of women leave their jobs as a result.

There is a large market for treating such symptoms, a $5bn (£4bn) industry globally, which is growing rapidly. And what’s the problem if these supplements make people feel better?

Dr Newson, who has spent her career working to improve menopause education and healthcare, founding The Menopause Charity and the Balance app, raises a few red flags.

“We have to be really careful about what we’re taking,” she warns. “Studies haven’t been done on these supplements. Some people find they work but we don’t know if they’re safe. People say they’re natural, but there’s plenty of ‘natural’ stuff growing in my garden that isn’t safe to eat.

“As the menopause is a hormone deficiency, the optimal treatment is to replace the missing hormones by taking HRT rather than to take supplements.”

Dr Newson says she takes a goodquality magnesium supplement, which improves her migraines (these have got worse with her menopause). She also takes fish oil, vitamin D and a probiotic for her gut health, but these, she points out, are for her future health rather than for any menopausal symptoms.

“Body-identical HRT is derived from yam plants and is often more natural and likely to be safer and more effective than some of the supplements available to buy,” she also points out.

Some of the products have limited evidence to back them up, but Dr Newson says she has also found alarming-sounding ingredients on some products shown to her by patients. “I looked at what was in a supplement one woman was taking - there was porcine pituitary tissue - that’s a bit of brain - and bovine ovarian tissue, a bit of a cow’s ovaries.”

If people are looking for answers, Dr Berry says she’s observed that diet can have a huge effect on common symptoms - a healthy diet can reduce the likelihood of some symptoms by 20 to 30 per cent. But this relates to what we eat, not how many supplements we buy.

On black cohosh, she says studies show “very inconsistent results”. “There’s uncertainty around the effects of vitamin E,” she adds. “There’s really limited and very inconclusive research into evening primrose oil, ginseng, melatonin, wild jam, and many others.”

Part of the problem that allows this market to flourish, says Dr Berry, is that there is a real lack of research, as menopausal women have long been ignored. There is now an improved discourse around menopause, thanks in part to well-known women such as Davina McCall speaking and writing about it.Dr Newson is an advocate for HRT, which works to replace depleted oestrogen and other hormones lost during menopause.

“We have to turn the tables and say, what are the risks of not taking HRT?” says Dr Newson, referencing concerns over its link to certain cancers. If you’ve had breast cancer, you’ll probably be advised not to take it.

“There aren’t really risks for most women, but a minority of women are not taking it because they’ve read about the risk, or a clinic refuses it for the wrong reasons,” Dr Newson says.

What if you only have a few symptoms, and aren’t sure whether to seek help? “The earlier a woman takes HRT, the better,” she says.

“You don’t have to wait until your periods have stopped, you’re experiencing horrendous symptoms, or you’re giving up your job.”