Guide to sage

Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a medicinal herb belonging to the mint family, originally from the Mediterranean but easily grown in the UK.

The leaf of the plant contains flavonoid polyphenols – these are plant-based compounds with a powerful antioxidant action. They mimic the effects of the female sex hormone oestrogen in the body and have been found to reduce hot flushes and night sweats commonly experienced during and after the menopause.

As well as being a popular herb in cooking, sage has a long history as an herbal remedy. Traditionally taken as a tea made from the leaves, sage has been used to relieve indigestion, coughs, sore throats, excessive sweating and skin diseases. Research is ongoing to discover whether sage could be used in future for the treatment of dementia, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and depression.

Dr Sarah Brewer says: ‘Sage has a mild oestrogenic effect which may help to redress the loss of the female sex hormone oestrogen during the menopause. The herbal supplement is a safe, well-tolerated remedy for relieving hot flushes for many menopausal women. It is also believed to play a role in supporting memory function.’

What does sage do?

Sage contains flavonoid polyphenols, natural plant chemicals including carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid which are potent antioxidants, important for protecting cells from free radical damage which can cause diseases.

Hot flushes and night sweats

Hot flushes are experienced by at least 80 per cent of menopausal women, according to the Menopause Exchange, for an average of seven to 10 years. Sage is often recommended by medical herbalists as an alternative remedy to HRT for treating hot flushes and night sweats during and post-menopause as it doesn’t have the side effects which can be associated with HRT, including increased risk of breast cancer.

A Swiss clinical study in 2011 found that after taking a once-daily tablet of sage leaves, women in the trial reported a reduction in their hot flushes of 50 per cent, after four weeks, and 64 per cent by eight weeks.

Another study which used sage tincture, also found the herb significantly reduced menopausal hot flushes. Sage supplements are often taken in combination with Black Cohosh, another herb that is used to treat menopause symptoms.

Memory

Sage has a folklore reputation for improving memory, and some scientific studies have backed this up. A 2011 study amongst Alzheimer’s patients found those who took sage supplements had better cognitive function than those given a placebo and were less agitated. Another study in young people found sage had positive effects on memory, alertness and calmness.

Getting sage from your diet

Sage can be eaten as part of your diet as well as taken as a supplement. The dried herb can add flavour to many dishes, especially chicken and pork. It can also be taken as a tea, with dried sage added to boiling water.

Safety

Sage has a weak oestrogenic effect (it mimics the effects of the female sex hormone oestrogen) and could potentially interact with some prescribed medication for breast cancer treatment, so check with your GP first.

Correct dosage

One daily 400mg sage extract supplement (equivalent to 2,000mg whole sage leaves) is a typical dose.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

Sage has a mild oestrogenic effect which may help to redress the loss of the female sex hormone oestrogen during the menopause. The herbal supplement is a safe, well-tolerated remedy for relieving hot flushes for many menopausal women. It is also believed to play a role in supporting memory function.

Dr Sarah Brewer
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