Photo: Helene Bagger

Nurse Conny Boysen has been drinking extract from red clover for 12 weeks to try to reduce serious discomfort related to menopause. The daily clover drinks have given her, her energy and vitality back.

Conny Boysen is sitting at the table in her kitchen. The two children living at home have left for school, the kitchen has been tidied up after a busy morning and the 52-year-old nurse has time for a little break before she takes her bike to go to Aalborg University Hospital to work the evening shift at the department of hematology. She radiates kindness, warmth and calmness at the same time. One of the strong experienced nurses with an apparently relentless energy to care for others. She is the centre of her family and the sole-provider for four children, a devoted colleague at the hospital where she has worked for 25 years.

Such is her demeanor that one might not immediately notice that Conny is among the 75% of women enduring the hardship of menopause.

Begged for hormone treatment

– For me it started when I turned 48. The following years were terrible. I had severe hot flushes to the extent that I felt I was boiling inside. The worst part was that I felt I could not get rid of the feeling of heat. Later I began to sweat heavily but it was the boiling sensation that was by far the worst, she explains.
Natural reductions in the level of oestrogen during the menopause can lead to poor sleeping pattern and long periods with low energy, tender joints, decreases in bone density and a tendency to put on weight caused as a result of metabolic changes.

- It of cause affected my mood. I was tired and sometimes touchy, I simply could not accept that the menopause should turn my life upside down. Almost from the beginning I begged my doctor to give me hormone replacement therapy; but he wouldn't. It was too early because I had not stopped bleeding, he said. He was probably right. The side effects of traditional hormone replacement therapy can be quite serious – but I was desperate, says Conny.

The general practitioner was firm and Conny managed through some rough years by taking a nap before her evening shift, trying out different types of complementary medicine and otherwise pulling herself together.

Kilimanjaro overcome

– I am still happy to go to work every day. It is only the length of the work day which can seem hard when you are tired already at the beginning of your shift. But I believe I am good at identifying the patients' needs and I make priorities based on my experience; the patients do not suffer. I have good colleagues and they helped me when I was completely exhausted, she says.

When Conny turned 50 she was invited to climb Kilimanjaro with her father and brother. Conny started to run and looked forward to the trip although she said she would probably not manage the whole way. But she could always walk down, she thought.

Actually, she turned out to be a super-climber and she reached the top before her father and her brother and she also managed to stay up there for longer.

- We all had altitude sickness but I managed. It was the experience of my life and I was feeling at a high for a whole year after. Mentally, I could manage everything after this, she explains.
Physically she did not do so well. Conny had felt pain in her hips and knees – especially when going down the mountain. It got worse when she came home and it drained some of the mental surplus the mountain climbing had given her.

Drinking clover extract every morning and evening

The pain in muscles and joints became worse; so did the hot flushes and the lack of sleep. When Conny heard on the radio that Aarhus University Hospital together with hospitals in the northern part of Denmark were looking for participants for a new trial to relieve the consequences of menopause, she rushed to the phone. Conny was examined and found eligible to participate in the trial.

- When I spoke to Per (Per Bendix Jeppesen, head of the project) I felt a large burden was removed from my shoulders. He put words on the hell I was going through. I was not turning mad or being a sissy; talking it through with someone who understood was a relief, says Conny.

The participating women were required to drink 75 ml of clover extract every morning and evening for 12 weeks. The intensity of hot flushes were measured with a kind of wrist watch that measured sweat secretion over 24 hours.

Moreover, at the many follow-up visits blood pressure and a number of clinical values were measured.
- Red clover tastes awful – you have to get used to it. It is better than the alternative, says Conny with a big smile. She has no doubts that the extract helped her and that she received the red clover and not the placebo extract.

- The hot flushes were reduced and I felt less tender and had more energy. It was like being born again. A little like the first day after you have recovered from a bad flu.

The results from the clinical examinations confirmed that Conny's body was better. Today she occasionally has hot flushes and other symptoms but not as intense as before she started treatment with red clover extract. Therefore she continues to drink the extract every morning and evening. She and the researchers look forward to developing a pill to avoid the less attractive taste of the red clover extract.