Vitamin E is one of only a handful of remedies that may provide some relief for breast cancer survivors who suffer hot flashes, according to experts from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Estrogen relieves hot flashes in most women, but concerns remain over its use in breast cancer survivors because the hormone may stimulate breast cancer growth. Similar concerns limit the use of another group of female hormones, the progestins, although they are also effective.

When evaluating the advertised effectiveness of hot flash treatments, the authors state, it is worth noting that dummy pills, or placebos, relieve hot flashes by at least half in 20% of the women who take them.

The herb black cohosh seems to alleviate hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause, and is approved for this purpose in Germany.

Vitamin E, at a dose of 800 international units (IU) per day, is modestly effective in reducing hot flashes, the team reports, on average cutting the number of hot flashes by one per day.

Based on their review of the subject, the authors recommend trying vitamin E for mild hot flashes, as it is safe, inexpensive, and has some demonstrated efficacy.

The Lancet Oncology 2001;2:199-204