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The pill produced remarkable results when taken daily by women who were close to or going through the change, the scientists insist.

This is thought to be because plant chemicals in liquorice have a similar effect to the female sex hormone oestrogen, levels of which plummet around the menopause. fertility conference heard that in future, liquorice based supplements could provide women who cannot or will not take traditional, oestrogen based hormone replacement therapy with an effective alternative.

The oestrogen in the pills, patches and implants used by up to one million British women can cause headaches, dizziness, stomach cramps and nausea.

In addition, fears that HRT raises the risk of breast cancer and heart problems have refused to go away.

The researchers, from the University of Southern California, gave supplies of liquorice extract called licogen or a placebo pill to 51 women who were going through or who were close to the menopause.

The volunteers, who had an average age of 51, took a pill once a day for a year. They also kept diaries to note their symptoms.

It took eight months for the women to see any improvement.

But within a year, most of those taking the liquorice found that the number of hot flushes and night sweats they had each day fell by 80 per cent or from an average of ten to just two.

And instead of waking an average of four times, their sleep was disturbed just once or twice, the American Society for Reproductive Medicines annual conference heard.

Hot flushes and night sweats affect most women in the years leading up to and after their last period.

Most women are bothered by them for four years, but they can disturb sleep, zap energy, cause embarrassment and reduce quality of life for up to 20 years.

Researcher Donna Shoupe said: Women really felt it worked and made a difference.

The liquorice also seemed to slow the thinning of bones that comes with age.

Unfortunately, eating it as a sweet rather than as a concentrated supplement is unlikely to do much.

The researchers were funded by a liquorice company but carried out the study independently.

They added that HRT should still be a womans first choice.

David Sturdee, president elect of the International Menopause Society, said the numbers involved in the study were too small to be sure the liquorice had any effect.

But he added: Anything that we can get that is non hormonal and would be useful as an alternative to HRT must be welcomed.

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