Natural Menopause Solutions
Transitioning Naturally Through Menopause
The term ‘menopause’ generally relates to the years before the final menstrual period and those years soon after. In fact, the years leading up to the menopause are more accurately coined the ‘peri-menopause’. A woman is considered to be truly menopausal when she has failed to have a period for over twelve months. The journey to menopause may take many years and health needs vary over this time. This transitional time is often marked by changes in menstrual cycle, both in length and blood flow, as well as a host of other hormone related symptoms. These may include hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood change and memory loss.
I find that many things will influence a woman’s experience of the peri-menopause and beyond. Studies show that women’s emotional health, social situation and stress levels will influence her experience of menopause. Thus it is not just all about hormones!
A woman’s diet and lifestyle, including exercise and stress levels, can play an important part in this phase. Natural therapists view the menopause as a natural transition and seek to support women through this period, providing both symptom relief and preventative health care advice.
Hormone replacement therapy implies that menopause is a deficiency syndrome rather than a natural process. For most women, HRT is not necessary for a healthy menopause experience, and its use should be carefully considered as it is not without inherent risks. Most people are now aware of the longitudinal studies (such as the nurses health study) and their findings which have narrowed the therapeutic use of HRT to short term treatment of severe flushing. While some authorities still recommend HRT to prevent osteoporosis most now believe the risks are outweighed by any possible benefit from a reduction in fractures. Other early cited benefits of HRT on diseases such as heart disease and mood/memory have now also been discounted by substantial research.
Naturopaths and herbalists apply a range of strategies for treating menopausal women and they offer an alternative to HRT for most women. Herbs are used to address symptoms of low oestrogen and progesterone during the peri-menopausal years, helping to balance hormone problems. They can be very effective in treating heavy periods, hot flushes and erratic cycles.
There are other herbs that can be used to improve memory, mood and sleep problems. The herb Black Cohosh is particularly useful for menopausal hot flushes, but I find it works best when combined with other herbs to treat each individual.
A personalised approach will factor in each woman’s individual situation, including her diet and lifestyle, and how it may be impacting on her menopausal complaints. A treatment plan may include lifestyle changes such as increased exercise. Some studies have shown that women who exercise regularly experience less severe flushes than sedentary women. Exercise is also important for maintaining good bone density which starts to decline in midlife. Ensuring you have good adrenal function and managing your stress is also important, as your adrenals are responsible for picking up the slack hormonally, once your ovaries wind down. Click here to learn more about your adrenals.
Dietary changes can also be helpful. Foods such as legumes, sprouts, nuts and seeds can be helpful in offsetting declining oestrogen levels. These foods contain substances known as ‘selective oestrogen receptor modulators’ or more simply SERMs. They appear to interact with oestrogen receptors and can stimulate an oestrogen-like action – which can make up for declining ovarian oestrogen production. Food sources are far safer than using concentrated isoflavone extracts from soy (such as tablets and powders), as these have not stood the test of time. Indeed, soy should only be consumed in a traditional fermented ways (such as tempeh & miso) as it is difficult to digest and can inhibit thyroid function.
Self help measures for hot flushes might include avoiding spicy and hot foods and drinks, stimulants such as coffee, tea and soft drinks, and alcohol which is known to increase heat and sweating. Other tips include regular exercise, dealing with stress and anxiety and dressing in layers to enable easy undressing when hot. Lastly, it is good to try and embrace the journey to menopause rather than fight it. Women who seem to enjoy the time that the menopause brings for reflection and an honouring of wisdom, seem to have less symptoms and more enjoyment. The good thing to know that after the transition happens, many symptoms settle as your body adapts to the new post menopausal state.