Every day, in hundreds of doctors’ offices, the same conversation takes place between women going through menopause and their doctors. The doctor hears all about her symptoms, then writes out a prescription for hormone pills or patches, saying they will replace the hormones that her body should be making. They will also add that these pills will control her hot flashes and slow down possible bone loss. She will ask if the pills cause cancer or any other major side effects and the doctor may acknowledge that there is an increased risk of uterine and breast cancer. BUT he or she will argue – that the benefits are worth taking a chance.
I am here to tell you that you don’t have to go that route. Conventional hormone replacement therapy has been under intense scrutiny since 2002 and was found in a large study called the Women’s Health Initiative, to increase the risk of blood clots, stroke, breast cancer, heart attacks and gallbladder disease for some women. The conclusion — the risks may very well outweigh the benefits.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is a special period of transition for women created by changing hormones, specifically estrogen and progesterone. It is the time that marks the end of the menstrual cycle and usually happens between age 40 and into her 50s, but the average age in the US is 51. While it is truly a natural biological process, it can disrupt a woman’s’ life in many different ways and last up to 15 years if left unattended. While not all women experience a big range of symptoms that come with that time in their lives, for those who do, a natural approach to treatment can really help reduce the misery some might feel as they enter their senior years.
A major factor that causes menopausal symptoms is the bodies reduced ability to manage the hormone called estrogen. And although many women experience similar symptoms due to this fact, many still believe that these symptoms are part of the aging process and inevitable.
Forty percent or more of women experience significant symptoms, according to research. As the body balances itself for the post-childbearing years, symptoms that can appear include:
- Night sweats and hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness or bleeding
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism
- Thinning hair and loss
- Dry or itchy skin
- Loss of breast fullness
- Breast tenderness and pain
- Muscle aching and weakness
- Frequent urination
- Irregular heartbeat
- Loss of libido
- Digestive problems
Hormone shifts can go beyond physical symptoms – they affect moods. It can be disturbing to find yourself feeling uncharacteristically nervous or depressed or having memory lapses. Sometimes these feelings can even strain your relationships with others in your family, workplace or among friends. It helps to know that the psychological effects of menopause are temporary, and, likely, you’ll soon get back to feeling like yourself again.
Get more in-depth information on Understanding Menopause and Weight gain here.
Here are the most common psychological symptoms of menopause:
Menopause and Anxiety. Women who have never had a problem with anxiety before may become more self-conscious and worried about minor events and in some cases, panic attacks occur.
Depression and Irritability. The first step is to get your diet in order and to get regular exercise to help stabilize hormone shifts and reduce physical symptoms that can aggravate mood problems.
Poor Memory and Concentration. Some women find that menopause can bring on occasional memory lapses and a reduced ability to concentrate. Engaging in less multi-tasking is often the key to helping to lessen these.
Some studies have suggested that menopause is much easier for Asian women than for Westerners—at least for those who followed traditional, mostly plant-based diets. Hot flashes have been reported by only about 10 percent of women in China. 17.6 percent of women in Singapore and 22.1 percent of women in Japan. In contrast, it is estimated that hot flashes are experienced by 75 percent of women over the age of 50 in the United States.
But also know that, throughout their lives, Western women consume much more meat, and about four times as much fat, as women on traditional Asian rice-based diets, and only one-quarter to one-half the fiber. Consuming commercial meats that are fed hormones as growth promoters is another factor contributing to more menopausal symptoms among women in the United States as the added chemicals are found to be hormonal disruptors.
Women all over the globe have reported improvements from menopausal symptoms, including sleep, night sweats, hot flashes, anxiety, depression, vaginal dryness and bone pain with diet changes alone.
8 Dietary Habits for Menopausal Support:
1. Maintain a balance of fat and fiber
Keep in mind that a high-fat, low-fiber diet causes a rise in estrogen levels.
Eating healthy fats helps the body to create your hormones and lower inflammation levels. Good sources of healthy fats include foods like wild fish, coconut oil, virgin olive oil, walnuts, flaxseeds, and avocados. However, unhealthy fats such as safflower, canola, corn oil, trans fats and hydrogenated fats found in processed foods should strongly be avoided as they have the opposite effect. You can always add a supplement high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to get the many health benefits of the good fats.
Plant-based proteins such as beans and vegetables include lots of fiber.
2. Eat foods high in calcium
It important is to make sure you are getting enough calcium to maintain optimal bone health and ward off osteoporosis. Bones are made of a dozen minerals besides calcium (potassium, manganese, magnesium, silica, iron, zinc, selenium, boron, phosphorus, sulfur, and chromium).
There are many calcium/mineral-rich plants to choose from, like sage, peppermint, lemon balm, bergamot, rosemary, and thyme; the cooked or fresh greens like dandelion, parsley, watercress, kale, collards, and cabbage and roots like yellow dock, dandelion, chicory, and burdock.
3. Eat plant-based foods
Phytoestrogens contain plant-based estrogens called isoflavones that provide natural relief for menopausal symptoms. They are found in a variety of foods such as sesame and flax seeds, red clover, licorice root, yams, oats, apples, and soy.
Although unfermented soy products are not recommended, fermented soy products such as tempeh, miso, and natto contain high amounts of phytoestrogens, which may help balance hormones during and after menopause. Avoiding any genetically modified (GMO) soy prevalent in the US is highly recommended.
The soy debate is somewhat controversial, and research suggests that long-term consumption can lead to other hormonal issues, may increase breast cancer risk and promote cognitive decline. For these reasons, I use caution in recommending soy products for most people.
Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are great for natural menopause treatment. They are high in isoflavones, lignans and alpha-linolenic acid, which is converted during digestion to omega-3 fatty acids.
The lignans found in flaxseeds can help inhibit the onset of estrogen-stimulating breast cancer by binding to estrogen receptors. Adding daily flaxseed to the diet may relieve a wide range of menopausal symptoms.
4. Add more cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are not only high in antioxidant vitamins A and C, but also in indoles-3-carbinol (I3C) and carotenoid called sulforaphane. This compound contains a phytochemical known as DIM (Diindolylmethane) which helps to metabolize estrogens in the body thus reducing menopausal symptoms and hormonal-related cancer risks. Examples of these powerful foods include broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy, and collard greens.
5. Spice it up with Curry
Curry or turmeric is high in curcumin which is a culinary spice known to fight inflammation often experienced with hormonal imbalances. Researched also shows how this food (and supplement) helps to halt the spread of breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women.
Don’t worry if you don’t like the taste of curry because curcumin also comes in supplements.
Pomegranate seeds are a very rich source of phytoestrogens and contain an estrogen-like compound practically identical to natural estrogen. This food and supplement (pomegranate seed oil) are beneficial for hormonal balancing and estrogen-related issues. Research shows it helps postmenopausal women with bone health and reduces the expression of cell growth in breast and cervical cancers. Pomegranate is also an amazing antioxidant and free radical quencher which accounts for its ability to lower cancer risks.
7. Add probiotic-rich foods
A healthy gut is important to make and metabolize key hormones such as insulin, ghrelin, and leptin. You can increase the good bacteria in your gut by eating probiotic-rich foods such as raw apple cider vinegar, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt, kefir and other fermented foods.
8. Hydrate with Water
Everyone can benefit from drinking more filtered water to flush the major detox organs such as the kidneys and liver of toxins. Getting rid of toxins can help reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and inflammation. It is as plain as that – just drink plain water!
Foods to Avoid during Menopause
You also want to avoid eating or drinking anything that can trigger hot flashes like alcohol, fried foods, spicy foods, sugar, simple carbohydrates, caffeine and very hot (temperature-wise) foods that can increase body heat.
Read my article on How to Lose Weight during Menopause here.
Natural Remedies for Hot Flashes
- Mindful breathing, relaxation techniques, and clinical hypnosis have all shown to work well for many women. Practices like gentle yoga or yoga nidra can take the edge off when it comes to hot flashes.
- Seek out massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, biofeedback techniques to keep your hot flashes under control.
- In addition to a low-fat, vegetarian diet which is strongly recommended for women who are experiencing hot flashes.
- Regular aerobic exercise helps. A vigorous daily walk, or any equivalent physical activity, may also help reduce the discomfort.
10 Natural Home Remedies for Menopause
1. Eliminate endocrine disruptors – “12 Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors” (EWG.org)
2. Improve gut function and add probiotics
3. Reduce toxins from your body
4. Eliminate toxic substances found in cleaning agents and cosmetics.
5. Get adequate sleep
6. Manage stress and include relaxation
7. Add exercise
8. Use essential oils such as lavender, clary sage, thyme, citrus
9. Loosen your clothes to help to reduce hot flashes
10. Learn your menopausal triggers and avoid them when possible
Get more ideas from my article on Simple Lifestyle Changes for a Happier Menopause here.
Natural Menopause Supplements
Several natural supplements may help to alleviate menopausal symptoms. Here are some of my recommendations:
Black Cohosh is a popular herb that contains a plant-based estrogen that helps regulate hormones, offering relief to a wide range of women with menopausal symptoms, such as vaginal dryness, itching, moodiness, depression and hot flashes.
Vitex is an amazing hormonal tonic for women. Both extensive clinical studies AND over two thousand years of use in folk medicine have proven its effectiveness in stimulating and normalizing the pituitary gland, which regulates the balance of estrogen and progesterone in the body.
Two important supplements that I recommend for most of my clients going through menopause include some of the above mentioned herbal support as well as support against bone loss.
A favorite of many women I see is FemGuard+Balance™ which is a well-rounded formulation that not only has both black cohosh and vitex but also Calcium-D-glucarate which promotes the proper elimination of excess estrogens, and magnesium and calcium to help support bone health.
For extra bone loss prevention, Osteoben® is specifically formulated to address osteopenia and osteoporosis, by providing the proper bone-supportive nutritional requirements.
Adding vitamin D is a smart precaution especially for postmenopausal women in supporting breast health and inhibiting aromatase in breast cancer cells. Research shows that for women undergoing hormone therapy, supplementation with vitamin D helps to stop the inflammatory factors involved in tumor generation. Vitamin D is also essential to build and maintain bone health. Most everyone is deficient in vitamin D and can benefit from taking a supplement called Vitamin D Complex and getting blood levels checked periodically.
During menopause, the decline of estrogens is accompanied by a decline in the production of progesterone. Adequate progesterone levels help with the normal production of collagen, which is needed for normal growth and maintenance of connective tissue, soft tissue, and bone. This may explain why supplementing with progesterone in postmenopausal women can help reduce bone loss risk.
The term bio-identical implies that the hormones are similar to the ones produced by the body. Oral estradiol, transdermal patches, estradiol sprays, gels and micronized progesterone are all chemically very close to native hormones. These hormones are prepared by compounding pharmacies and require a prescription.
Over-the-counter plant-derived estrogen and progesterone creams can also be helpful. For a new kind of natural hormone replacement therapy, I recommend Progest-Avail™ which is a natural, topical, super-micronized form of natural progesterone in a proprietary triglyceride carrier that facilitates better progesterone absorption than conventional creams.
In addition, studies show neural tissue damage often seen in diseases such as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and Alzheimer’s disease may benefit from hormones. Progesterone may help repair the neurons by repairing the myelin sheath that protects them. This may explain why people report better cognitive function when taking hormone replacement and even more so by progesterone. Coincidently, progesterone deficiencies have also been linked to migraines.
It is obvious that hormones play a role in keeping our bodies functioning well and symptom-free. Addressing hormonal imbalance may be an underlying issue or the main problem. Looking at it in a different light – could natural hormones be part of the solution?
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Finding the right supplements containing herbs and minerals specifically targeted for women’s health and well-being as well as natural hormone replacement therapy options is important to put it all together. Contact me today and let’s discuss how you can maintain balance through the menopausal years and beyond.
Many women find these natural simple approaches help to reduce their symptoms and empowers them to take control of their own body.
Have you experienced these positive changes yet? I would be happy to hear your comments below.