Menopause: Natural Approaches
Menopause is a time of tremendous hormonal change in a woman’s life. Typically by the time she reaches her 40s and 50s a woman enters perimenopause, wherein she begins to produce altered levels of the reproductive hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Eventually these changes cause the cessation of menstrual cycles, known as menopause. According to the National Institute on Aging, the hormonal fluctuations experienced by a menopausal woman can lead to an array of symptoms, including hot flashes, disturbances in sleep, changes in mood, weight gain, and a decrease of vaginal lubrication. Although many of these changes can be disruptive, there are several natural approaches that a woman can take to make her transition through menopause more comfortable.
Menopause is a natural occurrence for every woman, but its symptoms can be exacerbated by stress. Stress hormones like cortisol can weaken the immune system, and feelings of anxiety can worsen hot flashes. Because the changes of menopause are stressful in their own right, reducing external stressors and practicing coping strategies is vital. Avoid agreeing to unncessary obligations, set aside time to engage in reading, walks, or other soothing activities, and spend time with positive friends. The North American Menopause Society recommends slow, deep breathing in a straight-backed chair, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth to reduce stress levels. Sitting quietly and engaging in meditation or guided imagery can also help attain feelings of calm. Products, apps, and accessories such as those produced by HeartMath can aid you in attaining the breathing patterns that create a state of emotional balance.
As oestrogen levels in the body fall, many women find themselves growing thicker in the waist and experiencing shifts in appetite. To maintain health, it is important to continue exercising – or, if you are not in shape, it is a good time to begin prioritizing fitness. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the fluctuating oestrogen levels of menopause can be a risk factor for bone density loss, including osteoporosis. It has been shown that engaging in weight-bearing exercise can reduce the rate at which bone is lost, reducing menopause’s effects. Regular fitness also can serve to stabilize hormone levels: burst exercise, or high-intensity interval training, modulates multiple hormonal cascades. Finally, nutrition continues to be important in advanced years: diets high in calcium and vitamin D can aid in protecting bone health.
While some women take herbal supplements to treat symptoms of menopause, many popular treatments such as red clover, ginseng, kava, and evening primrose have either produced inconclusive results or have been shown to be potentially harmful. Instead, consider taking phytoestrogens, compounds that act similarly to oestrogens biologically – such as in bone and cardiovascular tissue. One of the most commonly utilized phytoestrogens is soy protein, which has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels, but it can pose risks to those with thyroid conditions. Fermented soy products are generally more effective than non-fermented. Another supplement, black cohosh, has been shown in some studies to relieve hot flashes, irritability, and anxiety. Because dosages aren’t precise, and some medication interactions can exist, it is important to consult a physician prior to adjusting dietary phytoestrogen levels or adding supplements to the diet.
Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT)
An alternative to traditional hormone replacement therapy, which has been shown to have increased risk of side effects like cardiovascular disease and breast cancer, bio-identical hormones are extracted from yams and soy and mechanistically act like oestrogens in the body. They can be taken in pill, cream, patch, or vaginal gel, and allow for individualized treatment with precise hormone levels.
Implementing natural approaches is an effective way to navigate the hormonal changes associated with perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause. By eating healthy foods, controlling stress levels, and engaging in physical fitness and weight-bearing exercise, women can transition more easily into their advanced years. Hormone replacement, if doctor recommended, is another way that symptoms can be managed, for it allows women to adjust more gradually to the shifting levels of oestrogen and progesterone present in their bodies. For more resources on natural approaches to treating menopause, please contact us.