Menopause, often referred to as the change of life, can be a trying time in a woman’s life. Mood swings, hot flashes, weight gain … not pleasant! However there is help at hand.
The conventional treatment for menopausal symptoms is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). However, with the exposure of the potential risks associated with HRT more and more woman are looking for natural treatments to relieve their menopause symptoms. Below we cover some of the herbal remedies for menopause symptoms, as well as some other natural and alternative therapies.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause is the time of life marking the end of a woman’s reproductive years. More a transition than a single event, the process includes perimenopause, the time leading up to menopause.
Perimenopause typically starts around the age of 45 years, though there is a wide variation in age. During perimenopause a woman’s periods become increasingly irregular and hormone levels shift as the production of estrogen by the ovaries slows down. This fluctuation in hormone levels causes numerous effects, both pyhiscal and psychological.
A woman is said to have reached menopause one year after her last period. This is typically around the age of 50 years for western women, but it can occur as early as 40 or as late as the mid-fifties. Some woman experience significant changes approaching menopause, whilst others are not affected much at all.
Symptoms of Menopause
The signs and symptoms of menopause are apparent to most woman long before their final period. The first sign is usually a change in the frequency, quantity and/or duration of the periods. As menopause approaches, about 85% of woman will show other symptoms such as hot flashes, fatigue, vaginal dryness, mood changes, memory problems, insomnia or other sleep disorders, low libido, depression and weight gain.
The classic symptom of menopause is the hot flash. This occurs when the decrease in estrogen levels causes the blood vessels to rapidly dilate, triggering an intense burst of heat in the face, neck or chest. This can be a brief “flash”, or can last for several embarrassing minutes.
It is seldom understood that the menopause symptoms described above generally relate to estrogen dominance. People wonder how reduced estrogen levels can lead to estrogen dominance. This is because the drop in progesterone levels during menopause can be even greater than the drop in estrogen. Relatively speaking then you end up with estrogen being the dominant sex hormone.
Lowered estrogen and progesterone levels have also been associated with a number of serious long term effects such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and ocular complication such as macular degeneration and glaucoma.
So although menopause is a natural state of affairs, it can be difficult and it can be ultimately detrimental to health. No wonder then that so many woman seek relief for their menopausal symptoms!
Treatment for Menopausal Symptoms
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was once the primary treatment for menopausal woman experiencing uncomfortable symptoms. It was believed that as well as providing relief for menopausal symptoms, HRT also offered increased protection from heart disease and had the added advantage of boosting bone density.
However a massive study in 2002 (the Women’s Health Initiative) found that standard HRT (equine estrogen plus a synthetic progesterone) actually increased the risks of certain cancers and other serious medical conditions.
It was also found that it did not provide any protection against heart disease. In fact it was found that women on HRT were more likely to have a heart attack, develop breast cancer or suffer a stroke. As a result the popularity of conventional HRT as a therapy for menopause symptoms decreased greatly!
More recently woman have been turning to bio-identical HRT, where the estrogen and progesterone compounds are identical to those produced by women. It is said that bio-identical HRT is not associated with the extreme negative effects of synthetic HRT, and bio-identical HRT is definitely becoming more acceptable. Hoever, it can be difficult to obtain, and many women still prefer to seek other natural means for menopausal relief.
Natural Remedies for Menopause Symptoms
Black cohosh has been cited by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as a proven alternative to HRT. Black cohosh has been found to decrease the severity of hot flashes, ease depression, sharpen memory and improve sleep.
It is believed that black cohosh blocks the estrogen receptors, reducing the effect of systemic estrogen dominance that occurs at menopause. More recent studies suggest that black cohosh attaches to opiate receptors involved in temperature regulation.
Whatever the precise mode of action, black cohosh is a highly effective, natural treatment for menopausal symptoms.
St. John’s Wort
Menopause is known to be related to a number of psychological states such as depression and anxiety.
The falling levels of estrogen during menopause have been linked to lower levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a compound which plays a vital role in improving outlook and stabilizing mood swings. St. John’s Wort works by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain,
St. John’s Wort has been found as effective for mild depression as some prescription antidepressants.
Read more about St John’s Wort …
Women in Asian countries, where soy is eaten nearly every day, tend to suffer far less from menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. This is an important clue that soy is a beneficial treatment for menopause symptoms!
It has been found that soy is rich in isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen. Two isoy isoflavones in particular (daidzein and genistein) are responsible for powerful beneficial effects. These isoflavones match the shape of the estrogen receptors in the cell membrane. By locking in to these receptors the soy isoflavones act in different ways to either block natural estrogen or to directly provide a mild estrogenic effect.
The exact mechanism of soy is not fully understood, but the overall result is to provide symptomatic relief for many menopausal symptoms. As part of a Harvard study, 250 women took either daidzein rich soy extract, or a placebo. After 3 months the soy group experienced a 52% reduction in hot flashes.
Isoflavones are also believed to be beneficial in the control of high blood pressure and to play a role in lowering LDL cholesterol. These two actions provide a protective effect against heart disease, the risk of which rises sharply as a woman approaches menopause.
To get maximum soy-related benefits, aim for about 50 mg of isoflavones daily. (According to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), the daily consumption of whole foods containing the 40-80 mg of isoflavones may have health benefits for postmenopausal women.) This is not as hard as you may think!
A cup of soy milk will provide about 30 mg. Three ounces of tofu provides about 30 mg. A three ounce serving of tempeh (a fermented form of soy with a smoky flavor) will provide a rich 37 mg of isoflavones. One ounce of roasted soy nuts has a similar amount.
Red clover is another natural source of isoflavones.
As discussed above, isoflavones may improve menopausal symptoms, reduce the risk of bone loss, and lower the risk of heart disease by improving blood pressure and cholesterol profiles.
Add 1 tablespoon of dried blossoms to 1 cup of boiling water and allow to steep for a few minutes. Drink several times a day.
Flaxseed (also known as linseed) is an important source of phytoestrogenic lignans (75 – 800 times as much as any other plant source). Lignans are not only an effective treatment for hot flashes, they are beneficial in providing natural relief from other menopausal symptoms as well.
In one study, a group of menopausal women ate about 4 tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily. This is quite easy to do by blending with yogurt or sprinkling over salad or cereal. Within six weeks the intensity of their hot flashes had decreased by 57%, and the frequency was reduced by 50%. The women also reported an improvement in mood.
It’s important to use ground flaxseed. You won’t get the same results from whole, unground seeds as your body is unable to digest them.
Ground flaxseed is highly perishable, so either buy ground seeds in resealable bags, or buy whole seeds and grind them yourself. Store the flaxseed in the freezer.
Whilst menopause can be uncomfortable, it is a natural stage of life and women should not regard it as a disease needing treatment. However, the symptoms can be unpleasant and are worse for some women than others. If you are looking for a natural remedy for menopause symptoms, try one or more of the proven remedies described above for gentle, effective relief.
If you have any questions on the above, or anything to add, please leave me a comment below. I’ll get back to you 🙂