Dealing with menopause naturally
Karlene Karst, RD
Menopause may be a natural progression in life, but it is one met with trepidation by many wome.
Menopause may be a natural progression in life, but it is one met with trepidation by many women. Hot flashes, night time sweats, sexual changes, and the increased risk of developing osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and breast cancer are just a few of the concerns for women entering this stage of life.
Traditionally, women have been offered a very limited range of treatment options to help their bodies adjust to declining estrogen levels and physical changes. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been a popular course of treatment for most women with menopausal symptoms, but the decision to use HRT is a difficult one. On July 9, 2002, the National Institute of Health (NIH) declared that an eight-year estrogen and progestin study had been abandoned after five years, due to dangerous side effects, including increases in breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and blood clots in study participants. There were some positive observations, including fewer cases of hip fractures and colon cancer, but the harm far outweighed the benefits.
As a result of the potential negative side effects of HRT, many women are using alternative medicine to help relieve menopausal symptoms. During 2000, women spent approximately $230 million on supplements to help relieve the symptoms of peri-menopause. The natural health food industry has been a long-time advocate of natural supplements and treatments for menopausal symptoms. These range from acupuncture, and phytoestrogens (including those from flax seed), to herbal products (such as dong quai and black cohosh), and nutritional choices, such as fermented soy. Currently, the NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) is conducting research to determine the safety and efficacy of several natural products that have shown promise for reducing menopausal symptoms. Awareness of these HRT alternatives needs to be promoted in order for women to make educated decisions about their treatment options.
The Natural Nutritional Approach
Nutrition and diet can greatly influence menopause and menopausal symptoms. The North American diet is typically deficient in essential fatty acids, which are just as important to your diet as vitamins and minerals. This EFA deficiency results in many health conditions, ranging from inflammation and PMS to menopausal symptoms. Supplementing with essential fatty acids and herbs may improve menopausal symptoms.
Flax seed oil is the richest source of alpha linolenic acid, an omega-3 essential fatty acid. Hormones derived from ALA reduce the inflammatory and vasomotor properties associated with hot flashes and improve mental health. Flax seed also contains lignans which are phytoestrogenic compounds that help balance estrogen in the body. Research shows that women in Asia experience less menopausal symptoms because their diet contains a higher concentration of phytoestrogens, compared to women who adopt the American diet.
Hemp seed oil is a popular source of the omega-3 ALA as well as the omega-6 fatty acids, gamma linolenic acid (GLA). Many women use hemp seed oil to help with menopausal symptoms including hot flashes and depression, as well as for improving the natural beauty and glow of the skin.
Borage oil is nature’s richest source of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid with numerous benefits for women. The hormones derived from GLA reduce nighttime flushes, mastalgia (breast pain), inflammation, fluid retention, depression, and irritability.
Black cohosh is a popular herb, which in clinical trials has proven to make significant improvements in hot flashes and mood swings in menopausal women.
Soy isoflavones are useful in maintaining or increasing bone density, and in decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood cholesterol and high blood pressure, which menopausal women may experience.
A Smooth Transition
Natural alternatives are quickly becoming the preferred choice over the controversial HRT. Women now have many options for menopausal relief. By incorporating natural supplements into your life, you will be well on your way to preventing menopausal symptoms.