The most commonly known symptoms of menopause are hot flashes, night sweats and irregular periods. Lesser know, but equally distressing, are the following: changes in memory, brain fog, weight gain, bone loss, aches and pains, loss of libido, incontinence, or vaginal dryness…. and this is the short list! Hormone changes can literally affect every system in the body. So what are some solutions?
The single most commonly used herb for menopause across the world is black cohosh. This herb is found in a popular over-the-counter product and also on the shelves of herbalists, naturopathic physicians and alternative health care providers. Black cohosh has been shown to be effective at relieving menopausal symptoms, when the right dose and right product is used.*
Black cohosh is not estrogenic does not mimic estrogen in the body. The proposed mechanism is that it works in the brain, acting on the neurotransmitters and hypothalamic hormones. Studies have shown it to effectively reduce hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause without causing any harmful side effects. Remember, as previously stated, these effects are dependent on the dose and quality of the product* The most common dose used is 40 mg twice daily.
Some studies have pointed to liver toxicity from black cohosh use; however this claim has been largely debunked when the quality of the supplement used in these studies was shown to be contaminated. (Another reminder to choose your product wisely)
Flax seed is also not estrogenic, but instead acts as a hormone modulator. The lignans found in flax seed can improve estrogen metabolism, helping to reduce the amount of the more harmful estrogen by-products. They also are considered both weakly estrogenic and also anti–estrogenic, which is why they are considered modulators. Furthermore, a recent study showed the use of flax seed improves menopausal symptoms when compared to placebo. Consider eating 1-2 Tbs of freshly ground flax seeds daily. They are good in smoothies, sprinkled on salads or sprinkled over already cooked foods.
Red Clover is considered a phytoestrogen, meaning it mimics estrogen in the body. Phytoestrogens are generally speaking, much weaker than the estrogens our body produces. Results in placebo controlled trials show mixed results for red clover’s effectiveness at reducing menopausal symptoms. The latest study comes out of Austria and showed that Red clover isoflavone supplementation was “more effective than placebo in reducing daily hot flash frequency and overall intensity.” Red clover is full of phytoestrogens, and for this reason may not be safe to use in women with a history of estrogen related cancers. Additionally, herbalists often like to use this herb in combination with others for best outcomes. Please talk with your health care provider about choosing which herbs are best for you.
We have all heard it before- get out there and get your body moving. Exercise minimizes weight gain, can reduce or prevent bone loss and works as well as anti depressants at relieving mild to moderate depression. The question is, what is going to motivate you? Figure out a strategy to get yourself committed to moving your body regularly. That means a minimum of 30 minutes four times a week with your heart rate up. More frequent, less vigorous activity is also effective. Commit to it and DO IT!
You are what you eat. There are no truer words! Food is fuel and also building blocks for all the cells in the body. Take time to assess your diet and learn ways to improve it. What you are eating can have an effect on your hormone balance by altering your blood sugar, digestion and liver function. Eat right to reduce your hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia. For a quick list of dos and don’t check out this article on the WIBI website.
If you live in Portland join the Food as Medicine Series at the Natural University of Natural Medicine (NUNM). This is a 12 week course that demonstrates simple techniques for selecting and cooking tasty, nutritious whole foods and teaches how these foods can improve health and fitness.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Hormone replacement therapy comes in two different categories. bio-identical or synthetic. Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) is the use of hormones that match those that the human body produces. Whereas synthetic hormones (provera or premarin) use hormones that are similar but not identical to those found in the human body. Learn more about the difference between BHRT and synthetic hormones.
Some studies have suggested a neuro-endocrine (brain- hormone) cause to the many symptoms in menopause. Specifically pointing to neurotransmitters like serotonin and nor-epinephrine or hypothalamic hormones like luteinizing hormones and follicle stimulating hormone. Medications like Prozac, Paxil, Effexor and Lexapro are often used.
Talk to your health care provider about which approach is best for you. If you are looking for an expert in both herbal and pharmaceutical approaches, find a naturopathic doctor near you. For an expert in Bio-identical hormones use NUNM’s Provider Tool. Among our providers are naturopathic doctors, medical doctors, nurse practitioners and osteopathic doctors.
*Whenever you are selecting an herbal formula or vitamin supplement, be sure to know your brands. Quality and potency can vary quite a bit from brand to brand, making your choice in which product to buy very important. Find a company that you know tests its products for purity and potency.
By Elise Schroeder, ND