I often discuss ways to live healthy today in order to prevent diseases and conditions that may strike down the road. Countless research studies prove that a smart approach to diet, exercise and lifestyle can reduce the risk of many chronic ailments. For women who have actively cared for their well-being all their lives, however, menopause can prevent a unique challenge. One day you feel healthy and the next you are struggling with physical and emotional changes that can make a big impact on your daily life. How do you cope?
There may not be a way to prevent menopause and its side effects, but you can manage the symptoms effectively with natural solutions. Menopause generally occurs between the ages of 45 and 54 and affects every woman a little bit differently. The most common problems are hot flashes, trouble sleeping, mood swings, vaginal dryness and drop in libido. While some women will hardly notice a hot flash, others may find themselves regularly soaked with sweat.
In this two part series on menopause, I will examine the best natural treatments to address these symptoms. You may decide to try one or all of the following options, depending on your individual needs. I will also look at the possible alternatives to hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is now deemed unsafe for many women. Before starting any new treatment, natural or medical, talk to your doctor about your unique health concerns. Working together with your physician is the best way to find a treatment plan that works for you.
Like many other conditions, menopause may be managed effectively with natural herbs. Two plant extracts in particular may have the ability to ease hot flashes and sweating, according to studies. Red clover contains isoflavones, or plant estrogens. These substances may reduce the frequency and intensity of hot flashes.
One study in the Journal of the British Menopause Society found that these isoflavones may also protect against bone loss, improve heart health and fend off breast and endometrial cancers. Red clover extract is sold in supplement form under the name, Promensil.
Black cohosh is another herb commonly used to treat hot flashes. According to three randomized controlled trials, it relieves symptoms as effectively as pharmaceutical estrogen. Although another trial found black cohosh to be only as effective at relieving hot flashes as a placebo, this same study did determine that black cohosh is far more powerful than a placebo at reducing excessive sweating.
Certain vitamins have been found to relieve hot flashes, keep bones strong and boost general health in menopausal women. Many women report a reduction in hot flashes when taking vitamin E. Experts recommend 400 to 800 I.U. per day.
To assist with the absorption of vitamin E and strengthen capillaries, 1000 to 2000 mg per day of vitamin C is also suggested. Many doctors also recommend B complex, a supplement made up of the various types of B vitamins, to soothe hot flashes. The B vitamins are also known to improve mood.
Bone loss and fragility is a concern for women in menopause. Due to hormonal changes and the aging process, bones may grow weaker and the risk for osteoporosis rises. To combat this problem, now is the time to commit to daily calcium supplements. The recommended dose is 1500 mg per day, along with 500 to 750 mg of magnesium to increase absorption.
Calcium is available in several forms, so look for calcium citrate or microcrystalline calcium hydroxyapatite calcium (MCHC) which are the most easily absorbed by the body. Talk to your doctor about the specific doses that are right for you.
If you are suffering from hot flashes, the last thing you probably want to do is break a sweat on purpose. Exercise, however, can be a highly effective way to treat multiple symptoms of menopause. Cardiovascular exercise protects your heart and reduces your risk of disease. It also helps you sleep better, fending off that common menopause complaint, insomnia. Even short bouts of physical activity have been shown to boost your mood and relieve stress and anxiety, two major issues for women during this time in their lives.
Any heart pumping exercise will deliver the benefits above. Consider biking, walking, swimming, dancing and aerobics. Other activities like yoga and pilates will also relieve stress and stretch and tone your body.
Strength training, either with gym equipment, dumbbells or by using your own body weight as resistance, is highly beneficial for women going through menopause. It slows bone loss, boosts metabolism and builds confidence. All forms of exercise are effective at improving your libido. Not only does it increase blood flow to all the right places, but it can make you feel more tuned with your body and your sexuality.
I hope this information provides food for thought and empowers women coping with menopause. In my next article, I will discuss the dietary changes that will help you manage your symptoms, as well as the issues surrounding hormone replacement therapy.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.