Move On, Menopause

Discover supplements that can help alleviate menopausal symptoms
By Cara Lucas

You are thinking of selling the home heating system at a yard sale. You write your kids’ names on post-it notes around the house. Your idea of a good time is getting a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. You are menopausal.

Menopause is a part of every woman’s normal life cycle. Your raging hormones can get you down if you allow them to, but if you learn to accept menopause as just another life segment, “the change” can actually be refreshing and, in an odd way, even humorous.

You see, besides the obvious physical differences between men and women, the true distinction lurks in the far corners of the mind in the delicate balance of testosterone and estrogen. The distinction rears its ugly head in the form of erratic behaviors unfamiliar (and often unexplainable) to the opposite sex, often leaving them in a foggy bubble of self-conscious awareness. Mastering these hormones can do wonders for you and for your relationships. Even better—this can be done through a variety of natural, complementary methods.

Menopause : A natural life transition

First, one must approach and accept menopause as a natural life transition and not an illness. But even if you choose to view it from a holistic perspective, unpleasant symptoms naturally associate themselves with this feminine evolution. Because every woman has a different experience, symptoms and solutions vary as well.

Broken down into segments, menopause can separate into three distinct stages, each with a broad variety of symptoms. Collectively perimenopause (the stage before menopause), menopause, and postmenopause all make up the physiological process culminating in the permanent cessation of menstruation between the ages of 40 and 60. Fluctuations and decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone contribute to the physical changes that occur during the perimenopausal and menopausal periods.

Roughly 75 percent of women over 50 experience night sweats, fatigue, forgetfulness, low libido, and the infamous hot flashes that all work together to ambush the body during menopause. Some women notice changes in their skin, digestive tract, and hair, as well. Prolonged periods of reduced estrogen may contribute to cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, conditions that can be addressed naturally with supplements.

Integrative Treatment

Gone are the days of only having a single option to combat The Great Change. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) used to serve as the only effective treatment for women during menopause. Even though it is somewhat effective in alleviating menopausal symptoms, including preventing osteoporosis, studies completed over the past ten years show potentially harmful side effects as well.

“Hormone replacement therapy is considered the most effective treatment option for alleviating hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms: studies have seen 70 to 80 percent reduction in hot flash frequency,” says Metagenics’ Deanna Minich PhD, FACN, CNS. “However, due to potential health hazards, women should use the lowest effective dose and for the shortest duration possible. Women with a history of cardiovascular disease, venous thromboembolism, breast or uterine cancer or liver disease should not use estrogen therapy to alleviate menopausal symptoms.”

Because of the associated risks with HRT, some women look to supplements to provide answers for their bothersome symptoms. What works for one woman may not work for another—the important thing is that women are no longer blindly accepting HRT as their only treatment plan.

Approaching menopause from a holistic view means addressing nutrition and lifestyle choices. Below are some supplements that can help alleviate those dreaded menopause symptoms:

Flaxseed: If you want to take a stab at killing those hot flashes, studies tout flaxseed as nature’s best weapon to fight them. Flaxseed is a great source of lignans and contains over 100 times the amount found in grains, fruits, and vegetables. Naturally occurring substances found in plants, lignans are phytoestrogens, plant compounds that can modulate the metabolism and use of estrogen—a fact that could eliminate or alleviate menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, sweating, and vaginal dryness.

Siberian Rhubarb Root Extract (ERR 731): This powerful extract (not the garden variety!) of Siberian rhubarb has been shown in a number of trials to quickly reduce hot flashes in menopausal women—clinical results show it to be just as effective as standard hormone therapies.

Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA): Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are as vital to your diet as vitamins and minerals. But the fact is (especially if you are following the typical Western diet), we simply don’t get enough EFAs through food. Borage oil, an omega-6 fatty acid, is one of nature’s richest sources of GLA and benefits the skin, PMS, arthritis-inflammation, and cardiovascular health. GLA is formed from linoleic acid and requires the use of a specific enzyme called delta-6-desaturase (D6D)—which can be particularly low in aging women. Supplementing with GLA can work to relieve symptoms of perimenopause and menopause including nighttime flashes, inflammation, fluid retention, depression, and irritability.

Wild Yam Extract : Long regarded for its positive effects on menopausal women, wild yam extract provides antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antispasmodic properties, which help alleviate the effects of stress and fatigue. Wild yams also have estrogenic properties and can be used as an estrogen replacement.

Black Cohosh Extract : This is another popular herb that clinical trials show to improve hot flashes and mood swings. Research published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry offers an explanation for the herb’s efficacy. It targets the serotonin receptors in the hypothalamus—the part of your brain that produces hormones to regulate body temperature—to offer relief from hot flashes. Serotonin also affects mood, which is why the herb helps alleviate mood swings, says Susan Lark, MD, a women’s health specialist.

Soy Isoflavones: Soy products are popular for a variety of health concerns today. Genistein and daidzein are phytoestrogens present in soybeans. As a result of their estrogenic properties, many women who have a high dietary intake of soy experience less menopausal symptoms and have a lower incidence of breast cancer than women who consume lesser amounts of soy. Isoflavones are classified as phytoestrogens and thereby exhibit similar effects to the lignans found in flaxseed. Soy isoflavones are useful in maintaining or increasing bone density, and decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Remember, these supplements aren’t all created equal. As researchers continue to explore and scientifically evaluate supplements for women with menopausal symptoms, you can rest assured that there are natural options to get you out of the funk and feeling good again.


Lifestyle Medicine for Menopause

Making positive lifestyle changes in your day-to-day habits can benefit menopause symptoms, as well.

>>Stop smoking.

>>Exercise: Incorporate cardiovascular and muscle-strengthening exercises into your daily routine. Studies show that being overweight can increase your chance of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoarthritis.

>>Avoid caffeine and alcohol which can cause drastic changes in mood and interfere with the ability of blood vessels to dilate or constrict.

>>Eat wisely: a balanced diet will provide most of the nutrients and calories your body needs to stay healthy. Calcium and vitamin D are also recommended to prevent osteoporosis.

>>Prior to or at the onset of menopause, ask your doctor about a bone density test to see if you are at risk for osteoporosis.

>>All women in their forties and older should be screened for breast cancer with a mammogram every year.