Menopause is the natural changeover from the childbearing years to a life free from menstrual periods. But for many women, this transition also brings on hot flashes, night sweats, forgetfulness, mood swings, and vaginal dryness as the production of estrogen in the body declines. Although hormone replacement therapy can help ease these symptoms, studies have linked HRT use to an increased risk of breast cancer, heart attack, and stroke. This has led many women to search out more natural solutions to the change of life.
Many women take the opportunity menopause presents to focus on getting healthy. Diet is a perfect place to start since good nutrition not only helps you manage your symptoms, it can help prevent many of the health conditions that can develop during and after menopause. A high fiber diet based on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can support overall good health. Adding soy foods like edamame and soy milk to the equation may help reduce hot flashes. And consuming two to four servings of calcium-rich foods each day will help ensure that you are getting enough calcium to maintain healthy bones. Calcium is found in dairy products; almonds; fish with bones such as sardines and canned salmon, broccoli, and legumes.
Since women are at more risk of heart disease and osteoporosis after menopause, it’s important to adopt some healthy habits to help you prevent these potentially deadly conditions. For women who smoke, now is a perfect time to quit. Smoking is linked to a decline in estrogen levels and it doubles a woman's odds of developing both heart disease and osteoporosis. It’s also important to begin exercising. Increasing your physical activity not only protects your heart and bones, it helps you avoid post-menopausal weight gain. Try to get at least 30 minutes, and preferably 60, minutes of exercise every day.
Black cohosh: is an herb with estrogenic properties that cools hot flashes and tempers mood swings. In one trial involving 244 women in the midst of menopause, black cohosh was just as effective as HRT to quell hot flashes. Typical dosage: 40 to 80 mg of a standardized extract daily. Another herb with phytoestrogen properties that may be useful for easing menopausal symptoms is red clover. Look for a standardized extract for best results.
Chasteberry: (also known as Vitex) increases progesterone production by influencing the neurotransmitter dopamine. One clinical trial that appeared in the journal Gynecological Endocrinology found that women taking a menopausal supplement that contained chasteberry experienced a 73 percent decrease in hot flushes and a 69 percent reduction in night sweats. After three months, 47 percent of the women in the supplement group reported that their hot flashes had stopped completely compared to just 19 percent in the placebo group. Typical dosage: 30 to 40 mg per day.
Omega-3 fatty acids: may help alleviate hot flashes, anxiety, and mood swings. One Canadian study of 120 middle-age women found that women who took an omega-3 supplement for eight weeks reported fewer, less intense hot flashes. These healthy fats also help protect against postmenopausal heart disease. Typical dosage: 1,000 to 3,000 mg daily.
Progesterone cream: can, when used topically in a rhythmic cycle, safely curtail hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and the lack of desire that can occur during menopause. Just be aware that, since the hormone builds up in the body gradually, relief may be several months in coming. Typical dosage: Follow label directions.
Soy Isoflavones: are derivatives from natural soy foods and have been shown to be very effective at safely reducing hot flash symptoms. A recent meta-analysis of 20 trials report significant reductions for this supplement. Look for isoflavone supplements providing more than 18.8 mg of genistein per day or take about 150mg of soy isoflavones a day for best results.