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Natural Solutions for Menopause
Written By : Mark Rosenberg, MD 
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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.

Herbal Solutions

Like many other conditions, this 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.

Vitamin Therapy

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.

Cardio Cure

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.

As an anti-aging medical doctor, one of the biggest issues associated with women's health is menopause. If asked to give a simple definition for this medical condition I would easily say: it means going at least one year without a menstrual period. But menopause can also refer to the changes a woman experiences as she reaches the end of her reproductive years. This time and the period leading up to menopause can also bring symptoms that may be unpredictable and hard to deal with.

Over 75% of women report some symptoms due to menopause, and 20 to 25% of those women ultimately seek medical treatment to help them cope. Often the first question a woman asks her doctor is about hormone replacement therapy, or HRT.

This once standard treatment has seen its share of controversy in recent years. I will discuss some of the issues surrounding HRT and other solutions so that you, together with your doctor, can decide what treatments are best for you.

HRT and Alternatives

During menopause and in the years leading up to it, a woman's body stops producing certain hormones in the same way it once did. Hormone replacement therapy is used to counteract the effects of this change in estrogen and progesterone levels. Replenishing these hormones often relieves symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia and vaginal dryness that make menopause so disruptive for many women.

When findings from the Women's Health Initiative, a large-scale study covering menopause, were released in 2002, the thinking on HRT shifted dramatically. The highly reputable study found that long-term use of HRT increases risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and blood clots. Follow-up studies, however, have suggested that HRT may be acceptable for short-term use for certain women.

One such study published in the Journal of Women's Health (January/February 2006) found that the risk of heart disease may not be as severe as the Women's Health Initiative suggested.

Today, the decision to use hormones in some form (a low-dose or estrogen-only version, for example) is made on an individual basis by a woman and her physician. There are alternatives to HRT, and more natural therapies are being studied everyday. Black cohosh, for example, may reduce sweating and hot flashes. Other herbs being used include red clover, dong quai, kava, and evening primrose.

There are various remedies for vaginal dryness besides hormone therapy. Lubricants can help the problem while increasing sensation. Vaginal creams containing estrogen may not carry the same risks as HRT because they are applied only to the specific area. Other options include an estrogen ring that is inserted into the vagina. Researchers are working hard on developing alternatives to hormone therapy.

Another area of study revolves around bioidenticals, or hormones manufactured by scientists from natural compounds. The proper doses of bioidenticals have not been well-established, however, and many of these products have not yet been FDA-approved. To explore this option, be sure to see a highly qualified physician who has extensive experience in treating patients with bioidenticals.

Eat to Beat Symptoms

You know that the food you eat can make a big difference in your health and the way you feel on a daily basis. Before and during menopause, this is especially true. Eat whole foods as opposed to processed snacks. You will reduce your sodium intake, which contributes to belly bloat; increase vitamins and minerals, which fight disease; and improve your energy level thanks to protein, fiber and healthy fats. Some foods can even make symptoms worse. Spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine are all known to contribute to hot flashes.

Soy foods are often discussed in relation to menopause. Some studies indicate that soy protein from tofu, soybeans, soy milk or tempeh, can reduce hot flashes. Other studies contradict these findings, and some even suggest that soy may be dangerous for women with a high risk of estrogen-related breast, ovarian or uterine cancer. Your doctor can help you weigh the pros and cons of these options and evaluate your risk.

If you are experiencing menopause, I hope this information has provided some new options to consider with your doctor. If you have not yet begun this change, try to approach menopause with a healthy perspective. Behaviors in place now, like regular exercise, stress reduction and maintaining a healthy weight will help you cope when menopause starts.

Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Institute For Healthy Aging

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