What is Menopause?
Menopause is defined as the time when menstruation has ceased. On average, it begins at 51 years of age. This means that if a woman lives into her 80s, she may spend a third of her life in menopause.
During menopause, there's a change in the balance of hormones. Estrogen levels decline. This shift in hormones may result in any of the following symptoms:
- Hot flashes
- Depression, irritability, mood swings
- Irregular, heavy or light menses
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Night sweats
- Decreased sexual desire
- Vaginal dryness
Natural Approach to Menopause
Many women are interested in strategies to cope with uncomfortable symptoms and fears that may accompany menopause. Here are some natural methods to consider.
Despite the uncomfortable aspects of menopause, it's important to view this change not as a disease but as a new phase of life. Menopause is an opportunity to experience life from a new perspective. For some this includes fewer family obligations. It's a time to foster a renewed sense of self, with an emphasis on prevention and maintaining quality of life.
Proper nutrition is fundamental to a healthy lifestyle. Dietary emphasis should be placed on whole, unprocessed foods such as fruit, vegetables, beans, and healthy oils such as flaxseed and fish oils. Sugar, animal fats and caffeine should be avoided.
For hormonal support, soy products contain phytoestrogens that act like estrogen in the body, but to a lesser degree. Although more research is necessary to understand the effects of phytoestrogens, research suggests that 40 to 80 mg per day of soy may benefit hot flashes, vaginal dryness and possibly help reduce cholesterol.
A healthy diet and regular exercise can help prevent heart disease, which menopausal women are at an increased risk for. This is because before a woman reaches menopause, the higher levels of estrogen protect against LDL ("bad") cholesterol. During menopause, this protective effect diminishes and the level of HDL ("good") cholesterol decreases.
3) Herbal Medicine
Studies have found the herb black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) to be effective in relieving perimenopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and depressed mood. Other herbs, such as red clover, chasteberry and dong quai are also commonly used in menopause but require further research.
When considering the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and natural hormones, it's important to weigh individual risks and benefits before deciding which route to take. There are many factors involved, so it's necessary to seek the advice of a qualified health care practitioner before using any herbal medicines.
Physical activity has been shown to reduce hot flashes, weight gain, and depression. It's also beneficial for sleep and to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Resistance and weight-bearing exercise, such as weight training, walking, and dancing, are particularly useful for the prevention of osteoporosis, while aerobic exercise benefits the cardiovascular system.
Homeopathic medicine can be used during menopause to address both physical symptoms and emotional responses. Asian medicine is another method of treating imbalances within the body. Both homeopathic and acupuncture treatments are individualized and can be used in conjunction with HRT as well as for those not taking hormonal therapy.by Rishma Walji, BSc, ND