Menopause is the cessation of menses when the uterus shrinks and the ovaries quit producing stimulating hormones. Irregular menses accompanied by ‘hot flashes’, headaches, insomnia and general irritability often precede cessation by a few months to several years. The changes in body chemistry brought on by the reduction of certain female hormones cause these symptoms. Diminished interest in sex may be associated with menopause but is not necessarily the case. A woman’s sexual activity can often be stimulated at this time with increased freedom of mid-life circumstances and the diminished possibility of pregnancy.
The most common question we find concerning Menopause is whether or not to take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). The decision to take, or not to take, hormone therapy is not an easy one for most women. It is undeniable that there are several benefits from HRT: relief of hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. However there are several lifestyle changes, including diet and herbs that have also been shown to reduce these symptoms. HRT doesn’t cure menopause, it really only postpones the symptoms. Many women are shocked when they decide to go off HRT in their late 60’s or 70’s, just to revisit the symptoms they avoided when they were much younger. While the benefits of reducing risks of osteoporosis and heart disease, and maintaining younger looking skin make HRT an attractive option, there are definite risks acknowledged by medical science as well. On the other side of the argument, HRT does increase the risk of breast cancer (by as much as 30%). Breast cancer is the leading form of cancer in women. HRT can also have the following side effects: nausea, breast tenderness, PMS-like symptoms, depression, liver disorders, enlarged uterine fibroids, fluid retention, blood sugar disturbances and headaches. One study has shown that a woman on HRT is more than twice as likely to develop asthma. If you do decide to use HRT, take the most natural one possible. Consult a nutritionally minded medical doctor to get a prescription. As a natural health practitioner, I would say that at least 80% of women can avoid HRT and its risks.
The most important part of the diet is to increase plant based foods, especially those high in phytoestrogens, while reducing the amounts of animal protein in the diet. Foods that are good to include are fennel, celery, parsley, soy, nuts, whole grains, apples and alfalfa. The use and recommendation of soy for menopausal women has increased dramatically over the last several years, and not always with positive results. It has been theorised that because Asian women (who eat lots of soy in their diet) have lower incidences of menopausal symptoms, soy must be good for North American menopausal women. The group of chemicals from soy, called isoflavones, converts in the intestine to diphenolic estrogen compounds. This sounds good and often works really well. The problem is that many practitioners have found significant allergies in many Caucasians when taking large enough quantities of soy. If soy is not part of your ancestral diet, there seems to be a higher possibility of allergies. In addition to this situation is the extremely high percentage of genetically modified (GMO) soy product (80% in Canada). Many of the allergies might prove to be related to genetically modified varieties of soy, rather than soy itself. Isoflavones from Red Clover seem to be less of a problem.
The botanical that I like to use the most for menopause symptoms is Dong Quai. Vitex is also beneficial, but I get better results from Dong Quai and I don’t like to use them together as they can conflict with each other. Other botanicals to use in this situation include Black Cohosh and Licorice. We often notice that we have to increase dosage from April through September in Canada. This appears to be due to the effect of temperature changes and the function of light on female hormones.
Single Herbs: Dong Quai (hormone regulator), Black Cohosh, Blue Cohosh, Blessed Thistle, Red Clover extract, Siberian Ginseng, Vitex, Ginkgo
Nutritional Supplements: Vitamin A (20,000 to 40,000 IU), B complex, Vitamin B6 (25-100 mg), Vitamin B1 (50 mg), PABA (up to 100 mg, a precursor for estrogen), Pantothenic acid (up to 100 mg, helps to delay menopause), Vitamin C (500 mg, three times daily), Vitamin E (800-1,200 IU, stimulates production of estrogen), Calcium/Magnesium (2 tablets, twice daily for rest of life), Isoflavones, Hesperidine (900 mg daily), Essential Fatty Acids, Beta 1,3-D-glucan (help boosts bone marrow production), Boron (3mg, helps enhance Calcium absorption), Gamma-oryzanol (ferulic acid, 300mg daily).