About the Author
Lisa Cannon has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. She writes about everything from the health benefits of journal writing to the best ways to recycle computer hardware. She lives in beautiful Portland, Ore.
As of 2008, the standard of care says that if HRT is used to alleviate symptoms, the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible duration should be used. If you choose to go without HRT or want to supplement it with natural solutions, there are a variety of options to choose from.
We turned to naturopathic doctor Jacqueline Engel, ND, LMT, of Blue Lily in Portland, Ore., for advice on the best all-natural ways to alleviate the toughest menopause symptoms. We also talked to reader Kathie G. about her recent experiences going through menopause. They gave us tips on how to treat hot flashes, sleeplessness, mood swings, aches and pains, osteoporosis, and (yikes!) painful sex through these five all-natural means.
1. Eat a Hormone-Healthy Diet to Feel Better in General. We all know that we should eat more soy, green leafy vegetables (such as kale, collard greens, spinach, broccoli and cabbage), fruit and whole grains, but they're particularly important for menopausal women. So the first step to feeling better is to eat right.
Kathie G: I've always consumed a pretty balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, complex carbs, low fat, low sugar and lean proteins ... but now I've had to get even more serious about my food intake. At the onset I had sudden weight gain--it seems like I went up two sizes overnight!
Dr. Engel: "Green leafies" are great for menopause--they're filled with cofactors that help you process hormones. They not only support your immune system, they protect your mental function as you age. Also, make sure to get lots of calcium (to prevent osteoporosis), and hormone-balancing foods like legumes, fish, brown rice, tempeh, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables. They'll help you maintain a healthy weight, too.
2. Take Vitamins and Other Supplements for More Energy Whenever possible, you should get your vitamins through healthy diet choices, but you may want to use supplements to make sure you're getting the nutrients your body needs.
Kathie G: I use a range of supplements, including a multivitamin; extra B, C, and E vitamins: calcium; magnesium and zinc; fish oil; and flax seed oil. I can really tell when I don't have my vitamins, because I have no energy ... I feel very run-down.
Dr. Engel: Because you can easily become B-vitamin deficient during menopause, it's important to boost your intake. In addition, flax seeds and fish oil provide Omega-3 fats. Essential fatty acids like Omega-3 are vital for the production and release of many hormones. And phytoestrogens, which are natural plant estrogens found in flax seeds, have been shown to help balance hormone levels during menopause.
3. Be Ready for Hot Flashes, and Decrease Their Frequency With Herbs Hot flashes are the most common symptom for menopausal women, but there are some practical and easy solutions to combat them. Always keep a change of clothes on hand, and wear layered outfits. Sleep in lightweight cotton (or nothing at all), and layer your blankets so you can adjust your coverage. And avoid hot-flash triggers like spicy foods, hot beverages, caffeine and alcohol.
Kathie G: My hot flashes were so bad for a while that I would be drenched with perspiration at work. I've read that caffeine, sugar and alcohol directly increase the potential for hot flashes, so I switched to herbal teas, but I still allow myself one cup of coffee a day.
Dr. Engel: Cutting back on alcohol and caffeine is a good way to help you feel better all around. And Black Cohosh is an estrogen-balancing herb that can help alleviate hot flashes. (It's also good for vaginal dryness, which leads to painful sex--a common menopause symptom.)
4. Try Acupuncture, Meditation, and Yoga to Decrease Hot Flashes and Feel BetterIn one study, acupuncture helped decrease hot flashes in menopausal women by 35 percent, and decrease insomnia by 50 percent. Yoga exercises can also make you feel more relaxed, and loosen your muscles, ligaments and joints for better blood circulation. Yoga can help improve mood swings, too.
Kathie G: I tried acupuncture, which did bring some relief for hot flashes, and also for migraine headaches. I also take more moments for myself--more often than I used to--so that I can meditate or practice little rituals of self care that increase my feeling of well-being.
Dr. Engel: Studies have shown that menopausal women who reduced stress through meditation had significant relief from hot flashes. Yoga--and also massage--are very therapeutic for the kinds of muscular-skeletal pain that many women experience throughout their menopausal years. And taking time for yourself is very important!
5. Exercise Your Way to an Easier Change of Life Getting on the treadmill may not cure your hot flashes, but it can help you feel better in general. A good exercise regimen also helps bring down stress levels and anxiety. Bonus: Many women have trouble sleeping during menopause, and regular exercise--especially in the morning--can help. And don't forget Kegel exercises--they can make a world of difference for relieving vaginal pain and helping with incontinence.
Kathie G: I exercise regularly and stretch often. And every chance I get, I spend time outdoors in a beautiful place, because there is something about the natural world and the fresh air that make my symptoms virtually disappear.
Dr. Engel: Treating menopause means looking at the whole woman--not just a series of symptoms. That means using whatever works, whether it's herbal supplements, bio-identical hormones, exercise, diet, massage, acupuncture, or a combination of treatments. The important thing is to meet with your doctor early in the process to get your hormone levels tested, find your right balance, and develop the course of action that works for you.