Holistic Menopause

Posted on: 25 March 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

The menopause is a major turning point in a woman’s life when the natural changes occurring in your body can make you feel most unnatural.

menopauseIn physiological terms, the menopause occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop producing eggs and she has her last period.  When approaching the menopause, women experience many symptoms including irregular periods, aching joints, vaginal dryness and changes in sexual desire.  A decreased ability to concentrate or remember things, hot flushes and excessive sweating, particularly at night.  They may also feel a need to urinate frequently and develop insomnia or mood changes. 

It is important to remember that every woman’s experience of the menopause is different, whilst some find it a frustrating and difficult time, others seem to sail through it without any problems but recent controversy over the traditional menopause treatment, HRT, has left many women confused as to what options are available.  However symptoms can be relieved with a holistic approach using natural supplements, a good diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Natural Remedies

Clinical research recently presented at the Soy and Health Conference strongly supports soya isoflavone supplements to reduce symptoms of menopause such as hot flushing, sleep disturbance, mild anxiety or depression, and loss of libido.  Dr Paola Albertazzi, Clinical Lecturer at the Centre for Metabolic Bone Disease, Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals found that women experienced relief of hot flushes by 45% with soya isoflavone supplementation.

This research compounds upon previous studies which have concluded that women experience a reduction in hot flushes between 40 and 60%.  In one double-blind multicentre study, soon to be published in the medical journal Menopause, women found that soy supplementation reduced overall symptoms and restored delicate balance.

Soya is rich in phyto-oestrogens (natural plant oestrogens) which are similar in structure to the female hormone oestrogen.  Phyto-oestrogens mimic oestrogen’s role in the body and clinical studies have confirmed their effectiveness against certain symptoms occurring during the menopause.

Phyto-oestrogens are known to decreases menopause symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweat and insomnia.  They also help prevent osteoporosis, reduce cholesterol levels and have been shown to act as a preventative to hormonally related cancers such as breast, womb, prostate and colon.

The research into soya was originally based on the fact that Asian societies, who consume a high soya content in their diet, have longer menstrual cycles than Western women and a lower risk of developing breast cancer.  Studies in Japan have also revealed that women experience few if any adverse symptoms at the time of the menopause.  There is no Japanese translation for “hot flush” and they have half the hip fractures of western women.

Diet

As well as taking supplements, adjustments to diet are necessary during this transitional period as your body requires different nutrients to maximise well-being, and to fight off heart disease, osteoporosis and cancers.

Many women find that keeping alcohol consumption low minimises hormonal fluctuations, similarly avoiding caffeine can reduce the incidence of night sweats, mood swings and headaches.

Avoiding hot spices is recommended, as these can make even non-menopausal women break into a sweat, this doesn’t mean that your cooking need be bland, instead use fresh herbs and other flavour enhancers such as lemon and lime juice.

Another good tip if you are troubled by night sweats is to keep a jug of water infused with some lemon slices and mint leaves by you bed, to drink if you wake up in a sweat.

Some women have reported that they feel better if their diet is low in fatty foods, which means keeping your intake of cheese, cream, and other fatty animal products to a minimum.  Use olive and other vegetable or nut oils instead.   These oils also contain vitamin E (as do avocados, mangoes, blackberries and seeds) which has been linked with an improvement in menopausal symptoms.

Exercise & Relaxation

Exercise is important throughout life, however during the menopause with the various physiological changes which take place, physical activity becomes even more important.  Exercise can reduce cholesterol, and increases aerobic capacity, circulation, bone mass density and general well-being. 

Although it has not yet been established that exercise can reduce hot flushes, significant associations have been found between improvements in well-being and reductions of depressed mood in exercising women.

Remember, that everyone is different.  Find an exercise which suits you and your fitness level, whether as simple as going for a walk in the morning or evening, swimming once a week or joining your local gym.

Relaxing during the menopause is also important.  Stress upsets the body and during menopause, when the body’s balance is shifting, it is more important than ever to relax whether this be through yoga, massage, Pilates, or simply curling up on the sofa with a good book or your favourite video.

Why Choose A ‘Natural’ Menopause?

Women who have chosen to take a natural approach to the menopause have said that they felt a great sense of achievement in having made it to ‘the other side’ using only natural treatments.  As stated before, however, every woman’s experience is different, and you should decide whether to help yourself through the natural approach or whether you wish to have a little extra hormonal help in the short-term.

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