For too long, menopause has not been given the medical attention it deserves. Menopause is a transition marking the natural decline in reproductive hormone production that affects everyone with a uterus, yet its symptoms are too often brushed off due to shame, fear of aging, or sexism.
Luckily, there is now more research than ever being done in the field of menopause, and many doctors are working to dispel myths about potentially helpful supplements that have been maligned in the past. It’s expected that about 70% of perimenopausal (meaning pre-menopause) and postmenopausal women do not inform their GPs of the natural supplements they take. Likewise, clinicians rarely inform their patients of these alternatives. As a result, there is a lot of knowledge to be gained from further studying this field, and some patience is needed to find out which supplements and treatments will work best for you.
The most common menopause symptoms include hot flushes, vaginal dryness, chills, night sweats, irregular moods, poor sleep and bone loss. Pharmaceutical drugs can help, but there are plenty of natural remedies available that focus on symptom management. This article will cover herbal remedies, phytoestrogens, vitamins and hormone therapy as potential menopause treatments.
Herbal & holistic remedies
As with any health treatments, it’s important to talk to a GP or specialist before trying a new product. If you’re looking for a place to start, you can book an appointment with one of our specialists.
Menopause can cause psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression. Valerian, a flowering plant whose root has been utilised in herbal medicine, has long been used as a natural sleep and anxiety supplement, and several studies have found it helpful in menopausal women. Not only did it help people achieve a sense of calm, but it also helped with hot flushes. Chasteberry and St John’s Wort are also herbal medicines that can improve mood, sexual dysfunction, and hot flushes in menopausal women.
For night sweats, vaginal dryness and hot flushes, maca, black cohosh, ginseng and evening primrose oil can all help. You can also try DHEA supplements, as our natural DHEA levels start to drop around age 30. This is helpful as DHEA is a precursor to the hormone estrogen.
Studies have found that red clover can be effective at alleviating hot flashes, night sweats, and even bone loss. Red clover is a plant belonging to the legume family, known as a rich source of isoflavones, a type of compound classified as a phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogens function similarly to estrogen, and can counter the body’s natural decline of estrogen that occurs during menopause. While no serious side effects have been reported, it’s best to avoid taking red clover for more than one year, solely due to lack of data. As with many natural supplements, more research is needed in this fairly under-researched field of medicine.
Another food containing phytoestrogens is soy, found in foods like tofu, soybeans and tempeh. Some studies found that like red clover, soy mimics the effect of estrogen on the body, and can improve bone health and curb hot flushes. However, stomach pain is a potential side effect of high soy intake, so make sure to consult with a doctor first. Flaxseeds are widely considered a safe phytoestrogen alternative, taken by many to increase fibre intake. They are also known to mimic the effect of estrogen and aid with hot flushes and bone loss.
Vitamins & dietary changes
In addition to supplements, there are also foods you can incorporate into your diet to boost your health during menopause. Foods rich in vitamin D and calcium can help bolster your bone health, which is important as menopause puts you at a greater risk for developing osteoporosis.
Studies have found that vitamin D intake decreases the chances of hip fracture in postmenopausal women. While vitamin D is mostly generated from sunlight, as you get older, your body becomes less efficient at creating it. That’s where vitamin supplements and vitamin-rich foods can come into play. Oily fish, eggs and foods fortified with vitamin D can also be added to your diet.
Calcium is linked to bone health, and is easily found in lots of foods. Dairy products like cheese, yoghurt and milk are natural sources of calcium, but it can also be found in leafy greens like kale, spinach and collard greens, as well as in tofu, beans and sardines.
Studies have also found that deficiencies in vitamin B2, 6 and 12 can exacerbate menopause symptoms, as they help with bone help and neurological function. During menopause, your body also becomes worse at absorbing these vitamins. This makes B vitamins essential to a healthy body and mind during menopause. In addition to taking supplements, you can also find B2, 6 and 12 in foods like eggs, plain yoghurt, mushrooms, pork, poultry, cheese and certain cereals.
Hormone replacement therapy
While it differs from natural supplements, hormone replacement therapy (also known as HRT) is one treatment method that has gained increased popularity in recent years. HRT introduces estrogen, progesterone, or both into the body through tablets, skin patches, sprays, gels, or vaginal rings. By replenishing hormones, HRT has been proven to help prevent osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease and dementia. It is also highly efficient at targeting common menopause symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and vaginal dryness.
HRT has a controversial history due to a study done in the 1990s linking the therapy to breast cancer and heart disease, which has since been debunked. However, the damage was already done and today, only one in ten menopausal women in the UK take HRT. You can read more about the history of HRT and its benefits here.
Both hormone therapies and holistic treatments are relatively under-researched fields with lots of benefits to be reaped. While HRT is finally gaining prominence, more work needs to be done in linking traditional medical practices to alternative medicines that are accessible to menopausal women. For more support, contacting a menopause specialist with knowledge of alternative remedies can go a long way.
Written by Emma Olsson