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Feeling hot – the menopausal way?

Menopause indicates the end of a woman’s reproductive years. The menstrual cycle ceases, and the level of oestrogen and progesterone declines.

It does not happen overnight; menopause often takes between two to five years. It affects each woman differently. Symptoms experienced may include hot flushes, depression, dry skin, less vaginal lubrication, osteoporosis, heavy bleeding, irregular bleeding, insomnia, depression and irritability. As unpleasant as it is for many women, many women pass through menopause symptom-free.

Overcoming menopause symptoms naturally

Complementary medicines work very well in treating menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats. When a woman undergoes the ‘change’, her ovaries hand in their resignation notice and hormones are no longer produced. However, our bodies are very resourceful and the adrenal glands and fat cells step in to contribute to the production of hormones to a certain extent. In theory, woman should be able to undergo the transition from high to lower hormones quite easily. Reality can be quite different.

What to do?

Some women use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) which contains synthetic hormones to reduce symptoms. Whilst it works for some there may be side-effects, other women prefer a more natural approach.

Diet

  • Include food sources that contain phytoestrogen or plant derived oestrogen every day (1). Although phytoestrogens provide a weaker oestrogen than the one produced by the ovaries, they promote normalising hormone levels. Foods high in phytoestrogen include soya beans, linseed and flaxseed. Increasing soya intake can be as easy as substituting a good quality soya milk for cows milk, and using soya beans in soups and casseroles. Add tempeh (fermented tofu that is easier to digest ) to your sandwiches. As little as two heaped dessert spoons of ground linseed per day (2) added to your breakfast can reduce symptoms associated with declining oestrogen levels.
  • Hot flushes can also be triggered and aggravated by food that are best avoided. These include coffee, sugar, alcohol and spicy food. Sometimes just ingesting food or drinks that are hot in temperature can trigger a hot flush and are better tolerated at lower temperatures.
  • Menopausal women are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and reduced bone density. It is vital to include high calcium foods such as cooked spinach or other greens, yoghurt, cheese, cottage cheese, sardines and canned salmon. Omega-3 rich foods that support cardiovascular health are seeds, nuts, cold water fish and flaxseed oil etc.

Supplements

There are several herbal supplements that may be beneficial. Herbs tend to have specific actions. It is recommended to talk to a qualified naturopath for best results and to ensure there are not potential safety issues such as oestrogen dependent cancers.

The Ultimate Herbal Compendium recommends one or a combination of the following herbs to address menopausal symptoms:

  • Black Cohosh, False Unicorn, Korean Ginseng, Ladies Mantle, Sage, Shatavari, St John’s Wort, Tribulus Leaf, Wild Yam and Zyzyphus.
  • Another herbal supplement worth considering may be Maca, a plant native to Peru, that has been shown to reduce menopausal symptoms including anxiety, depression and sexual dysfunction (3).

Lifestyle

  • To protect your heart and bones, aim for regular 30 minute exercise sessions. Weight bearing exercises such as walking, jogging or aerobics will also add to your general well being and help you getting through the emotional roller coaster of menopause. Start off slowly and build up gradually. Team up with a friend.
  • Smoking should be avoided as it will rob your bones of calcium and is a contributing factor towards cardiovascular disease.
  • Australian Naturopath Mim Beim further recommends soaking your feet in a cold footbath with peppermint oil, or apply a cold washer with a few drops of peppermint oil to your forehead or neck. Other symptom relief can be achieved by wearing comfortable cotton clothes and regular relaxation exercises that work for you.

In summary, a healthy diet, herbal supplements and lifestyle adjustments can greatly influence the way a woman experiences her menopause. Make it a positive change.

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