Menopause is often disregarded as a health concern and even sometimes the subject of ridicule.
Any woman suffering with severe menopausal symptoms would however confirm that menopause is no laughing matter. Thankfully Mother Nature has some remedies lending a helping hand to women going through this change of life.
What is menopause?
Menopause marks the end of a woman’s reproductive cycle, starting from as early as 45, when the menstrual cycle stops. As with puberty at the beginning of a woman’s reproductive cycle, there are vast changes and fluctuations in hormones. These hormonal shifts and fluctuations in some individuals go almost unnoticed, both during puberty and menopause, but for others, these times in their reproductive cycles bring back memories of discomfort, even physical suffering and emotional agony.
Symptoms of Menopause
How would you know if you are menopausal? Apart from the obvious reduction and cessation of the menstrual cycle, the decrease in female sex hormones, notably oestrogen, results in symptoms such as:
• Mood swings, irritability, tearfulness and even mild depression
• Hot flushes followed by severe perspiration
• Night sweats
• Insomnia, often triggered by hot flushes, night sweats and irritability
• Skin changes such as increased wrinkling, dry skin
• Vaginal dryness
In general, menopause may have a serious impact on your emotional welfare, energy, vitality, mental alertness and productivity. The more serious risks associated with menopause include potential risk for breast cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis, as all of these conditions are affected by changes in female sex hormones. It is therefore advised to consult your doctor or gynecologist, if you suspect you are going through menopause.
The HRT Debate:
The use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is usually recommended for women going through menopause, to help manage the symptoms and also to reduce the risk of associated conditions. Many women are however seeking natural alternatives, especially since it was shown that HRT may increase breast cancer risk.
In cases of premature menopause, especially induced by removal of the ovaries or a total hysterectomy, HRT may be necessary as the benefits are believed to outweigh the risks and this decision is to be taken by your health professional. However, with the natural onset of menopause, it is recommended to discuss the natural remedy options with your gynecologist, as this may support the management of menopausal symptoms.
Mother Nature to the rescue
Historically, traditional and complementary medicine making use of natural remedies, have often been disregarded by modern medicine.
However, a growing trend is the recommendation of natural remedies by medical practitioners, largely due to the growing body of scientific evidence of their benefits. Research into the benefits of nutritional and herbal remedies has shifted complementary medicine into the evidence based paradigm of integrated medicine, where natural and pharmaceutical remedies offer health solutions, side by side.
Looking into the evidence for relief from menopausal symptoms, Mother Nature certainly has a few surprises up her sleeve.
A recent research review, including 1200 women, showed how eating soy beans may help reduce the frequency and severity of menopausal hot flushes by up to 26%. The component in soy beans believed to be responsible for this favourable effect is isoflavones.
More research is however needed, since greater benefit is experienced by some individuals, where other may not observe any improvement. It seems that the benefit of soy isoflavones is greater if ingested over the long-term, rather than short-term intake with the onset of menopausal symptoms. Also, the effects of isoflavones seem to be weaker in postmenopausal women with naturally low oestrogen levels.
• What are they?
Isoflavones are plant components referred to as phytoestrogens, as their molecular structure is similar to that of oestrogen, the female sex hormone. .
• How do they work?
The human body almost recognizes isoflavones components as hormones, especially when they bind to the oestrogen receptors in the body. The ingestion of isoflavones by menopausal women have shown relief of symptoms, comparable to that found with the use of HRT.
• Where are they found?
Isoflavones are found in high concentrations in soy beans, soy foods such as tofu and soy milk, as in an extract from the red clover plant.
• How much is needed?
Varying amounts of isoflavones seem to be indicated, ranging from about 10 mg per day, up to 80 mg per day. An average intake of two full glasses of soy milk per day, or more than 200g of tofu per day would provide favourable levels of isoflavones.
The effects of hormone fluctuations and changes on the moods of women going through menopause are well known. Menopausal mood swings can range from mild irritation to tearfulness, irritability and even mild depression. Once again Mother Nature can lend a helping hand by supporting the nervous system.
• B-vitamins are vital for the healthy functioning of the nervous system. Deficiency in B-vitamins is known to cause irritability and even mild depression, so it is important to stock up on vitamin B Complex.
• Omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish such as salmon are important nutrients to ensure the healthy functioning of the nervous system.
• Red clover is believed to have soothing effects on anxiety through its effects on oestrogen receptors in the body.
• Chamomile is known for its soothing and relaxing effects, especially when one feels anxious and irritated.
Calming chamomile ice tea:
This chilled drink can certainly help you keep your cool when temperatures and tempers are on the rise.
• 1 cup chilled Vital Chamomile Tea, sweetened to taste with honey
• ½ cup crushed ice
• 2 rose geranium leaves (optional – geranium is used for its balancing effects with female hormone fluctuations)
Pour chilled chamomile tea over crushed ice in your favourite cocktail glass and enjoy.
Cooling watermelon skewer:
Watermelon has mild diuretic effects, helping the body to get rid of excess fluids in the case of water retention. The cooling effects of mint, combined with chilled fruit are guaranteed to provide a cooling experience.
• 1 cup cubed watermelon
• 1 cup cubed melon
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Chill and sprinkle with fresh mint.
The onset of menopause is linked with an increased risk of heart disease. Soy beans are also believed to help reduce heart disease risk by potentially reducing homocysteine levels, blood pressure and cholesterol. These benefits are believed to be linked to a variety of components in soy beans, ranging from the isoflavones, to folic acid, fibres and protein.
The reduction in oestrogen levels during menopause is the main reason why menopausal women are at risk of developing osteoporosis. Oestrogen supports bone strength, as it helps the body to keep calcium, the main structural component of bone, inside the bone tissue.
With a decrease in oestrogen, the protective effect over bone density is reduced, resulting in losses of calcium from the bone tissue and subsequent reduction in bone strength.
Population studies on Asian women who regularly consume large quantities of soy isoflavones, show reduced risk of developing fractures compared to women that do not include soy products into their diets.
The use of soy products rich in isoflavones has been shown to support bone density in menopausal women, as it supports calcium absorption. It is therefore advisable to combine a calcium supplement with the use of isoflaovnes.
Before using natural remedies, consult your doctor first, especially
• If you are experience menopausal symptoms prematurely, either naturally, or as a result of a hysterectomy, you may need hormone replacement therapy.
• If your symptoms interfere with your quality of life and cannot be managed through natural remedies.