Menopause, the time in a woman's life when menstruation ends, is a normal and natural stage of life usually occurring around age 50. Over the next two decades, 40 million American women will experience this important change of life, and by the year 2020, 60 million will be at or through menopause. While this transition can be a pleasant experience for some women, many unfortunately experience significant discomfort. Symptoms can include hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbance, depression, mood swings, decreased libido, and vaginal dryness. The most common of these complaints, hot flashes, affects 75% of women passing through menopause and lasts for an average of about 2 years.
The first few years of menopause are also associated with a temporary period of increased bone loss because the body is making less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which puts women at risk for osteoporosis. Fortunately, there are a number of natural remedies that can significantly reduce or eliminate the symptoms of menopause, some of which also reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis and other age-related diseases such as heart disease.
The standard medical therapy of menopause usually consists of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is a combination of estrogens and a progestin (a synthetic substance with progesterone like effects). HRT unquestionably relieves many menopausal complaints such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. It also decreases the risk for osteoporosis related hip fractures. These benefits, however, do not come without a price. Hormone replacement therapy is associated with a number of severe side effects including depression, breast tenderness, weight gain, and an increased risk for breast cancer, stroke, heart attack, and gall bladder disease. It also promotes the formation of blood clots in smokers.
While commonly prescribed progestins such as Provera act similarly to progesterone in the body, they are chemically different. Natural progesterone, in contrast to synthetic progestins, is identical to the body's own progesterone and is relatively free of side effects. It is usually derived from the wild yam or the soy bean, although it is not naturally found in either of these plants.
In a study performed by Dr. John Lee, natural progesterone was found to reverse bone loss. Dr. Lee, who has pioneered the use of natural progesterone, found that his patients experienced a 5-10% increase in bone mineral density after one year of supplementation. At the end of the three year study, the average increase in bone density was 15.4%, and none of the subjects experienced a loss of bone density. This is in sharp contrast to the 4-5% loss of bone density that would have been expected over three years without hormonal treatment.
In addition to osteoporosis prevention and reversal, natural progesterone can also help relieve some of the symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes.
Many plants also contain compounds, known as phytoestrogens, that have estrogen like effects in the body. These phytoestrogens, however, tend to balance the female hormones rather than directly stimulate estrogen or progesterone. They also have a tonifying and nourishing effect on the female reproductive and glandular systems, and are useful in the treatment of a wide variety of female conditions. While most phytoestrogens don't appear to modify the risk of developing osteoporosis, they do offer relief from hot flashes and other menopausal complaints without the significant side effects associated with estrogen usage. Examples of some plants that contain phytoestrogens include soy, alfalfa, fennel, licorice root, dong quai, black cohosh, and chaste berries. Some of these merit specific mention.
Soy, which has a long history of use in Asian cuisine, has recently been the focus of a significant amount of research. It is particularly rich in phytoestrogens, and is thought to be the reason that Japanese women living in Japan rarely experience the unpleasant symptoms of menopause. In fact, hot flashes are so rare in Japan that there is not even a word in the Japanese language to describe them. Besides alleviating many of the complaints of menopause, the consumption of soy has been associated with a reduced risk of developing a variety of cancers including breast cancer. It may also reduce the risk of developing heart disease and osteoporosis.
Black cohosh is a plant containing potent phytoestrogens originally used by the American Indians, and now used extensively in Germany. Since 1956, over 1.5 million women in Germany have used an extract of black cohosh to treat menopausal complaints with great success and without side effects. It has been compared to estrogen replacement therapy in several controlled trials and has been found to be equal to or better than estrogen in relieving menopausal complaints. Clinical studies have shown its effectiveness in alleviating not only hot flashes, but also depression and vaginal atrophy.
There are several nutritional supplements which are effective in relieving hot flashes, including vitamin E, hesperidin, and vitamin C. Vitamin E, which was studied primarily in the 1940's, was found to relieve not only hot flashes, but also menopausal vaginal complaints. Vitamin C and hesperidin (a bioflavonoid found in citrus fruits) were shown in one study to relieve menopausal symptoms in 53% of the subjects and reduce them in an additional 34% when used in combination.
Exercise is another important part of a holistic approach to the management of menopause. Beyond relieving hot flashes, with as little as 3-5 hours per week exercise can reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other diseases.
The decision as to which of the above natural remedies is appropriate for an individual should factor in the symptoms a woman is experiencing as well as her individual risk for developing osteoporosis, heart disease, and breast cancer, among others. For this reason, it is a choice best made with the assistance of a qualified medical professional such as a naturopathic physician.
Medical Conditions Treated
Most Insurance Accepted
We now accept most health insurance including:
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont
- Comprehensive Benefits Administrators (CBA)
- Dr. Dynasaur
- Great West/One Health
- Green Mountain Care
- Vermont Managed Care
- Vermont Medicaid
- Most other in-state plans except Medicare
(About the only plans we can't accept are Medicare and out-of-state plans.)