Menopause is the permanent end of menstruation and fertility, defined as occurring 12 months after your last menstrual period. You can start to transition into menopause as early as your mid-30s, with most women entering menopause in their 40s or 50s (the average age is 51 in the U.S.). For some, menopause comes earlier due to health conditions, including a history of eating disorders, cancer treatment or surgical removal of the ovaries.
Menopause is a completely natural biological process, and therefore not a problem to solve. And although it concludes the time in a woman’s life for fertility, you can stay healthy, vital and sexual through your 50s and well beyond. That being said, there is generally a hormonal shift that occurs in women during menopause that may lead to mood swings, hot flashes, and other common symptoms.
What types of things can you do to help get find relief from menopause symptoms?First and foremost, it’s important to realize that in most women, symptoms such as night sweats will decrease over time and then often go away completely without any treatment, including hormone replacement drugs. As the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care puts it, “Menopause is not an illness. It is normal for hormone levels to fall in middle age. These hormones do not need to be replaced.” (1)
Natural remedies for menopause symptoms — meaning those that don’t involve taking hormone replacement therapy drugs — are safe and can be helpful during this transition phase to decrease symptom severity and duration. These include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, taking certain beneficial supplements to , and using natural herbal treatments, such as black cohosh and progesterone cream.
The Most Common Menopause Symptoms
Women can experience a variety of symptoms and conditions related to changes in sex hormone levels and aging. Some of the most common menopause symptoms include: (2)
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Mood swings, irritability, anxiety or depressive symptoms
- Vaginal dryness and decreased sex drive
- Increased abdominal fat and weight gain
- Insomnia and changes in sleep quality
- Thinning hair and dryer skin
- Going to the bathroom more often
- Breast changes (including breasts becoming smaller or losing volume)
- Changes in the uterus, ovaries and cervix
- For some, a higher risk for certain other age-related diseases (including cardiovascular diseases, dementia and osteoporosis)
The Causes of Menopause
Wondering what causes symptoms like hot flashes, or how you can or night sweats?
Menopause is caused by hormonal changes, including altered levels of reproductive hormones including: gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), estrogen (three types including estrone, estridiol and estriol), progesterone and testosterone. (3)
Menopause is a complex biological process, but the most significant changes taking place in a woman body during this time are that there’s increasing loss of ovarian follicles (called follicular astresia) and, therefore, a decreasing amount of estrogen being produced. Estrogen levels start to drop 6–12 months before menopause (during perimenopause, usually in the late 30s and 40s) and continue throughout the menopause process.
Natural Treatment for Menopause
1. Eat Foods that Help Manage Menopause Symptoms
When trying to balance hormones and reduce menopause symptoms, your diet should include plenty of essential minerals and . Filling up on the following foods which are “hormone-balancing,” nutrient-dense and unprocessed can help you eliminate your intake of empty calories and manage weight gain.
Keep in mind that you might need to consume less calories overall in order to maintain your weight as you get older. Due to a decrease in muscle mass and slowing of your metabolism, it’s more important than ever to limit processed foods and focus on eating a .
Foods that can help manage menopause symptoms include:
- Organic fruits and vegetables: These contain dietary fiber to manage your appetite, antioxidants to slow the aging process and phytosterols that can help balance hormones.
- Healthy fats and cold-pressed oils: It’s true that fats have more calories than protein or carbohydrates do, but they are also the building blocks for hormone production, keep inflammation levels low, boost your metabolism and promote satiety that is important for preventing weight gain. Unrefined oils provide essential vitamin E that helps regulate estrogen production. Look for virgin coconut oil, palm oil, extra-virgin olive oil and flaxseed oil. Other sources of healthy fats include avocado, coconut milk, nuts, seeds and wild seafood.
- Water: Aim for 8 glasses daily to help replace fluid lost from hot flashes and to decrease bloating.
2. Avoid Foods that Make Menopause Worse
- Conventional meat: Conventional (farm-raised) neat or poultry may contain added hormones that can cause problems, including increased inflammation. Make sure to choose hormone-free, grass-fed, cage-free or pasture-raised animal proteins whenever possible. Buying organic meat, eggs, dairy and poultry is another layer of protection that ensures that you won’t be consuming antibiotics, GMO-fed meat and added hormones.
- Added sugar: High intake of added sugar can cause weight gain, digestive issues, worsened hormone imbalances and candida, increasing hot flashes and other symptoms.
- Carbonated drinks: Carbonated soda or other drinks may be able to deplete the body of calcium and contribute to osteoporosis, bone loss and teeth problems.
- Alcohol: Many women find that drinking more than “moderate” amounts of alcohol can aggravate hot flashes and contribute to weight gain.
3. Take These Supplements for Menopause Relief
Although less commonly used at home on your own, other botanicals/herbs can also help manage symptoms including: evening primrose oil, licorice root, wild yams, red raspberry leaves, chaste tree and sarsaparilla. Each one has a specific symptom (or sometimes symptoms) that they are able to help treat, so it can be very helpful to talk with a trained naturopath doctor to help guide you into using proper dosages and combinations.
4. Reduce & Manage Stress
Many women experience increased anxiety, moodiness and even episodes of depression during the menopause years. Managing stress in your life is one important way to reduce behaviors or symptoms like emotional eating and weight gain, fatigue, getting poor sleep and low libido. Different stress-reducing complimentary and alternative medicines work for different people. Some effective ways to include: exercise, meditation, acupuncture, aromatherapy, spending time in nature, fostering close relationships, volunteering and dedicating time to spiritual practices.
5. Use These Essential Oils for Managing Menopause Symptoms
Clary sage oil is the most effective essential oils for balancing hormones. It can help offer relief from menopause symptoms including increased anxiety and hot flashes. In addition, roman chamomile oil reduces stress, peppermint oil can help cool the body from hot flashes, and thyme oil can help naturally balance hormones.
To use these essential oils at home, purchase a therapeutic grade/pure oil in stores or online, then rub 3 drops of the chosen oil on the tops of the feet and back of the neck 1–3 times daily. You can combine any essential oil with a carrier oil like jojoba or coconut oil to dilute its strength and decrease skin sensitivity.
6. Get Regular Exercise
Exercise is important for managing several risk factors associated with menopause complications, including becoming overweight or obese, having high levels of inflammation, getting poor sleep, experiencing bone loss or muscle wasting, and dealing with chronic stress. Certain studies have found that even if you haven’t been very active in the past, starting an exercise routine consisting of aerobic and strength-training exercise training at least three times per week for 12 weeks can result in improvements in sleep quality, insomnia and depression. (10) I recommend engaging in ten to thirty minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week, including in the form of high intensity interval training (HIIT) such as burst training, This will strengthen your bones, help prevent weight gain and preserve lean muscle mass, which can lower the risk for osteoporosis and obesity.
7. Get Enough Sleep
Studies show that both excessive stress and poor sleep are linked with higher levels of morning cortisol, decreased immunity, trouble with work performance, and a higher susceptibility to anxiety, weight gain and depression. To allow your body to recover from stress, control your appetite and improve energy, aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
8. Turn to Social Support & Relationships
Comprehensive clinical trials have shown that lifestyle habits including regular exercise, sleep management, optimal nutrition, healthy relationships, social support, and relaxation can be effective as a “whole system approach” to treating menopause symptoms and other effects of aging. (11)
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