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Natural Treatments for Menopause

It's hard to anticipate how it will hit you when it does, but when your body starts to go through menopause, it really is a life-changing experience. Menopause is a natural process that a woman’s body goes through as she ages and experiences shifts in hormone levels. It doesn’t need to be a negative phase in our lives, but rather a signal to start making healthier choices that properly nourish the body. Both physically and emotionally transformative, the symptoms women experience up until menopause can be overwhelming and difficult to handle. Being aware about the health implications of important transitions such as perimenopause and menopause is key to living a happy and productive life. The aim of integrative medicine is to address the root concerns of the body holistically by combining traditional and natural techniques. Natural treatments for menopause force us to look at the big picture, re-evaluate our lifestyles, and take better care of ourselves.

What are the Signs of Menopause? 

Menopause naturally occurs in a woman’s life when she has stopped menstruating for over one year.  The average age of menopause is between age 45 to 55. Ten years prior to the official diagnosis of menopause the ovaries stop regularly releasing eggs and fertility dramatically drops. The most common symptoms of menopause take place several years before women reach the final stage where they lose their period.

It can be confusing to still have your period while experiencing symptoms of menopause, but this time frame is usually called pre-menopause or perimenopause. According to the North American Menopause Society, perimenopause can last between 4 and 8 years, while the ovaries gradually rebalance their estrogen and progesterone production. It is not an illness, but rather a completely normal gradual process that can have uncomfortable symptoms.

Varying from woman to woman, the physical and hormonal changes associated with menopause may present with the following symptoms:

Natural medical treatment can help lessen these symptoms and possibly decrease these women’s risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and cancer.

Women often experience rapid bone loss and increased cholesterol levels during their perimenopausal years which can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of heart disease.

Hot flashes are the most common symptom of menopause in North American women. The experience and severity can vary from woman to woman, but generally a hot flash feels like a rush of warmth that spreads throughout your body and lasts from 30 seconds to a few minutes. Other common feelings that can follow with a hot flash include flushed red skin, sweating, and heart palpitations. Usually women experience hot flashes for 2 to 3 years, but it is not abnormal for women to have them for over 5 years.

Women who smoke, have never been pregnant, or live at high altitudes are more likely to experience menopause earlier in life. About 1% of women experience premature menopause, which occurs in those younger than 40 years old.

Natural Treatments For Menopause 

When women make natural changes to their lifestyle, they feel much better and more in control of their menopause symptoms. Natural treatments for menopause and perimenopause work much differently than prescription drugs because they work with your body to naturally prevent or reduce the severity of those symptoms, rather than providing mere temporary relief. Natural treatment addresses imbalances between the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Part of treating menopause naturally involves correcting the imbalances in your diet to provide optimal nutrition to your body, which is undergoing an exhaustive transformation.

You've heard of the saying, "you are what you eat" right? Well, it's true. Our bodies need a variety of vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients in order to function properly. When our bodies are undergoing stress or lacking those nutrients, these imbalances can lead to the uncomfortable symptoms we experience. The best medicine your body can ask for is proper nutrient-dense food to effectively address the root of the problem.

Treat menopause naturally by incorporating some of these helpful tips into your lifestyle:

Menopause Herbal Remedies: Some herbs that can help reduce menopause symptoms include ginseng, black cohosh, red clover, passionflower, chasteberry, St. John’s wort, wild yam and ashwagandha.

Studies have shown that ginseng can help with menopausal symptoms such as insomnia, mood swings, and anxiety. Although it does not help alleviate hot flashes, ginseng can boost your brain health and can increase your overall sense of wellbeing. Red clover has been proven to reduce symptoms related to estrogen loss, such as hot flashes, insomnia, and inflammation of the joints. It can also be used to help prevent bone loss and lower the risk for heart disease and osteoporosis. St. John’s wort has been found helpful for reducing anxiety, depression, inflammation, and improving sleep.

Omega-3 fats: Omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to provide relief for menopausal symptoms such as depression, anxiety, mood swings, and hot flashes. Some of the best sources for Omega-3 oils are flaxseeds, walnuts, olive oil, and canola oil. Omega-3’s from fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, halibut, may be contaminated with mercury since all waterways globally are heavily polluted with mercury.

High-fiber foods: Eating plant-based high fiber foods will improve your digestion of food and absorption of essential nutrients. They also help us feel full and prevent sudden spikes in blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels are well controlled, cholesterol production within the liver also remains well balanced.  

You can increase your fiber intake by eating lots of green vegetables, whole grains (not wheat, white rice, or flour-based foods) and beans (i.e., lentils, dals, moong, barley, black beans, split peas, lentils) added to your stews, soups, stir-frys, and salads. Add ground flax seeds, hemp and sunflowers seeds, and avocados to your salads.  Veggies that are particularly high in soluble fiber are: dark green leafy vegetables (i.e., kale, swiss chard, bok choy, spinach), brussel sprouts, turnips, and okra. Have a small piece of fruit instead of a sweet (i.e., chocolate, granola or protein bar, bread) to satisfy your sugar craving.

Water: Don’t forget to drink water throughout the day to decrease bloating, help your body process fiber properly, and replace fluids lost during hot flashes.

Probiotic foods: Not only do probiotics boost your immune system and cognitive functioning, these healthy bacteria that can actually improve your production and regulation of key hormones like insulin, ghrelin and leptin. The best sources for probiotics include non-dairy yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, sprouted beans, and other fermented foods. Have a small quantity of these fermented foods to give you the prebiotic advantage but not overstimulate your gut.

Each food and brand contain different amounts of bacteria, so read the labels to see whether it “contains live active cultures.” For example, most yogurts do not contain sufficient amounts of live bacteria and do not survive in our intestines. Most varieties of yogurt also contain too much sugar, hindering the benefits of any live cultures.

Relieve Menopause Naturally With Exercise

Although exercise isn't exactly a treatment for menopausal symptoms, it can help ease the body's transition, relieve stress, improve sleep, and increase energy levels. For example, studies have shown that regular exercise such as yoga may be effective in decreasing the number of hot flashes in perimenopausal women.

Every bit of physical activity that you get matters. Every 30 minutes, get up and move for two minutes. If you’re ready to start regularly exercising, try doing 5 to 10 minutes at a time throughout the day. You don’t have to start a strict regimen or train for a triathlon. Shorter exercise sessions are just as useful as long ones.

One of the toughest parts of fitting exercise into our daily routine is that modern living has removed most forms of regular physical activity from our lives. Changing your attitude towards exercise one step at a time can help you form more positive habits. For example, when you’re feeling tired or unmotivated, consider this: exercise gives you more energy and helps you sleep better!

While you’re exercising the rest of your body, why not try strengthening your pelvic muscles as well? Kegel exercises can improve some forms of urinary incontinence.

Reduce & Manage Stress

During menopause, many women feel stressed and overwhelmed by the incredible life transformation that their body is making. You may feel more self-conscious, irritable, worried about minor issues, and experience anxiety that prevents you from doing the things you usually enjoy. Women who experience anxiety and depression during menopause are often given prescription drugs when they bring it up with their doctor. However, integrative medicine strategies prefer to address the root of issue and relieve menopause symptoms naturally. Stress can aggravate hormonal imbalances and increase hot flashes. There are many things you can do to reduce and manage stress.

When you feel like the world is about to cave in on you, try making healthy food choices that will nourish your mind, body, and soul. Eating a healthy, balanced plant-based diet will fuel the body and help decrease the production of stress hormones. However, the best way to manage cortisol levels is to regularly exercise. Exercise releases endorphins and reduces stress levels in the body. Mind-body practices can also help train you to experience thoughts that provoke anxiety with a more positive reaction.

Using essential oils for aromatherapy has been found to be a safe and effective treatment for anxiety. Peppermint and clary sage oil in particular have been found to help with hot flashes. To calm your body and stress levels, try chamomile, basil, thyme, frankincense, bergamot, or lavender essential oils. Add a few drops to your bath, dab some on your pillow, or massage a few drops between your palms and wrists and simply inhale. Lavender oil has especially been known to help with anxiety and sleeping problems.

Be Proactive and Treat Menopause Naturally

If you or someone you know is experiencing hormonal symptoms, visit integrative functional medicine physician, Dr. Payal Bhandari, M.D. A personalized treatment plan will drives quick and effective positive results. She will guide you through how your symptoms can be directly impacted by your lifestyle and other environmental factors. Healthy living for patients is dear to Dr. Bhandari’s heart. She loves to help people take back control of their health through simple tips we can each be empowered by.

Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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