By Chris D. Meletis, ND
If you’ve started to go through peri-menopause or menopause, chances are good you’re experiencing some frustrating moments. Hot flashes and night sweats are not only the most common symptom of menopause,1 they’re also the most uncomfortable. My patients tell me it feels like someone has sparked a campfire inside your body. And it’s not bad enough that you feel like you’re about to spontaneously combust. Hot flashes come with a number of other problems, too, such as palpitations, anxiety, feeling pressure in the head and chest, nausea, and lack of concentration. When all those symptoms go away, you might even experience chills. For most women, hot flashes last from between a few seconds to a minute. For an unfortunate few, they can last up to an hour!2
Menopause also produces some unpleasant symptoms in your urogenital tract, including:2
• Increased frequency of urination
• Painful urination
• Vaginal itching and burning
• Vaginal dryness (also known atrophic vaginitis)
• Painful sex
• Increased frequency of urinary tract infections
What Causes Menopausal Symptoms?
If you’re suffering from menopausal symptoms, blame it, at least in part, on the ovaries. Changes in their structure and function lead to problems like hot flashes. Numbers of follicles in your ovaries start to decline as you go through menopause. Before menopause, there are ten times more follicles in a woman’s ovaries compared with after menopause.2 There are almost no follicles in the ovaries of postmenopausal women. The changes in ovarian function are associated with a dramatic shift in hormonal balance, a drop in estrogen, and an increase in follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinzing hormone (LH). The increase in FSH and LH are accompanied by a decrease in progesterone, a hormone involved in calm mood, happiness, and many other aspects of health. The dip in your progesterone levels is what causes the permanent end of your monthly period.2 Your estrogen levels also drop as you go through menopause, leading to many of the urogenital symptoms I mentioned above. The average age of menopause is 50 years; however peri-menopause often starts 5 or more years earlier. And, in women of African origin, menopause frequently occurs sooner.2
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Lifestyle Approaches to Soothing Menopause Symptoms
Menopause is a normal part of life. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. However, you can reduce the symptoms that come with it. The two natural ways to reduce menopause symptoms include lifestyle approaches and dietary supplements (which I’ll talk about later).
Things to Avoid
Some things are known to worsen menopausal symptoms, at least in some women. Alcohol, caffeine, wearing tight clothing, eating spicy foods, and high levels of stress are linked to worse symptoms.1,2 Likewise, smoking or exposure to cigarette smoke are known to make symptoms worse.1
Things to Add to Your Life
To reduce the number of hot flashes you experience and prevent some other menopausal symptoms, try increasing the amount of exercise you do daily. One randomized, controlled study found that only 10 minutes of stretching exercises before bed reduced menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and depression.3 In another randomized, controlled trial, women with hot flashes went through exercise training for six months.4 Compared with women in a control group, those who exercised experienced an improvement in their hot flashes and this improvement lasted for four years after the initial exercise training. Plus, exercise—especially when combined with a healthy diet—reduces the fat that builds up around the belly after menopause.5
In addition to exercising, my menopausal patients who are under a lot of stress benefit from participating in stress-control activities such as meditation, yoga, spending time in nature, and deep breathing exercises.
Botanicals and Vitamins for Natural Menopausal Symptom Relief
A number of natural substances can help reduce your hot flashes and make them more endurable, as well as improve other menopausal symptoms. These can work especially well when combined with the lifestyle approaches I mentioned above. Here are some of the botanicals and vitamins best researched for their ability to support the health of menopausal women. Some of my patients choose to take some or all of these natural ingredients individually, and some choose a comprehensive supplement like Balance Blend that contains a combination of herbs, vitamins, minerals, and other specialty nutrients.
Studies have shown this botanical may reduce hot flashes in menopausal women.6 It also supported healthy levels of blood pressure and improved depression in a study of postmenopausal women.7 Another study in postmenopausal women found Maca reduced depression and improved menopause-related sexual problems.8
Maca also acts as an adaptogen. In other words, it nourishes your adrenal glands.9 These little glands produce DHEA, which are converted to other hormones including estrogen. This can help make up for your ovaries’ weakening ability to produce estrogen, keeping you more resilient during and after menopause.
Known for its ability to support many aspects of menopausal health, this botanical improves sleep and reduces hot flashes, sweating, anxiety, and depression.10-13
Chaste Tree Berry
Studies have shown this botanical is one of the menopausal women’s best friends. It can reduce hot flashes, especially when combined with some of the other botanicals and vitamins mentioned in this article.14,15 It’s thought to soothe your hypothalamic-pituitary axis, which regulates your stress levels and the health of your adrenals.2
A phytoestrogen, hops can reduce hot flashes and improve other menopausal symptoms.2,16
Folate is important for reducing menopausal discomfort. Unfortunately, many women have a gene mutation (MTHFR) that keeps their body from digesting folic acid. They lack optimal function of the enzyme needed to change folic acid into its more biologically active form. However, supplementing with 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) bypasses the need to convert folic acid into folate. 5-MTHF is already in the form needed for your body to digest it. That’s especially important during menopause because MTHFR mutations are linked to depression in menopausal women.17,18
What’s more, in postmenopausal women, folate is associated with maintaining healthy blood pressure.19 MTHFR mutations are also associated with breast health in postmenopausal women,20 while 5-MTHF is associated with bone mineral density.21
Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) is another botanical weapon in the battle against hot flashes.2 It contains a number of compounds beneficial to menopausal women.2
Derived from cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, diindolylmethane (DIM) helps your body use estrogen through a health-promoting pathway.22 In this way, it protects against less-than-favorable estrogen metabolism. This is important for breast health in menopausal and postmenopausal women.22
Vaginal Moisturizers and Lubricants
As discussed above, the hormone changes that accompany menopause cause dramatic changes to vaginal tissues and vaginal fluids. Now known by the term Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause, many menopausal women complain of a range of symptoms including dryness, burning, and itching, as well as painful intercourse. To soothe these uncomfortable symptoms, many women benefit from using a vaginal moisturizer daily, and choose to use a lubricant during sex. I always encourage my patients to select a high-quality product that is pH matched for menopausal women (around 5) and does not include harsh chemicals like paraben preservatives. Also important is to find a product that doesn’t contain glycerol or hormones.
Hope for Hot Flashes and Other Menopause Symptoms
If you’re going through a tough time during menopause, you can find natural relief. Lifestyle approaches like exercise can keep you feeling your best. And botanical supplements can make your change of life less of a miserable experience and more of an opportunity to be the healthiest you can be. Making sure you’re getting the nutritional support your body needs to stay on top of its game during this challenging time is also essential. So, don’t forget B vitamins, vitamin D, and other foundational nutrients.
About Dr. Meletis
Dr. Meletis is an internationally recognized naturopathic physician, an accomplished author, and respected educator in the field of natural medicine. Dr. Meletis was honored as a ‘Naturopathic Physician of the Year’ by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians for his commitment to education and helping those in need. His mission is simply, “changing the world’s health, one person at a time”.
He has authored 14 books on subjects ranging from natural medicine interactions to fertility enhancement and has published over 80 articles in publications such as Natural Health andNatural Pharmacy. Dr. Meletis has served as the Dean of Naturopathic Medicine and Chief Medical Officer for the National College of Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM) for seven years and later as the school’s Senior Science Officer. He sits on several medical advisory boards and has worked with Oregon Health and Science University on a grant from the National Institute of Health to further educate MD graduates on natural medicine.
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