Naturopathic Treatment and Menopause
The naturopathic approach to menopause is aimed at providing relief from menopausal symptoms and preventing health problems, such as heart disease, osteoporosis, and breast cancer, which are associated with menopause and its treatment. Menopausal women should seek the advice of a health care practitioner to determine if the symptoms they are experiencing are due to menopause and to identify and evaluate disease risk early on.
Menopause & Nutrition
The importance of nutrition cannot be overstated. It is quite possible that if a woman were to eat a healthy diet her whole life, she might not experience any menopausal symptoms. It is never too early or too late to start eating right. Changing to a healthy diet while going through menopause often helps ease symptoms.
- Eat fresh, unrefined, and unprocessed foods. Include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, soy, beans, seeds, nuts, olive oil, and cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, halibut, and mackerel).
- Avoid sugar, dairy products, refined foods, fried foods, junk foods, and caffeine.
- Eliminate food sensitivities. Use an elimination and challenge diet to determine food sensitivities.
- Drink 50 percent of body weight in ounces of water daily (e.g., a 150 lb person would drink 75 oz of water).
Phytoestrogens are compounds found in plants that produce an estrogen-like effect in the body. Isoflavones and lignans are two kinds of phytoestrogens. The richest source of isoflavones is soybeans. Soy is proving to be very beneficial to women's (and men's) health. It appears to have an effect on hot flashes, vaginal dryness, lipids and coronary arteries, bone, mental function, and the prevention of breast and uterine cancer. While the optimal amount of isoflavones needed to provide these benefits is still unknown, it has been determined that 50-150 mg per day is sufficient. Women who cannot or will not eat soy foods should obtain a high-quality soy powder or capsule and take 50-150 mg per day. Some soy protein products have had the phytoestrogens removed during processing, so the labels of soy protein products should be checked for their isoflavone content. The major isoflavones of soy are genistein, daidzein, and glycitein.
Lignans are phytoestrogens that are modified by intestinal bacteria into compounds that have estrogen-like activity. Flaxseeds have 100 times more lignans than any other food. Flaxseed oil contains very little, if any, lignans. Flaxseeds are inexpensive and when ground provide fresh oil, protein, fiber, mucilage, some minerals and vitamins, and lignans. The recommendation is 2-4 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds per day. Ground flaxseeds absorb a lot of water from the body, so it is important to drink extra water when eating ground flaxseeds.
Menopause & Dietary Supplements
- Multivitamin-mineral supplement- Good-quality, high-potency formulas specifically for menopausal women are available.
- Bioflavonoids (e.g., quercetin, rutin, hesperidin) - Take 1000 mg bioflavonoids plus 1000-1500 mg vitamin C daily. It is thought that bioflavonoids are more effective when taken with vitamin C.
- Vitamin B-6 - Take 50-200 mg daily. Helps with symptoms of depression, insomnia, and irritability. Women who take birth control pills or conjugated equine estrogens (Premarin®) often have low levels of B-6.
- Evening primrose oil (EPO) - Take 1500-3000 mg daily. EPO has been shown to reduce breast pain due to hormonal fluctuations.
- Gamma-oryzanol - Take 100 mg 3 times daily. This is a compound obtained from rice bran oil that can be effective in reducing hot flashes.
- Vitamin E - Take 400-800 IUs daily. Used to treat hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
Menopause & Herbal Medicine
Herbal medicines rarely have significant side effects when used appropriately and at suggested doses. As with all medications, more is not better and overdosing can lead to serious illness and death. Occasionally, an herb at the prescribed dose causes stomach upset or headache. This may reflect the purity of the preparation or added ingredients, such as synthetic binders or fillers. For this reason, it is recommended that only high-quality products be used.
The following herbs are often used to treat the symptoms of menopause. Be patient when using herbs. It may take 2 to 3 weeks to notice results.
- Blazing Star (Aletris farinosa) - Indicated for hot flashes and used as a female tonic.
- Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) - Indicated for hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, mood swings, and vaginal dryness.
- Chasteberry (Vitex agnus castus) - Indicated for frequent or heavy menses during perimenopause, hot flashes, and problems associated with hormonal changes. May protect against osteoporosis and reproductive cancers.
- Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) - Eastern medicine recommends this herb most often for menopausal women. Note: This herb may increase menstrual flow.
- Gingko (Gingko biloba) - Indicated for lack of mental clarity, faulty memory, and difficulty concentrating.
- Ginseng (Panax ginseng) - An adaptogen that has overall tonic effects on the body. Some herbalists suggest taking ginseng for 2 weeks, then dong quai for 4 weeks. The alternating pattern is repeated for up to 2 years or until the transition is complete.
- Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) - Helps support the adrenal glands, which produce low levels of sex hormones. Often used in combination with other herbs. Licorice may cause high blood pressure and water retention.
- Motherwort (Leonorus) - Indicated for hot flashes, anxiety, insomnia, sleep disturbances, depression, and water retention.
- Red clover (Trifolium praetense) - One of the richest sources of isoflavones. Can be used alone or with other herbs for menopausal symptoms.
- Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) - Used for centuries for female complaints. It regulates the ratio of progesterone to estrogen and is used to ease menopausal symptoms. Even though diosgenin obtained from wild yam is converted in a laboratory to estrogen and progesterone, there is no evidence that wild yam converts directly to these hormones in the human body.
Menopause & Exercise
Studies indicate that exercise and a balanced diet (as well as eliminating alcohol and caffeine) can reduce hot flashes in postmenopausal women. Exercise can substantially reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease in women. Physical exercise should include aerobic activity, strength building (resistive exercises), and flexibility exercises.