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As we age, we can look back on how we’ve navigated love, career, and family and feel pretty accomplished… as we should! Yet as we get into our fifth decade (or sometimes earlier), another challenge awaits. Menopause. And all that comes with it!
I’m always looking for ways to prepare for that stage of life when it comes, so I asked SteadyMD functional medicine doctor Lauren Jefferis to break down some natural remedies for menopause symptoms and how set the stage for optimal health.
Over to Dr. Lauren…
Menopause has been referred to as the “change of life”, and it can be stressful for a lot of women… to say the least. I’m here to tell you you’re not alone and you don’t have to “just deal with it.” Below are some simple tips on how to help navigate through menopause naturally.
How to Know If You’re in Menopause
By definition, menopause is the absence of periods for 12 months. It occurs on average at the age of 51. The menopausal transition, or perimenopause, begins on average 4 years before the final menstrual period, and can last up to 10 years!
Why does it happen?
As our child-bearing years come to an end, our ovaries stop producing estrogen, and as a result, there are a number of physiological changes that may negatively impact a woman’s quality of life. Virtually all women experience hormonal fluctuations prior to menopause. As hormone levels decrease, a number of symptoms of menopause can start to present themselves.
The symptoms and severity of menopause side effects vary greatly for each woman. In fact, in one study, up to 84% of women said their symptoms interfere with their lives. Twelve percent said menopause symptoms interfered “ a great deal” or were debilitating.
Sound depressing? I’m not finished yet…
The most common symptoms of menopause are:
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings, depression, or anxiety
- Vaginal dryness or atrophy
- Insomnia or poor sleep
These are the most common menopause side effects, but there are other clues to look for. Other possible signs of menopause include:
- Irregular periods: As perimenopause begins, periods can come and go, and get heavier or lighter at times. This can sometimes continue for several years during menopause
- Night sweats
- Loss of sex drive
- Dry skin and hair
- Joint pain
- Brain fog or trouble with memory and concentration
- Bloating or weight gain around the abdomen or inability to lose weight
- Facial hair growth
- Changes in the uterus, ovaries, and cervix
- Going to the bathroom more often
While menopause and the hormonal changes that come with it are natural, these changes don’t have to negatively impact your life. Now for the hopeful part!
Natural Remedies for Menopause Symptoms
Here are some ways you can do to help ease the transition naturally for a healthy menopause.
Eat Foods High in Phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring plant compounds that can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. Fortunately, these foods can help alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause.
Simply eating more plant foods such as legumes, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, if tolerated, can offer some relief, as they contain hormone-balancing plant chemicals known as phytoestrogens. Ground flaxseed also contains phytoestrogens and have been shown in studies to reduce hot flashes. The isoflavones in whole soy foods can help balance hormone levels and have some mild estrogenic activity, which can also help reduce hot flashes.
Choose natural non-GMO options made from whole soybeans, such as tofu, edamame, roasted soy nuts, or tempeh, rather than supplements. (If you have a history of breast cancer, talk to your doctor to see if phytoestrogens are safe for you.)
Avoid Foods That Make Menopause Worse
Caffeine, alcohol, fatty meats, and sugary or spicy foods may trigger hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and other menopause symptoms. Everyone is unique when it comes to food intolerances, and different foods may affect women differently. One of the best ways to know what may be triggering your symptoms is to start an elimination diet such as Whole 30.
I recommend keeping a food journal to keep a record of how certain foods affect your personal symptoms. It’s best to work closely with your doctor to help guide you through any dietary changes.
Herbs and Supplements for Menopause
It’s hard to get everything our body needs just from our diet. There are a variety of herbs and supplements that can help hormonal balance even during this transitional time. Below are some supplements with clinical evidence showing they help reduce menopause symptoms.
- 5-HTP is a supplement that helps the body to produce more serotonin which can help with mood, stress, pain, and appetite control. Low serotonin levels may also trigger hot flashes—so raising serotonin levels may help reduce a woman’s risk for hot flashes.
- Black cohosh (Cumicifuga racemosa) is one of the best-studied traditional herbs which has been shown in numerous studies to relieve a multitude of menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations, and depression.
- Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) is known for its ability to support and maintain the natural balance of female hormones. If you are experiencing heavy bleeding, you should not be taking this herb for menopause. It does not have estrogenic activity.
- Vitamin E can help alleviate symptoms of hot flashes in some menopausal women. I recommend a daily dose of 400 IUs of natural vitamin E (as mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols).
- Evening primrose oil or black currant oil are both sources of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid that can help influence prostaglandin synthesis and help moderate menopausal symptoms.
Avoid Environmental Toxins
While natural sources of phytoestrogens can help with menopausal symptoms, synthetic estrogens known as xenoestrogens can actually worsen them.
Environmental toxins are a significant source of xenoestrogens and can enter our food supply through pesticides, herbicides, and plastics. Hormones used in commercial livestock and milk production also increase exposure to environmental estrogens. These synthetic estrogens can be “hormone disruptors” and can worsen hormonal imbalances. Eating organic and non-GMO as much as possible can help reduce these effects.
Drink Enough Water!
During menopause, women often experience dryness and bloating. This is likely caused by the decrease in estrogen levels.
Drinking 8–12 glasses of water a day can help with these symptoms as well as reduce bloating.
In addition, water can help prevent weight gain and aid in weight loss by helping you feel full and temporarily increasing metabolism. According to a recent study, drinking 17 oz (500 ml) of water, 30 minutes before a meal may lead you to consume 13% fewer calories during the meal.
Weight gain is common during menopause for several reasons: hormones, aging, lifestyle, and genetics. Gaining excess body fat, especially around the waist may affect your menopause symptoms and increase your risk of developing diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Diet plays a significant role in weight loss (I like to say abs are made in the kitchen!), but keeping active has major benefits to reducing menopause symptoms. Whether it’s walking, yoga or running marathons, pick something that works for you and your lifestyle! Staying active at any age can:
- reduce stress
- increase energy levels
- prevent muscle loss that normally occurs during menopause
My best advice is to focus on your overall health and not just the number on the scale. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help you look and feel your absolute best during menopause and beyond.
How to Deal With (& Reduce) Hot Flashes
If you are suffering from mild hot flashes (hot flashes that do not interfere with usual activities) usually you do not need to take medication. There are several practical things you can do to reduce the number of hot flashes:
- lowering room temperature
- using fans
- dressing in layers of clothing that can be easily shed
- avoiding triggers (such as spicy foods and stressful situations)
- using a ChiliPad on your mattress
Most women do well with the simple steps described above. Others may try the complementary and alternative therapies described below. Several other approaches are either ineffective, not widely available, or more appropriate as a back-up option for women with severe symptoms
- weight loss
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- vitamin E
Some clinicians recommend vitamin E to women with mild hot flashes because it is well tolerated at low doses and not associated with toxicity. In one report, vitamin E and placebo were associated with reductions in hot flash frequencies of 32 and 29 percent, respectively, a marginal difference that is not clinically important.
Conclusion: Natural Remedies for Menopause
These are just a few of the many natural strategies to help navigate menopause symptoms without prescription medications. Menopause symptoms can be difficult to deal with, but eating the right diet and exercising regularly may help alleviate and even prevent them. These symptoms are not something you have to “just deal with” and relief is just around the corner. Start with some of the changes mentioned above and work with your doctor to find the best solution for you.
If you’re interested in natural ways to improve your menopause symptoms, I highly recommend working with a healthcare professional, specifically a provider who has a holistic and natural approach to helping you navigate perimenopause and menopause!
Have you found natural remedies for menopause that worked for you? Share below!
About the Author:
Dr. Lauren Jefferis, MD is board certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and has been practicing for almost 20 years. After successfully reversing her own autoimmune disease through dietary changes (including Whole30), she was inspired to pursue a career in functional medicine. She completed her functional medicine training at the Chris Kresser Institute for Functional Medicine in 2017 and is uniquely positioned to combine her traditional and functional clinical experience to help prevent or reverse chronic disease by focusing on lifestyle choices.
Dr. Jefferis is now accepting patients across the country through SteadyMD, an online service that pairs you with a doctor that’s right for you and your health concerns, dietary preferences, and lifestyle — not just someone who happens to be local. Plus, each doctor sees a limited number of patients, so they have more time to really get to know you and help you get to the root cause of your symptoms.