Going through the menopause? Discover the best natural remedies to ease symptoms.
Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can occur earlier in your 30s or later in your 60s.
The symptoms and severity of symptoms vary, but common ones include irregular vaginal bleeding, hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness/itching/irritation, muscle/joint pain, fatigue, mood swings and memory problems.
Jenny Bodenham, nutritional therapist at Higher Nature comments: “Menopause is considered to have occurred when a whole year has passed without menstruation. The transitional phase leading up to the menopause is called the peri-menopause during which time a variety of symptoms can be experienced due to changing hormone levels. Common menopausal symptoms may include hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, depression, aches and pains, vaginal dryness, mood swings and reduced memory.”
To relieve these symptoms women are often offered hormone replacement therapy to increase the levels of oestrogen and progesterone that the body is no longer able to make. However, there are many natural remedies and supplements available on the market that can help manage the menopause, either entirely or alongside medication.
“Menopause is a natural part of the ageing process, by adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle and implementing the necessary strategies to support the body throughout this transitional period it doesn’t have to be a negative experience,” advises Chris Newbold, Head of Clinical Nutrition at BioCare.
He suggests eating healthily, taking up exercise and swapping sugary snacks for fruit and nuts: “A well-balanced diet is essential during the menopause to help the body to adapt to the hormonal changes that are taking place. Eat phytoestrogen rich foods daily, such as soya milk, yoghurts and desserts, pulses like chickpeas, soya and linseed bread. Do daily exercise, moderate activity such as cycling and walking are important for keeping weight under control.
“Avoid foods and drinks that are likely to trigger or worsen hot flushes, such as coffee, alcohol and spicy foods, particularly at night. Try to swap the sugary snacking foods for fresh fruit and nuts, sugary foods can cause a quick rise in blood glucose followed by a rapid dip, resulting in feeling fatigued and drained. “
Alison Cullen, nutritional therapist and education manager at A.Vogel, recommends taking up weight-bearing exercises and drinking plenty of water: “Keep bones strong with weight-bearing exercise and stay well hydrated to avoid skin dryness.”
She also suggests eating a diet rich on wholefoods and avoiding caffeine: “As oestrogen levels fall, digestive processes can become less efficient. This can cause sluggish bowels, bloating and wind, not to mention nausea and sugar cravings. Eating with attention and care, rather than rushing around with a sandwich in one hand and a to do list in the other, will pay dividends. Eating wholefoods rather than refined or processed foods will ensure good supplies of nutrients to stabilise the nervous system (magnesium and B vitamins), as well as supporting the whole body through the changes to come.
“Moving away from caffeine takes pressure off the nervous system, helps with fluid balance and prevents magnesium being robbed unnecessarily from the body. Caffeine also contributes to an increase in acidity in the bloodstream, which is unhelpful for maintaining bone density. Keeping up levels of healthy fats by eating nuts, seeds, avocadoes and oily fish helps reduce skin dryness.”
Bodenham recommends increasing your intake of plant oestrogens and omega-3: “Including plant oestrogens, such as flax seeds, chickpeas, lentils and wholegrains may aid in hormone balance. Increasing the brassica vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels and kale have also been shown to be of great use. Keep saturated fats in red meat, fried and processed foods low.
“Oily fish rich in omega-3 should ideally be eaten three times a week. Avoiding alcohol, spices and caffeine may assist in the reduction of symptoms such as hot flushes and adopting a low GI diet, avoiding refined and sugary foods may also reduce blood sugar imbalances.”
The symptoms of menopause occur due to the imbalance of hormones, but there are a number of supplements that can help.
Bodenham recommends Mexican yam, black cohosh, soya isoflavones and omega-3: “There are a number of plants containing phytoestrogens that have traditionally been used at the menopause because of their balancing effect on female hormones. These include Mexican yam, black cohosh and fermented soya isoflavones. They are thought to help modify the effects of insufficient or excess oestrogen in the body bringing it more into balance and producing some relief from typical menopausal symptoms.
“The omega-3 essential fatty acids found in fish oils and flaxseeds may also provide some relief as they maintain the flexibility of cell membranes and are pre-cursors to locally produced hormones which help to keep them at normal levels. Studies have also found that omega-3 essential fatty acids have a protective effect on our brain neurotransmitters helping with low mood.”
Newbold suggests supplementing with hops and indole-3-carbinol to help restore hormone balance: “Hops contain flavonoids which helps to balance oestrogen levels. Indole-3-carbinol from cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli actively promote the breakdown of excess damaging oestrogen.”
To help combat tiredness, Newbold recommends magnesium: “Magnesium contributes to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue, reduces hot flushes and promotes relaxation.”
“Magnesium is also brilliant for supporting the nervous system, reducing muscle tension and ensuring calcium absorption,” comments Cullen.
If you suffer from hot flushes, Newbold suggests trying vitamin E: “It reduces symptoms relating to constriction of blood vessels such as hot flushes, palpitations and poor circulation.”
Cullen suggests trying sage: “The most popular herbal remedy is Sage extract, as it reduces hot flushes and night sweats very effectively without interfering with hormone levels.”
For those in need of adrenal support nutrients such as magnesium, vitamin C, B5 and tyrosine are all important. The herbs rhodiola and ginseng help the adrenals to cope with stress.
For bone health, Bodenham comments: “Calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, silicon, boron and zinc are all essential for bone health. Collagen and vitamin C also have an important role in bone structure. Vitamin K2 and soy isoflavones show a protective mechanism against the loss of bone mineral density.”