15 ways to manage the menopause naturally
The transition to menopause can be challenging, especially for women who don’t want to take HRT. Thankfully there are all-natural alternatives that can help alleviate symptoms. Our reporter rounds up the experts to find out how to manage the menopause naturally.
1 EAT MORE PHYTOESTROGENS
Nutritionist and women’s health expert, Dr Marilyn Glenville, advises menopausal women to add phytoestrogens — plant-based compounds that act like oestrogen in the body — to their daily diets. “Contrary to popular opinion, phytoestrogens do not increase the risk of breast cancer or disrupt hormones,” she says. “They only stimulate certain oestrogen receptors in the body and are perfectly safe to include regularly in your diet.”
Phytoestrogens are found in foods like fermented soy (some tofu, tempeh, miso), flaxseeds, legumes (lentils, chickpeas etc), fennel, garlic and parsley.
For a quick snack, Dr Glenville suggests hummus and oatcakes. Alternatively, try adding some flaxseeds to a smoothie or grating fennel bulb over a salad.
2 CONSIDER HERBAL MEDICINE
Cork-based herbalist Kelli O’Halloran (www.kelliohalloran.com) says most menopausal women are familiar with herbs like black cohosh and sage as over-the-counter remedies, but they tend to overlook tailor-made herbal treatment plans, which can be especially effective during the perimenopause.
“This is the period of transition, when the ovaries ready themselves and their hormone production for retirement,” she explains. “This change rarely goes unnoticed and will follow an unpredictable and individual path over many years.”
“A medical herbalist can safely prescribe alongside any other medications you are taking. Keep a diet and symptom diary, gather any recent blood tests and bring these along to your appointment.”
3 KEEP CALM WITH ESSENTIAL OILS
Essential oils – either used topically or in a diffuser – are powerful allies during the menopause. Lavender and Roman chamomile oil can reduce stress and aid relaxation, peppermint oil can help cool the body during a hot flush and clary sage and thyme oil naturally regulate hormones.
4 PUT YOURSELF FIRST
Aisling Grimley, the founder of MySecondSpring.ie, advises women to start putting themselves first during the menopause.
“Is life a series of rushed tasks with other people’s agendas as top priority? Would it help to take a pause, make some notes and then make plans to ensure that the second half of life is in tip-top condition in terms of your health and happiness,” she asks. “For me, that reboot has been setting up My Second Spring and also swimming in the sea once a week, all year around. Another Second Springer has revisited her creative writing which was put on hold for many years for many reasons. Between troublesome symptoms, many of us discover new or hidden parts of ourselves. Menopause could be your wake-up call.”
5 TAKE A VITAMIN E SUPPLEMENT
A study of 51 menopausal women by researchers at Tarbiat Modarres University in Tehran, Iran, found that taking a vitamin E softgel of 400 IU daily for four weeks reduced the severity and frequency of hot flushes. There is also evidence that it may help relieve vaginal dryness. Vitamin E is naturally occurring in foods such as almonds, spinach, avocado, sweet potato and wheat germ.
6 REFRAME YOUR PERSPECTIVE
Try not to fixate on the negative side-effects of the menopause — shifting your focus to the positive aspects of the transition can make the symptoms much more manageable. While some post-menopausal women report less interest in sex, just as many report an increased libido. Others report more self-focus and increased energy. Instead of bemoaning hot flushes, look out for authors like women’s health expert Christiane Northrup, who points out that menopausal women “become far more intuitive, are no longer satisfied with the status quo and find their voice in a different way”.
7 GIVE ACUPUNCTURE A GO
Scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center discovered that the frequency of hot flushes can be reduced by almost 50pc in half of perimenopausal and postmenopausal women after eight weeks of acupuncture treatment.
“Women bothered by hot flushes and night sweats may want to give acupuncture a try as a relatively low-cost, low-risk treatment,” said Nancy Avis, the lead author of the study. “Women will know pretty quickly if acupuncture will work for them.”
8 DO A DOWN-DOG
A small study that appeared in the journal Menopause last year found that just 10 minutes of light yoga each day can alleviate menopausal symptoms.
“Kundalini yoga and meditation can be particularly helpful for staying centred during the transition through menopause,” says Dublin-based Kundalini yoga teacher Deirdre McGrath of Deva Healing Arts (www.devahealingarts.com). “Hot flushes, moodiness, weight gain, night sweats and sleep disturbances commonly improve with regular practice of specific Kundalini sets.”
9 KEEP A HOT FLuSH DIARY
Hot flush triggers include caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, spicy food and external heat sources, yet all women experience these triggers differently. The best way to identify your personal triggers is to keep a hot-flush diary. Detailing your daily activities and food intake will help you discover where you need to make lifestyle changes.
10 PRACTISE MINDFULNESS
A study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School found that eight weekly 2.5-hour mindfulness classes, focussing on body awareness, meditation and stretching, helped reduce the severity of menopausal women’s hot flushes by 40pc. Participants in the study also slept better and rated the quality of their life as higher.
11 TRY MACA
A 2008 study that appeared in the journal Menopause found that the adaptogenic Peruvian root vegetable, maca, can boost the mood of menopausal women, and decrease levels of anxiety and depression after six weeks. The women also noticed an improvement in their sexual libido.
Maca can be found in powder format in good health shops and added to smoothies — just use it sparingly as it tastes quite bitter.
12 EXERCISE REGULARLY
Numerous studies show that women who lead sedentary lives tend to have more severe menopausal symptoms. Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Granada in Spain discovered that a supervised 20-week exercise program can help menopausal women manage their hot flushes. The study participants also noted significant improvements in their blood pressure and cardiovascular fitness.
13 ESTABLISH HEALTHY SLEEP HABITS
The menopause can wreak havoc on a woman’s sleep schedule. To get a better night’s sleep, The Sleep Foundation advises menopausal women to avoid large meals, especially before bedtime, and maintain a regular, normal weight. They also suggest that women wear lightweight sleepwear, avoid heavy, insulating blankets and consider using a fan or air conditioning to cool the air and increase air circulation.
14 EXPLORE AYURVEDA
Writing in Woman’s Best Medicine for Menopause, Ayurvedic practitioner Dr Nancy Lonsdorf explains that hot flushes follow a daily pattern and tend to peak in most women in the late evening hours around 10pm.
“Ayurvedically, this time of the night is the start of ‘pitta’ time (10 pm-2am), so one would expect this to be the time when pitta becomes active in the body as well. To keep pitta from flaring up, therefore, you have to learn to consciously cool down during the evening. Take time to relax, physically, mentally and emotionally. Drink some cooling pitta tea or rose petal preserve in cool milk. In general, avoid always working under deadlines or time pressure. Do not overwork. Prioritise, delegate, simplify — whatever it takes to ensure that you can get through your day without constantly being stretched.”
15 DON’T ASSUME THAT IT SIGNALS THE END OF YOUR SEX LIFE
“It is a common misconception that sexual desire and activity inevitably decrease at menopause. Although this is true for some women, it certainly doesn’t have to be the truth for all,” says Dr Christiane Northrup.
She advises women to look at sexual dysfunction from every point of view before they attribute it to the menopause. “Determining the cause of sexual problems can be difficult,” she adds. “Sometimes, menopause-related hormone deficiency is to blame. But sexual function is a complex, integrated phenomenon that reflects the physical health of not only the ovaries and hormone balance, but also the cardiovascular system, the brain, the spinal cord and the peripheral nerves.
“In addition, there are almost always underlying psychological, sociocultural, interpersonal and biological influences that affect individual sexual function.”
Health & Living