Managing the Symptoms of Menopause
There is no way to avoid the onset of menopause, but you can certainly fight it. Learn how to recognize and manage the symptoms of this common condition.
Managing the Symptoms of Menopause
Throughout perimenopause and menopause, the levels of estrogen and progesterone in your body fluctuate as your ovaries try to keep up with your normal levels of hormone production. This fluctuation is what causes symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, sleep problems, bone loss, problems concentrating and others.
- Phytoestrogens are plant-derived hormones that can partially reverse the hormonal changes that occur due to menopause. Black cohosh extract is perhaps the most well-studied in this category. Soy-based foods also contain high phytoestrogens, so eating lots of tofu and soy sauce can be helpful. Other supplements in this category include wild yam, dong quai, licorice, and red clover.
- Exercise eases hot flashes by lowering the amount of circulating follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Aim for at least 20 minutes, three times a week.
- Acupuncture and acupressure have been shown to limit hot flashes for some women.
- Black currant oil is extraordinarily high in vitamin C and is also rich in many other nutrients. It can greatly ease breast tenderness.
- Evening primrose oil is used in some European countries to ease breast pain.
- Flaxseed (not flaxseed oil) has been shown in preliminary studies to reduce breast pain.
- Although it has some negative side effects, testosterone replacement can be effective in reducing severe breast pain.
Irritability, Mood Swings, and Depression
- In extensive studies done in Europe, St. John's Wort has been shown to be highly effective in treating mild-to-moderate depression. Other supplements that have shown some success in treating menopause-related mood disorders include garden sage, ginseng, black cohosh, and dong quai.
- For some women, yoga practice or meditation can be a great source of calm and balance. It can reduce stress and improve mood, and may also positively affect the endocrine system.
- Lifestyle changes like reducing alcohol and caffeine use and adding more fruit and vegetables to your diet can help stabilize your mood.
- Phytoestrogens (as discussed in Slide #2) can partially reverse the changes in your cholesterol caused by the hormonal changes associated with menopause.
- Regular exercise and a low-fat, low-calorie diet are the best ways to keep your cholesterol in check. Most importantly, eliminate foods high in animal fat from your diet and try to get 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three times a week.
Insomnia and Sleep Problems
- Practicing good sleep hygiene is always the first step to better sleep. Check out this slideshow of 7 simple steps to sleeping better.
- Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain that helps control circadian rhythms (sleep/wake patterns). It's a proven, effective over-the-counter treatment option for insomnia.
- Several studies suggest that valerian improves the quality of sleep and reduces the time it takes to fall asleep, especially for short-term use. Chamomile tea can calm your nerves before bedtime. Other potentially effective supplements include passion flower and motherwort.
Problems Concentrating and Memory Loss
- Ginkgo biloba has been used medicinally for thousands of years, and modern science has shown that it is highly effective in treating problems of loss of memory and dementia. Other recommended herbal supplements include sage and ginseng.
- Taking up a mind-exercising hobby such as sudoku, crosswords, puzzles, or model-building can help keep your mind sharp and active.
- Lifestyle changes, such as decreased alcohol and caffeine intake, eating more fruits and vegetables, and getting regular exercise can also help.
- Over-the-counter lubricants such as KY Jelly and Astroglide can be used prior to sexual intercourse. Others, like Replens, are meant to be applied on a daily basis.
- Sesame-seed oil, which can be bought at the supermarket, can be used a topical ointment to ease dryness.
- Vaginal estrogen cream and sustained-release vaginal estrogen rings both deliver low doses of estrogen to the inside of the vagina. Estrogen can be very effective in treating dryness, but can have negative side effects.
Bone Loss and Osteoporosis
- The first step in preventing menopause-related bone loss is to increase the amount of calcium and vitamin C in your diet. Check out these 10 bone-building recipes that are packed these two supplements.
- There are a number of prescription medications for bone loss: Bisphosphonates (such as Fosamax) are a new class of non-hormonal drug that can slow bone breakdown. Calcitonin is a hormone administered via nasal spray that slows bone breakdown. Some selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) have been shown to effectively treat bone conditions associated with menopause. Talk to your doctor to learn if any of these drugs are right for you.
Loss of Libido
- Non-medical treatment strategies like using erotic materials or lubricants, sensual massage, kegel exercises, or therapy can all be effective in increasing your libido.
- Though not well studied, the herb yohimbine (yohimbe bark extract) is believed by some to increase vaginal blood flow and boost female libido.
- Menopause often causes women's bodies to stop producing testosterone, a hormone that is believed to be important in the formation of sexual desires and drive. To combat lowered testosterone in the body, testosterone replacement therapy is sometimes used to treat sexual arousal disorders. However, it can have serious side effects, so consult with your doctor.
- Kegel exercises strengthen the pubococcygeal (or "pelvic floor") muscle. These exercises can greatly improve urethral control. Learn more about Kegel exercises.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, particularly coffee, which can over-stimulate your bladder. Avoid spicy foods, which can also cause bladder issues.
- A pessary is a ring made of rubber, plastic, or silicone, which you insert inside your vagina, above the bone. Pessaries help keep your organs in proper alignment and decrease leakage.
HRT: Is It Right For Me?
Hormone replacement therapy (or "HRT") is essentially a regimen of medications containing female hormones to replace those that the body no longer makes after menopause. Usually it includes estrogen and progestin (a man-made version of progesterone). Because the symptoms of menopause are caused by fluctuating hormone levels, HRT is very effective at easing nearly every menopausal symptom.
For years, HRT was the standard treatment for these symptoms. Recently, however, clinical trials have shown that HRT poses some serious health risks – it can increase your risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke. So is HRT right for you? Find out.