Recently we have seen news stories about two common methods of treating menopausal symptoms: Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and black cohosh, an herbal treatment used widely as a substitute for HRT. Concerns about the safety of HRT have been heightened by a study that found a 15% drop in breast cancer rates in the 18 months after many women stopped taking HRT because of concerns about its safety. Another widely reported study found little improvement when women experiencing hot flashes were treated with black cohosh.
There is a wide range of symptoms associated with menopause; they include hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, loss of interest in sex, and mood swings. Heart disease and osteoporosis become more prevalent in postmenopausal women.
Scientists are constantly researching various medications, treatments, herbal preparations, nutritional strategies, and physical activity options to find safe and effective ways to make the menopause years comfortable, active and sexy. Here are nine options:
1. Soy can be used as a safe alternative to hormone therapy. Research has shown that soy protein can decrease the intensity and frequency of hot flashes and other symptoms, and can benefit the heart and bones. To be effective, most women need 100-160 grams of soy isoflavones (one type of phytoestrogen) per day, which translates to 2-4 servings of soymilk (1 cup), tofu (1/2 cup), tempeh (1/2 cup), edamame (1/2 cup), or soy nuts (three handfuls) per day. One easy way to eat soy is powdered soy protein that can be mixed with water, milk, or juice.
2. Flaxseed is an excellent source of fiber, Omega 3 fats, and lignins, (the other type of phytoestrogen) which act as cancer and heart disease preventatives. Golden flaxseed is the tastiest variety and can be bought in bulk at natural food stores or in bags in grocery stores. To use flax seed, grind cup and add to yogurt, cereal, and smoothies. Flaxseed oil and capsules can also be helpful, but these forms contain no fiber. Flaxseed should be refrigerated because the Omega 3 fats are highly perishable.
3. ERr 731 is a special extract of Rhubarb that reduced the frequency and severity of hot flashes in perimenopausal women. The women in the group receiving ERr 731 reported an average of 5.5 fewer hot flashes per day and an improved quality of life.
4. Genistein is an isoflavone found in soy and in other plants. Two recent studies have indicated that genistein may be effective in reducing hot flashes safely. In a 2004 study, participants received 54 mg. Genistein daily.
5. Take care of your adrenal glands. The adrenals produce the hormone Cortisol in stressful situations. Cortisol can increase blood pressure and blood sugar and suppress the immune system. When stress is prolonged, the adrenals have a difficult time keeping up with the demand placed upon them. After menopause, the adrenals become the main source of sex hormones, increasing the demand even further. It is important to minimize stress, either by avoiding stressful situations when possible, or by not allowing situations to bother you. Meditation, physical activity, breathing exercises, and yoga are good stress relievers. Nutrition support includes vitamins C and B-Complex. Kelp and seaweed can also support the adrenals. Limiting sugar and alcohol, both of which can deplete the adrenal glands, can also help. .
6. Regular Exercise is important for everyone, especially for perimenopausal or postmenopausal women. Weight-bearing aerobic activity strengthens the heart and lungs, and helps prevent bone loss. Yoga and Tai Chi can improve flexibility and balance. Weight training can replace lost muscle mass. Physical activity can improve your mood and raise your metabolism. There isn’t a system in the human body that doesn’t directly benefit from regular physical activity. The Surgeon General recommends hour of activity daily (more if you want to lose or control weight).
7. Calcium and Vitamin D. It is important for postmenopausal women to pay attention to bone health and the best way to do so is by consuming enough calcium which is found in dairy products, sardines, leafy vegetables, fortified orange juice, tofu, and dried beans. Dairy is the most efficient means of getting calcium, but vegans or persons with lactose intolerance can try the other sources listed above. Calcium absorption is aided by Vitamin D. Postmenopausal women should take 1,200 mg. Calcium and 400 units of Vitamin D daily. Calcium supplements should be taken with food to improve absorption. It is also best to split doses because the body has a hard tome absorbing more than 500 mg. at a time.
8. Be kind to your heart. Post-menopausal women have a higher risk of heart disease than younger women. You can improve those odds by taking some preventive measures including regular physical activity, not smoking, avoiding second-hand smoke, avoiding trans-fats in food, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, eating whole grains, practicing meditation, and being socially involved.
9. Acupuncture treatments, when used on body points specific to menopausal symptoms, has been found to be effective in reducing the number of hot flashes, mood disturbances, and sleep problems.