Hormones getting on top of you? Put down the HRT and take the natural route instead
Since the dawn of time all women, upon reaching a certain age, have experienced a halting of their menstrual cycle, and lived completely period-free for the rest of their days. Yet it seems now more than ever, rather than embracing this change, we’re told the menopause is something to ‘beat’, to battle through and endure, and when we fail, we are doomed to be popping hormone replacement therapy pills left right and centre.
A new survey by Maryon Stewart, an author, campaigner and expert in women’s hormone health (maryonstewart.com), found that many women report having a difficult time during the menopause, with problems seeping in to all areas of their lives. This suggests that not enough is being done to help us in this completely natural transition period. “Being 50 should be a cause for celebration,” says Marion. “Many women will have successfully navigated the major challenges in life such as career and family. They are at the peak of their powers, the height of their earning capacity and should feel confident about coping with life. Instead, we are seeing lost work days, a hit on the economy, relationships under strain and even breaking up and a whole cohort of women are living in misery.”
The problem, says Marion, is an unwillingness of the majority of healthcare specialists to recognise the severity of the issue and look beyond prescribing drugs. “A new more holistic approach to life is required to deal with the menopause and beyond. This survey clearly demonstrates that a significant number of menopausal women need help and yet have no effective relief other than pharmaceutical options – few GPs have the time or are knowledgeable about the natural approach to menopause including the importance of diet and yet nutritional deficiencies have a big impact on a person whether in menopause or beyond.”
We know that HRT comes with a cancer risk, so what can we do to naturally breeze through in good health?
It’s prescribed for women during pregnancy, but there’s evidence folic acid can improve hot flushes – 65 percent of the women in one study found they lessened when they took the nutrient.
And two weeks after stopping, all the women experienced a return of their symptoms.
Pycnogenol has shown some very promising results in recent studies. It’s an extract of French maritime pine bark, and has been found to decrease major menopause symptoms like fatigue, hot flushes, irregular periods and low mood. Helpfully, it’s also been found to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Magnesium is lacking in modern diets. Known as nature’s tranquiliser, this mineral helps to soothe the stress and anxiety women can experience during turbulent hormone years. If low mood is your issue, you might want to consider St John’s wort, which is a traditional herbal remedy that’s been found to improve quality of life for menopausal women and help them sleep better.
Make sure you are eating plenty of fibre from wholegrains like quinoa, brown rice, millet and oats. It helps with digestion and in keeping you regular – sluggish bowel movements can actually make menopausal symptoms worse. Cut out processed foods and focus on good fats which are needed for brain function and memory, joint health and to stop your skin appearing dry. Include avocados, olive oil and oily fish as much as you can. Interestingly, one study found that eating a lot of fish was the most important dietary change someone can make to delay the onset of menopause (while lifelong sun exposure seems to increase the risk of early menopause). Red wine has also been found to delay the onset of the perimenopause (the two to eight years before the actual menopause when symptoms can start). It’s thought that the compound resveratrol has oestrogen-like actions.
Including foods like soya milk, linseeds, tofu, miso and celery, sesame and pumpkin seeds, plus green beans and rhubarb, means you’ll be taking in plant oestrogens which bind to receptor sites in the body, and increase the overall level of oestrogen in your body, which can help keep things more in balance.
It’s also important to get enough of the amino acid tryptophan. It’s essential for your body to be able to make serotonin, the feel-good chemical. Find it in turkey, cottage cheese, oats and legumes.
Many women find their waistline expands when they enter the menopause, but it’s important to go the extra mile to prevent weight gain if you can. Not only will excess fat increase your risk of certain diseases like cancer, a recent study found obesity can make menopause symptoms a whole lot worse. Researchers in Brazil found that women who gained weight during the postmenopause period had increased vasomotor symptoms – which means hot flushes and night sweats.
Throwing shapes on the yoga mat might be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re boiling up and suffering sleep deprivation, but it could be just what your body needs. A review from the University of Washington showed that many of the troublesome symptoms suffered by menopausal women, such as poor sleep, hot flashes, lack of concentration and feeling pain more can all be improved with regular yoga practice. If you’ve never been to a class, have a google to find some in your local area. You’ll meet like-minded people, which leads to our final point…
Maintain female friendships
We really do get by with a little help from our friends according to a study from the University of Michigan. Mood swings and low feelings caused by hormone disruption can make you feel less like socialising, but researchers say it can help us feel better. One theory is that a fall in the level of love hormone oxytocin is what makes women feel low. Emotional closeness between female friends boosts the level of the hormone progesterone in the body, which in turn reduces anxiety and stress. So pick up the phone and arrange a get-together!
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