Menopause symptoms, much like PMS, cramps, and other "female issues" are some of the most frequently overlooked and underappreciated symptoms in modern medicine. Throughout our lives, women are taught that any symptoms we experience that are associated with our reproductive systems are to be expected and are "nothing out of the ordinary." This disregard for our suffering often makes us feel hopeless, confused, and betrayed by our own bodies, and it is a reality that follows us into menopause.
Can't sleep more than 2 hours in a row because you are waking up all night with drenching hot flashes? We are told that's normal. Having mood swings so severe that you're laughing one minute and crying the next? To be expected. Fatigue, precipitous drop in libido, vaginal dryness, joint pain, urinary incontinence, brain fog, anxiety, weight gain, headaches, hair loss, and osteoporosis? All par for the course!
As a naturopathic doctor, I am always interested in discovering the root cause of all my clients' symptoms. When it comes to those associated with menopause, especially hot flashes, the research clearly shows that the culprit is rapidly declining levels of two female hormones: estrogen and progesterone. While we are still unsure as to why "estrogen withdrawal" causes hot flashes, we know that supporting estrogen and progesterone levels after menopause helps alleviate symptoms. Therefore, there are two routes that are available to us for hormone support.
Conventional medicine advocates for the use of hormone replacement therapy, which consists of the female hormones estrogen and/or progesterone in a pill, cream, or patch. Depending on the individual, hormone replacement therapy can be very effective at reducing menopause symptoms, especially hot flashes and night sweats. However, an aversion to taking exogenous hormones or worries about the risks associated results in many women seeking an alternative and more holistic approach to beat the heat.
Supporting hormone production naturally means that rather than use a pharmaceutical intervention to replace missing hormones, we use diet, exercise, stress management, and plant-derived hormone mimickers called "phytoestrogens" and other herbs to encourage a woman's body to maintain adequate hormone levels on her own. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruit, lean meat, and healthy fats and eliminates gluten, dairy, and refined sugar will reduce inflammation and increase the body's ability to cope with stress. Stress management is an ESSENTIAL component of any menopause intervention plan due to a process called "the pregnenolone steal," which I will cover in the next article. Phytoestrogens are a group of chemical compounds derived from plants, especially plants like soy and flax. These molecules effectively mimic estrogen in the human body, and when consumed in adequate amounts, can provide significant relief from symptoms associated with low estrogen levels.
I believe the key ingredient in the naturopathic approach to women's health is EMPOWERMENT. Feeling out control, trapped, or helpless in one's own body, at the mercy of symptoms that are poorly understood or taken too lightly by medical professionals is one of the most devastating experiences a woman can have. It is my sincere desire to empower all of my clients by spending the time to explain how lifestyle changes can so effectively improve overall health. Every woman deserves to feel strong, free, and happy in her own body.
If you are suffering from symptoms associated with menopause, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! The vast majority of my female clients over the age of 50 suffer from some degree of hot flashes or night sweats, and there ARE options besides hormone replacement therapy for getting long term relief from the heat. Click the link below to learn more about my approach to female hormone imbalances, and stay tuned for more articles in this series!
Natural Strategies for Balancing Female Hormones