Menopause is a natural change in a woman’s reproductive cycle, marked by the end of menstruation and fertility. It tends to take place between the ages of 49 and 52 and is defined by medical professionals as having occurred when a woman has not experienced a period in one full year.
This transition is a normal part of aging. Women are born with a finite supply of eggs in their ovaries, and these are responsible for producing and regulating estrogen and progesterone in the body. As your supply of eggs dwindles, your body gradually creates less and less of these hormones.
While menopause is a biological process – and is not a disease or disorder that requires treatment – the symptoms of menopause can be quite uncomfortable. Many women experience hot flashes, changes in mood, sleep disturbances, vaginal dryness, decreased libido, and night sweats in the time just before menopause begins (perimenopause) through to menopause, and even during the postmenopausal period. On average, it can take one to three years to pass all three stages.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was, at one time, a popular treatment to avoid these bothersome symptoms. It works by replenishing estrogen and progesterone levels in the body to prevent symptoms from occurring. Though it was effective in this regard, a 2002 Women’s Health Initiative study found this treatment also increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, and ovarian cancer. Use of HRT dropped drastically in the wake of the study, leading women to seek other ways to curb symptoms without the risks or adverse effects.
Fortunately, there are natural options available to help ease this transition without putting your health and wellbeing at risk…
Isoflavones are a class of plant-derived compounds that exert an estrogenic effect in mammals. Since soybeans are the richest source of isoflavones, hundreds of scientific studies have been published to ascertain the effects of soy on menopausal symptoms.
The most commonly experienced aspect of menopause are hot flashes and night sweats, which can persist for up to 11 years. With a focus on relief from hot flashes, a meta-analysis of 277 publications reviewed the findings of soy isoflavones on the frequency and severity of hot flashes. Its authors found that consuming an average of 54 mg of soy per day offered a significant reduction in the duration and intensity of hot flashes.
Soy foods also provide protection against breast and uterine cancer, helps increase bone mass to prevent osteoporosis, reduces the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, and may help ward off cognitive decline.
The richest food sources of isoflavones are soy protein, soybeans, tempeh, tofu, miso, and soy milk. Alternatively, you can take a soy isoflavones supplement each day.
2. Black Cohosh
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) is a flowering perennial plant native to North America. It has long been used as a remedy by Native Americans to treat pain, inflammation, depression, and sleep disturbances, as well as gynecological conditions like menstrual cramps, after-birth pain, and menopause.
Numerous studies have been conducted that have shown very positive results in using black cohosh as a remedy for menopausal symptoms. In one such study, published in 2003, menopausal women were given 40 mg of black cohosh root each day for 12 weeks. Compared with the group prescribed conjugated estrogen (a mixture of estrogen hormones), black cohosh was just as effective in alleviating hot flashes, sleep disturbances, depressed mood, irritability, and vaginal dryness. But unlike conjugated estrogen, women who took black cohosh did not experience a thickening of the lining of the uterus – a complication of taking estrogen therapies that increases the risk of endometrial cancer.
Unlike soy isoflavones, black cohosh is not a phytoestrogen. Rather, this herb is believed to exert its action through serotonin receptors in the brain to relieve hot flashes and boost mood. Because it doesn’t increase estrogen levels in the body, it is considered to be a safe treatment for breast cancer survivors.
Black cohosh root can be taken as a daily supplement, which can be purchased here.
The seeds of the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum) are a good source of fiber, protein, omega-3 fats, manganese, phosphorus, copper, selenium, and vitamin B1. Similar to soy, it contains estrogenic properties that can help soothe the difficulties of menopause.
A 2015 study that compared the effects of flaxseed with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and found that menopausal women who took 5 grams of flaxseed daily for 3 months had a similar reduction in symptoms as the HRT group. It was observed that the women preferred flaxseed over HRT due to the lack of side effects. The study also concluded that the flaxseed group experienced an increase in mental and physical health scores over the trial period and that their overall quality of life improved by taking flaxseed.
4. Licorice Root
A natural saccharine that is 30 to 50 times sweeter than sugar, licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has plenty of therapeutic uses beyond sweetening tea.
Because licorice root contains phytoestrogens, it has been studied for its effects as a natural treatment for hot flashes. The results have been promising; one study published in 2012 found that menopausal women who took 330 mg of licorice root per day experienced a significant reduction in the frequency and severity of hot flashes over an 8 week treatment period.
Another benefit of licorice root is its potential to help balance mood. A 2006 animal study evaluated its effects as an antidepressant and found that it worked just as well as Prozac and Tofranil. Licorice root is capable of treating depressed mood since it increases the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, the feel-good chemicals in the brain.
5. Korean Red Ginseng
Panax ginseng – also known as Asian, Chinese, or Korean ginseng – is a perennial plant named after the Asiatic mountain ranges it hails from. Used for millennia in traditional Chinese medicine, the roots of this herb have been used to treat diabetes, boost the immune system, reduce stress, increase energy, improve heart health, and to treat erectile dysfunction.
While finding a natural remedy for hot flashes has been the subject of much scientific interest, other menopausal symptoms like stress, fatigue, insomnia, and low libido can be just as distressing. Dubbed “climacteric syndromes” of menopause, one study found that women who took 6 grams of red ginseng each day for 30 days had a marked improvement in anxiety levels, feelings of tiredness and fatigue, with less incidents of insomnia and depressed mood.
Korean red ginseng has also been shown to improve sexual function in menopausal women. Published in 2010, the study found that taking 3 grams of red ginseng per day significantly improved scores of the Female Sexual Function Index, the metric used to gauge sexual desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, and satisfaction.
6. St. John’s Wort
The medicinal herb well regarded as a remedy for depression and inflammation, St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) may also be used to treat the psychological and vegetative symptoms of menopause.
The study, published in 1999, involved 111 menopausal women who were prescribed 900 mg of St. John’s wort extract three times daily for 12 weeks. This treatment had a substantial impact on the women’s’ symptoms of irritability, fatigue, anxiety, depression, lack of concentration, sleep disturbances, low libido, and other psychosomatic complaints. Nearly 80% of the patients’ symptoms were vastly improved or had disappeared entirely after use of St. John’s wort.
St. John’s wort is readily available as a dietary supplement, which can be purchased here.
The Final Word
Whatever treatment you decide to use to help cope with the change, one of the most powerful ways to lessen the symptoms of menopause is simply positive thinking. Some may see the transition as the end of youth and vitality, but there are plenty of benefits of living in a postmenopausal world. Shifting your attitude about it can have a major impact on the intensity and frequency of many symptoms of menopause.
As estrogen levels decline, another thing to bear in mind is that women are at a greater risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and breast cancer. It’s essential to ensure you are receiving enough calcium and vitamin D to keep bones strong, to engage in physical activity like walking or gardening to naturally boost mood, prevent disease, and maintain a healthy weight, and to eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, probiotics , fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids to keep the heart and brain healthy.