More than 40 million women are presently menopausal; an additional 20-plus million are entering perimenopause, the several years leading up to menopause. Many of these women have a family history of cancer or have had a previous cancer diagnosis, and should avoid conventional hormone replacement therapy (HRT). But what about taking concentrated herbal supplements that have estrogenic activity (phytoestrogens)?
“Women in the high-risk category should avoid estrogenic compounds altogether, whether synthetic, conjugated, bioidentical, or plant based,” explains Lise Alschuler, ND, naturopathic oncologist and coauthor of the Definitive Guide to Cancer. “This includes prescription HRT drugs, estriol from a compounding pharmacist, soy isoflavones, and extracts of estrogenic herbs, such as alfalfa, red clover, ginkgo, and Panax ginseng.”
Avoiding these, however, can make it more challenging for some women to manage their menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms.
The Real World of Menopause
When a woman stops menstruating, she is menopausal. On average, women begin the perimenopausal phase at about 47 years old, with menopause occurring at about age 51. According to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), the menopausal transition generally lasts about four years; however, in some cases the transition time is much shorter, and in some cases it can last much longer. NAMS reports that about 10 percent of women will stop menstruating abruptly without experiencing menstrual irregularities.
The hormonal imbalance that occurs during perimenopause and menopause can cause a variety of symptoms, from mildly uncomfortable to debilitating or disruptive of quality of life. These symptoms can include the following:
* Hot flashes
* Weight gain
* Heart palpitations
* Vaginal dryness
* Irritable bowel syndrome
In addition to these symptoms, menopausal women also have to worry about increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. It was previously believed that conventional HRT would not only help prevent symptoms but also help prevent these serious illnesses. However, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study changed the landscape dramatically. “Many studies in addition to the WHI have confirmed that conventional hormone replacement therapy increases a woman’s risk of not only developing breast cancer but also increases the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or serious blood clot,” explains Alschuler.
The Natural Approach
A proactive, targeted, natural approach will help high-risk women manage their symptoms as well as prevent serious illnesses associated with menopause. Through a combination of diet, lifestyle activities, and dietary supplements, high-risk women can make a smooth menopausal transition.
Disease prevention should always begin with a focus on diet. The same is true when managing menopausal symptoms. The two biggest dietary factors to consider are the following:
1. Increase consumption of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains while reducing consumption of simple sugars, refined carbohydrates, and fats.
2. Avoid symptom triggers such as alcohol, caffeine, sugar, red meat, or spicy foods (keep in mind that triggers can vary dramatically from one person to the next).
Lack of sleep and stress are two additional key lifestyle factors that can exacerbate menopausal symptoms. Explore different stress-reducing techniques to find out which ones will help you relax and rejuvenate your system.
“Exercise can dramatically reduce menopausal symptoms,” explains Susan Ryan, DO, sports medicine specialist and emergency room physician with Rose Medical Center in Denver. “Exercise will also help strengthen bones, increase muscle mass, and provide a variety of cardiovascular benefits.”
In addition to diet and exercise, acupuncture has been shown to alleviate menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flashes.
The following dietary supplements can also help ease menopausal symptoms:
- Hot flashes and/or night sweats: vitamin E, hesperidin (citrus bioflavonoid), gamma oryzanol (rice bran oil extract), and sage.
- Vaginal dryness: vitamin E, either used topically or as a vaginal suppository.
- Anxiety, depression, or mood swings: GABA (gamma oryzanol, gamma-aminobutyric acid), L-theanine, chamomile, valerian, St. John’s wort (caution should be exercised when taking St. John’s won with some prescription medications, such as antidepressants).
- Insomnia: melatonin, 5-HTP, GABA, valerian, hops, and/or passionflower
- Lack of energy: Siberian ginseng and Rhodiola rosea.
- Homeopathy: Many homeopathic remedies can also provide relief of menopausal symptoms. Common ingredients in these remedies include sepia, pulsatilla, and apis.
To help prevent serious illnesses associated with menopause, the following supplements are recommended:
- Heart health: CoQ 10, garlic, and fish oil.
- Osteoporosis: vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K.
- Cancer: antioxidants (especially green tea), vitamin D, and essential fatty acids.
Pay attention to your body, educate yourself about nutrition, and develop a comprehensive plan to naturally and safely alleviate your menopausal symptoms and help prevent serious illnesses, including cancer.
DID YOU KNOW? ABOUT 85 PERCENT OF MENOPAUSAL WOMEN EXPERIENCE HOT FLASHES.
AVOID CONVENTIONAL HRT
The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, Calif., announced at the December 2006 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium that there has been a significant decline of breast cancer in women age 50 to 69. The researchers concluded that the decline coincides with the considerable reduction in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) use following the widespread media attention of the Women’s Health Initiative study, which demonstrated increased breast cancer rates among HRT users.
By: Gazella, Karolyn A., Better Nutrition, 0405668X, May2008, Vol. 70, Issue 5
Database: Academic Search Premier