Hormonal changes occur with menopause. Estrogen and progesterone levels decrease as ovarian function declines. For many women, these changes lead to a host of symptoms including night sweats, hot flashes, mood changes, fatigue, weight gain and sleep problems. The symptoms and the severity of the symptoms that each woman experiences are highly variable, but menopause impacts the lives of most women in some way.
Hormonal replacement therapy was at one time the standard treatment for menopause. However, the long-term safety of hormonal replacement therapy has been questioned. Consequently, natural products, diet, and life style changes have been promoted to relieve symptoms such as night sweats and hot flashes and make the menopausal transition easier.
Yoga, tai chai, and meditation, hypnosis, and acupuncture have been shown to reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, mood and sleep disturbances, muscle and joint pain, and stress.
As far as diet and dietary supplements, isoflavone, a compound found in soy has been thought to mimic the effects of estrogen. Some research has shown that consuming moderate amounts of soy or taking a soy extract helps to relieve menopausal symptoms. In one study, participants experienced improvements in hot flashes as well as a reduction in lipid levels. Unfortunately, however, half the studies with soy isoflavones found them to have no improvement in outcomes than placebos.
Another supplement often discussed as therapy for menopausal symptoms is black cohosh. Black cohosh is a flowering plant that was traditionally used by Native Americans as a remedy for a number of conditions including depression and gynecological abnormalities. Some studies suggest that supplementing with black cohosh relieves some of the symptoms of menopause, most notably hot flashes and temperature intolerance. However, a 2013 review of all studies involving black cohosh concluded that although significant improvement of menopausal symptoms was noted in six trials, the trials were all different and thus it was difficult to state that any of the trials’ results were replicable, an essential requirement for a study to be conclusive. The researchers concluded that more studies to determine black effectiveness and safety of black cohosh are needed.
One problem that many people experience during peri-menopause and menopause is difficulty sleeping. Some menopausal supplements contain melatonin, an antioxidant hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that helps to regulate sleep. Studies have shown that melatonin may prevent jet lag. In addition, if only taken for a period of only a few days or weeks, melatonin increases the number of hours slept, reduces the time before falling asleep, and boosts daytime alertness. Melatonin appears to be most effective as a therapy for sleep disturbances during menopause; it appears to have no affect on hot flashes. There are supplements that combine melatonin with other ingredients like soy or black cohosh to target multiple menopausal symptoms at once.
Simple lifestyle changes such as caffeine abstinence coupled with increased exercise, meditation and deep breathing, if complemented with supplements when appropriate, have been shown to make the menopausal transition easier. Each woman experiences menopause a little differently, but all women need to be cognizant of eating a healthy diet and making time for exercise, sleep and relaxation. If you’re taking hormone replacement therapy of any kind, supplements may not be appropriate. Due to the frequent interaction of herbs and supplements with other medications, talk to your healthcare providers about your symptoms and make sure you tell him about any prescription medication, over-the counter medications, herbs, and supplements you presently are taking or considering taking.
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