Part One | Part Two
By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1
After the Women’s Health Initiative study delivered alarming news regarding traditional hormone replacement therapy in 2002, many women have explored alternative methods of managing menopausal symptoms.
|Tips on navigating menopausal years successfully just by eating well:|
Shop the outer aisles of the stores and get away from “food in a box”
Shun refined sugar. It sends the blood sugar spiking and is no one’s friend.
Develop real friendships and avoid using food as “an emotional friend.”
Be sure to eat protein. You can increase your intake without turning to red meat. Try incorporating nuts, beans, seeds and soy products into your diet.
Because studies examining methods and drugs used in complementary and alternative medicine tend to be preliminary, however, we’ve balanced our report with comments from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other mainstream sources. Indeed, to address the public’s concerns surrounding the fallout from the 2002 study, the NIH gathered dozens of physicians from across the nation together for a State-of-the-Science (SoS) Conference on the Management of Menopause-Related Symptoms in 2005. We have drawn from that report in this series.
Eating Well and Staying Nourished
While the NIH SoS paper agrees that hot flashes can be exacerbated in women with high body mass indexes (i.e. those who are overweight or obese) it doesn’t champion lifestyle aspects to the degree that Rose Paisley, N.D., a naturopath at Nature Cures Clinic in Portland, Ore., does.
However, while the NIH is silent on the lifestyle issue, the Mayo Clinic does advise that women who “eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and that limits saturated fats, oils and sugars” can “reduce or prevent signs and symptoms of menopause.”
The Mayo Clinic also considers the larger nutritional picture and advises women to “aim for 1,500 milligrams of calcium and 400 to 800 international units of vitamin D a day,” and to consult a physician about taking supplements if needed “to help you meet these requirements.”
Paisely, as well, routinely advises her patients to take nutritional supplements. “Multivitamins and minerals – I typically put women on a lifestyle prevention plan that includes these. I also add a probiotic, like the lacto bacillus in yogurt, since women often can’t get enough from the foods they consume,” she said, explaining that “Probiotics create healthy conditions in the gut so that the body can successfully absorb nutrients from food.
“Then there’s fish oil for the heart and neurological health,” Paisley added. “All these things are important… They are very non-invasive ways to start addressing concerns.”
Paisley also addresses diet. “While there are plant-based hormones that can be individually compounded for patients, I typically start with diet and lifestyle,” said Paisley. “Whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables up to five to six servings, lots of water, and less meat and dairy.
“That doesn’t mean no protein, however, because protein is essential to balancing your blood sugar – and diabetes is epidemic in our country right now,” Paisley cautioned. “So I suggest getting adequate protein from things like nuts, beans, seeds and soy products. I typically recommend that people do two to three nights out of the week that are vegetarian meals.
“Also, decreasing sugar is important – natural sources like maple syrup, honey and pure cane sugar are OK in small amounts – but it’s the high fructose corn syrup in processed products that create problems. Basically I recommend staying away from what I call ‘food in a box.’ Once my patients start thinking in those terms, they do better on the larger goal which is eating food that looks as much like it started out as possible.
“I try to get my patients thinking in terms of three solid meals and snacks, taking time to enjoy them,” said Paisley. “People need to have a connection with their food as something from the earth that provides fuel and get away from the notion of food as an emotional friend.
“Often when women make those simple changes,” Paisley said, “their symptoms start to decline.”
On the lifestyle front, Paisley advocates the equivalent of jumping on one of the bikes that increasingly crowd Portland’s thoroughfares.
“I advocate exercising every day,” said Paisley. “It’s a good rule of thumb, as is the idea of never taking more than one day off. If you adhere to that, you’d always at least get in four days of exercise out of the week which is not adequate, but it is a good start.”
She also suggests that for those who haven’t been in the practice, starting out slowly is best. “I say start with 10 minutes and work up to 45 to 60 minutes. If you really want to see weight changes you have to push yourself, so some guidance or a personal trainer to help you define a regime that’s safe and productive can be useful.”
The Mayo Clinic is right behind Paisley on this front as well. Thirty minutes a day, the revered institution says, is a great way to keep the body in shape so that it can withstand the temporary effects of menopause with less disruption. Combine weight-bearing aerobic activity with strength training to stay fit and relieve stress.
Also, the Mayo Clinic’s experts do not underestimate the benefits of simply living an active life: “Just staying physically active each day by taking stairs instead of an elevator or by parking farther away and walking to your destination also can make a difference.”
R&R – Rest and Relaxation
The third part of the triangle – rest and relaxation – is critical as well, Paisley says.
“Often women who experience more intense menopausal symptoms have higher stress levels and higher cortisol levels. So finding tools for managing stress is at the top of the list. It’s important for women to relax and decompress at the end of the day,” said Paisley. “Yoga, meditation, tai chi, journaling, taking a hot bath, taking a cool bath, soaking in magnesium sulfate or Epsom salts.”
All the above, Paisley says, helps women take life in stride instead of getting worn down by it. More, when these breaks are introduced, they can provide sufficient perspective to reconsider just what it is that’s bugging us.
“It is important for women to identify how they are feeling. Is it really your health that’s the problem or are there other things like money or your job or relationships that you need to address.
“Take vacations and avoid over-booking yourself. Try turning off the TV and picking up a book. Try to understand what makes us react, and how we can have more peace and be accepting of ourselves and others. We can’t control what [life] presents to us, but we are definitely in control of our response,” said Paisley. “Massage, acupuncture and essential oils are all very beneficial to symptoms as well.
“So it’s all about trying to honor that in whatever way works for a person. Yoga or meditation might be right for some, but then one woman will walk into a class like that and not feel comfortable at all. In that case I recommend women look for something else. The idea is to find something that will bring us to peace at the end of the day and not being overly rigid about the particular means to this end,” said Paisley.
On the subject of rest and relaxation as an effective approach to managing menopausal symptoms, the NIH SoS gives a tentative nod. “Paced respiration (a type of slow, deep breathing that requires training) for hot flashes showed early promise in a very small group of patients.”
The Women’s Health Research Center (WHRC) at the University of Florida also gives thumbs up to paced respiration along with other techniques designed to alleviate stress similar to what menopausal women can experience.
“Studies have investigated paced respiration, biofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation, relaxation response, and reading. Paced respiration significantly decreased the frequency of hot flashes over the four-month study period,” states WHRC literature. “Relaxation response techniques practiced for 20 minutes daily significantly decreased the intensity but not the frequency of hot flashes in the study participants. Trait anxiety also decreased among study participants. The other techniques studied have not been shown to be effective therapy for menopausal symptoms.”
If you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in the following:
Examining Conflicting Views on Hormone Replacement Therapy
Do You Feel the Heat? Hot Flashes – How They Happen and Why
Menopause and Depression – Jury Still Out on the Connection
Alternatives to Hormone Replacement Therapy for Menopause