By: Shelagh McNally for Uterus1
Transitioning to menopause can be unpleasant for many women. The natural process can include hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, irritability and depression. It is estimated that by 2025 there will be 60 million postmenopausal American women. The traditional treatment of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has fallen out of favor with recent studies showing a link between long term use and an increase in breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke and blood clots. Many women are seeking alternative methods. According to a 1997 study conducted by the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), 30 percent of American women are controlling their menopause symptoms by taking natural estrogen from plants and herbs combined with acupuncture and regular exercise.
|Alternatives to HRT|
Herbal remedies - vitex, dang gui, American Ginseng and cohosh
Food choices - nuts, yams and sweet potatoes
A 1999 University of Pittsburgh study found that certain plants containing a natural estrogen known as phytoestrogens mimic HRT and reduce symptoms. In both Western and Eastern cultures there is historical knowledge of these herbs being used for relieving other gynecological problems. Extracts of herbs like vitex, dang gui, American ginseng and cohosh are being considered as natural hormone replacements. "These findings confirm reports that these plants relieve menopausal symptoms, especially hot flashes. However, we still need to conduct further pre-clinical tests with these substances to study their long-term effects and to ensure that they are safe to use." Dr. Eagon cautions that women who have a personal history of breast or uterine cancer should approach using natural estrogen with caution.
Certain foods also play a role in the treatment of menopause, not only for their estrogen but also for their added vitamins and minerals. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NAMS both recommend increasing calcium intake to 1,000 – 1,500 milligrams per day and upping magnesium intake to 500 – 750 milligrams to offset bone loss that occurs during and after menopause. Doctors recommend adding wheat germ, nuts, yams, sweet potatoes and safflower oil to your diet. Soy foods have phytoestrogens known as isoflavones that reduces bone loss and cholesterol.
The phytoestrogens in flaxseed reduce cholesterol levels and protect the heart. Other excellent sources for calcium and magnesium include green leafy vegetables, almonds, dried beans, dairy products and blackstrap molasses. Vitamin K, found in green tea, broccoli, asparagus and spinach, helps blood to clot and prevents bone loss while antioxidant vitamins such as vitamins C and E, may also decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke after menopause.
Chinese acupuncture is also providing relief. The small needles placed on trigger points in the body help to regulate the endocrine system and calm the nervous system. The endorphins released during an acupuncture treatment can improve moods and lessen the feelings of sadness and fear while balancing hormones in the body. Exercise is also a recommended body therapy as it reduces stress, increases bone density and strength while keeping cholesterol levels low and helping to maintain body weight.
Before starting any of these alternative medicines or treatments, you should discuss them with your family doctor. For more information, consult your physician or visit the Web site of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at http://www.nccam.nih.gov