Antidepressants and synthetic hormones are not the way to wellness. These common conventional treatments are handed out like candy to women over 40, but they carry risks that just aren’t worth the gamble. There are many safe and effective natural ways to ease symptoms.
Fact: Almost half of American women are menopausal. An estimated 75% of these women endure a wide range of symptoms beyond the expected hot flashes and irregular periods.
Just to be clear, hot flashes and irregular periods are part of the natural process of change that a woman goes through. All those other symptoms we experience, well, those are unnatural. Common, but not normal symptoms include depression, anxiety, brain fog, fatigue, low libido, painful sex, vaginal dryness, fibroids, weight gain, heart palpitations, and mood swings. Many women suffer from more than one of the symptoms for up to 10 years leading to menopause. Even post-menopause, several of these symptoms can continue.
Naturopathic vs. the Conventional Approach to Perimenopause and Menopause
The naturopathic approach helps women through this transition with natural solutions that promote balancing the hormones that they already have and encouraging the body to optimize production, transport, sensitivity to, and metabolism of its own hormones. These methods are effective and safe, as they work to enhance overall health and not just treat symptoms.
As a recap, here are the 6 Principles of Naturopathic Medicine that set true naturopathic physicians apart from other clinicians:
- First, Do No Harm (Primum nonnocere): Naturopathic physicians choose the most non-invasive and least toxic treatments necessary for each patient.
- The Healing Power of Nature (Vis medicatrix naturae): Naturopathic doctors recognize the body’s inherent ability to heal itself.
- Identify and Treat the Causes (Tolle causam): Naturopathic doctors identify, address and remove the underlying causes of disease.
- Doctor as Teacher (Docere): Educating and supporting patients on personal health management and encouraging them to take responsibility for their own health.
- Treat the Whole Person (Tolle totum): This is a holistic concept that recognizes the body as an integrated whole. As a Naturopathic doctor, I learned to treat the patient, not the disease. A naturopathic assessment addresses the nutritional status, lifestyle, family history, physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental and social factors in a person’s life.
- Prevention (Praevenic): Naturopathic doctors promote a focus on overall health, wellness and disease prevention.
These principals apply to every condition that we help our clients overcome, including menopause and perimenopause.
The Conventional Approach
Conventional medicine continues to push risky pharmaceutical treatment for menopausal symptoms. For example, if you tell your doctor that you’re having hot flashes, you’re likely to be handed a prescription for an antidepressant. An alarming 82% of the new clients I work with are on an unnecessary and potentially harmful antidepressant.
Serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SRIs/SSRIs—including Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, and Effexor work by manipulating the body’s serotonin levels and, as a result, they can reduce hot flashes. But that drop in hot flashes comes with a hefty price. Potential side effects of these drugs include agitation, suicidal thoughts, nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, decreased sexual desire, and delayed orgasm or inability to have an orgasm. They have even been linked to bone loss and increased risk of breast cancer (yes, you read that right). In many cases, the side effects are as bad as, or worse than, the hot flashes that these women were trying to get rid of in the first place. It can be maddening.
Here is the good news: It isn’t necessary to use pharmaceuticals to alleviate menopausal symptoms. Dietary changes, nutritional supplements, regular exercise, and other natural therapies including bioidentical hormones can help keep your hormones balanced safely and effectively.
Food is Medicine
Simply eating more of the right foods can help to effectively manage perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms.
Phytoestrogens: Plant foods such as legumes, vegetables, fruits, ancient grains, nuts, and seeds can offer some relief, as they contain hormone-balancing plant chemicals known as phytoestrogens. Ground flaxseeds also contain phytoestrogens and have been shown in studies to reduce hot flashes. Fermented soy foods such as tofu, miso, and tempeh can also help reduce hot flashes.
Organic fruits and vegetables: These contain dietary fiber to manage your appetite, antioxidants to slow the aging process and phytosterols that can help balance hormones.
Cruciferous vegetables: Vegetables in the cruciferous family such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale contain indole-3-carbinol, which naturally helps to balance estrogen levels.
Omega-3 fats: Omega-3 fats from fish and flaxseed can protect the heart, promote smooth skin and help to counteract inflammation from omega-6 fats. Some of the best sources include wild-caught salmon, halibut, sardines, mackerel, and anchovies. Don’t like fish? Choose a high-quality supplement.
Healthy fats and cold-pressed oils: They are the building blocks for hormone production, keep inflammation levels low, boost your metabolism and promote satiety that is important for preventing weight gain. Choose coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, fatty fish and grass-fed butter.
Probiotic foods: Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can actually improve your production and regulation of key hormones like insulin, ghrelin, and leptin. A healthy gut is also necessary for proper estrogen detox and elimination.
Water: Aim for 8 glasses daily to help replace fluid lost from hot flashes and to decrease bloating.
There is a wide range of herbs that can alleviate menopausal symptoms. Here are some we have seen the greatest results with.
Black cohosh has been shown in numerous studies to relieve many menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations, and depression. 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.
Maca root has a rich history of use in Peru to help women through the menopausal transition. Several double-blind, placebo-controlled studies show that it can indeed help hot flashes and a variety of other menopausal symptoms. Here is our recommended maca root supplement:
Vitex, also known as chasteberry, helps common menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats and is also effective for premenopausal symptoms such as irregular and heavy periods.
St. John’s Wort has been safely used for over 2,000 years, often to lower anxiety, depression and sleep-related problems. It may be able to help to stabilize your mood, reduce inflammation, improve your sleep and make the emotional/mental transition through menopause a bit easier.
Adaptogen herbs offer protection from a variety of diseases, including those caused by excess stress. Adaptogens include ashwagandha, medicinal mushrooms, Rhodiola and holy basil. Research shows they can help improve thyroid function, lower cholesterol, reduce anxiety and depression, reduce brain cell degeneration, and stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels.
A Note on Bioidentical Hormones
The Journal of the North American Menopause Society revealed that “up to 2.5 million U.S. women aged 40 years or older may use bioidentical hormone therapy, accounting for 28% to 68% of hormone therapy prescriptions.” This is good news as the popularity of dangerous synthetic hormones is declining.
One of the most popular natural hormones for relieving menopausal symptoms over-the-counter is natural progesterone cream. A double-blind trial found that transdermal natural progesterone cream reduced hot flashes in 83% of women. I normally have patients apply ¼ teaspoon (20 mg) to their skin (usually forearms) each morning and evening. If they are still getting their period, I have them stop the cream during menstrual flow. Progesterone cream is readily available and easy to use.
Test Your Hormones
Never use hormones – bioidentical, over-the-counter, or otherwise without proper testing and monitoring of your levels. Testing is now widely available and affordable. Our GLOW Protocol Wellness Panel contains 25 tests and 95 biomarkers. The test retails at $1,199 but GLOW Natural Wellness readers can grab the test here for more than 50% off.