Menopause, defined as the ending of menses, is a natural process experienced by all women when the ovaries no longer respond to stimulation from the brain to produce estrogen and progesterone. It is normal for menopause to occur anywhere between the ages of 41 to 59. Menopause should be viewed as a process of natural transition involving both hormonal shifts and changes in psyche, but instead, it is often considered a deficiency disease that must be “managed” not only with hormone replacement medication, but also antidepressant, anti-anxiety, and sleep aiding drugs. Conjugated estrogens have been shown to have several detrimental side effects such as increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer (Am J of Obstet Gynecol. 1987;157:1042-8). Women need to be aware that other more natural and safer options are available to support them through the transformative process of menopause.
Menopause is experienced differently for every woman. Hot flashes are the most common symptom experienced by women and can range from minor feelings of increased warmth to major episodes of heat intolerance. Other symptoms of menopause include change in menstrual cycle, vaginal dryness, anxiety, depression, sore breasts, fatigue, headache, bladder incontinence, and joint pain. These symptoms can be discomforting, but women have many treatment alternatives for each of these symptoms.
Diet changes can be helpful in treating the symptoms of menopause. Specific molecules called prostaglandins stimulate an area in the brain that controls temperature and other bodily processes and are responsible for increasing the number and intensity of hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Prostaglandins are increased by red meat, dairy, sugar, peanuts, and shellfish and are inhibited by antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables, fish oil, and curcumin from tumeric. Other foods and beverages that aggravate hot flashes and should be avoided are coffee, chocolate, alcohol, hot drinks, foods containing histamine (cheese and red wine), and spicy foods. Flax seeds are an important food to incorporate into the diet during menopause. Flax seeds contain isoflavones which act as a phytoestrogen meaning that it has estrogen like properties that can replenish the decline in estrogen that occurs during menopause. Other foods that have phytoestrogen properties are sesame seeds, yams, garlic, and bean sprouts.
Supplementation with clinically proven effective herbs can be helpful. Angelica sinensis (Dong Quai) is a Chinese herb with a long history of use for the treatment of gynecological ailments, fatigue, and high blood pressure. A study published in Clin Exp Obstet Gynecol. 2003; 30(4):203-6 showed that over a 12 week treatment period with Dong Quai the number and intensity of hot flashes decreased by 90-96%.
Acupuncture can also be helpful for menopausal symptoms. A study published in Climacteric 2004; 7:153-64 showed that a series of 12 acupuncture treatments in 11 out of 15 women resulted in a mean decrease in hot flashes of 83%.