Cool Hot Flashes Naturally
Thrive through Menopause
Our population is clearly shifting. By the year 2015, 50% of women will be post menopausal. In fact, with the prolongation of life expectancy, today’s average woman can expect to live at least one-third of her life in the post-menopausal phase. It is essential that women make informed decisions about the “treatment” of menopause. More women are investigating the options available to help them make this transition with ease and to help ensure their long term health. There are many safe, natural medicines available to assist them before, during and after menopause. Menopause is a natural transformation, not a disease requiring pharmacological treatment in all cases.
Menopause refers to the cessation of menses which occurs on average at the age of 50. While it is a normal, natural process, it is often associated with physical and mental symptoms that range from being uncomfortable to debilitating. Symptoms sometimes associated with menopause and peri-menopause (pre-menopause) are hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, depression, vaginal dryness, urinary problems, skin dryness, palpitations, nausea, back pain, leg pain, and irregular menstrual bleeding. After menopause, women are also at higher risk for developing osteoporosis and heart disease.
In the past, medical treatment primarily involved the use of hormone replacement therapy, which calls for taking a combination of synthetic estrogen and progesterone. Then in 2002, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published the Women’s Health Initiative study which finally confirmed that HRT increases the risk of breast cancer, strokes, heart attacks, blood clots and gallbladder disease. For 40 years, women had been given these medications without proper scientific investigation. But what are the safe options for women who are struggling with menopause?
An individualized treatment plan needs to be designed based on the severity of the menopausal symptoms, other medical issues, lifestyle and family medical history. The foundation of a thorough plan for thriving through menopause starts with the basics. Good nutrition, avoiding caffeine, stress management, exercise and counselling to redefine one’s values at this new stage of life. Next, many women benefit tremendously from the use of herbal medicine to reduce hot flashes, night sweats; improve sleep, energy and libido. There has been extensive scientific research on this topic showing what works and what doesn’t. Black cohosh comes out on top, but it needs to be used properly to be most effective. Most of my patients successfully reduce their symptoms with no direct hormonal intervention. However, there are times when hormone therapy may be necessary, such as if a woman has had her ovaries removed, has gone through menopause very early or has debilitating symptoms. If that is the case, I recommend the least amount of hormones for the shortest period of time. I also recommend that women become educated that there are forms of estrogen and progesterone that are structurally more similar to the body’s hormones than synthetic hormones are. When these hormones are used in amounts similar to what the body produces, they are called bio-identical hormones. I do think there is a place in medicine for bio-identical hormones, but I am concerned that there is a great deal of hype promising women “eternal youth” without a rational discussion of the risks one is taking by using these hormones. Estrogen of any kind, taken by an older woman for long enough, could increase her risk of breast cancer. Buyer beware. It is important that each woman be thoroughly evaluated and given all her options before making a decision as to how to approach menopause.
Menopause is also a time to reflect on one’s long term health goals and consider ways to prevent osteoporosis, breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. It is a good time to have a physical exam and thorough blood work (including CRP, homocysteine, ferritin, full thyroid panel, vitamin D level) which are both available through a wholistic MD or a naturopathic physician
The menopausal years can be a time of transformation and empowerment for women. With the right plan for exercise, diet and natural medicines, most women can make the second half of their life the better half. Remember, they’re not just hot flashes, they are power surges!