According to the North American Menopause Society, every year millions of menopausal women between the ages of 30 to 60 go to their doctors in search of relief from hot flashes, night sweats, bloating, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, mood swings, depression, weight gain, anxiety attacks, aging skin, irritability, foggy thinking, and bone loss. Traditional treatment included hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to combat these annoying symptoms of menopause, until now…
In July 2002, millions of American women taking HRT were given reason to wonder if they are making a big mistake. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) abruptly ended a major clinical trial of the risks and benefits of combined HRT in women. After more than five years of using a combination estrogen-progestin drug, the women showed an increase in the risk of breast cancer, stroke, blood clots, and heart attack. This announcement caused thousands of women to contact their doctors to see if they should continue their treatment or find alternative therapies.
Natural Alternatives to HRT
Because of the risks and side effects of HRT, many women are choosing alternative approaches to dealing with their menopausal symptoms. In addition to a healthy diet and regular exercise program, many nutritional supplements have been found to alleviate symptoms associated with menopause. This natural approach helps women cope with the results of hormonal changes and helps to prevent osteoporosis and other related health concerns.
The use of phytoestrogens is growing rapidly among menopausal women who believe it to be safer, less expensive, and have fewer side effects than HRT. Studies have found numerous benefits from soy consumption, including reduced hot flashes and protection against bone loss and cardiovascular disease. Soy contains phytoestrogens, which are natural, plant-derived estrogen-like compounds similar in structure to estrogen. Soy isoflavones, the most common and widely studied phytoestrogens, have been shown to help prevent the buildup of arterial plaque, which reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Isoflavones may also help reduce breast cancer risk by blocking the cancer-causing effects of human estrogen, and play an important role in protecting and maintaining strong, healthy bones.
Nutritional supplements such as folic acid and other B vitamins, along with calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D provide long-term benefits to menopausal women. B vitamins and magnesium help to support consistent body temperature and help provide relaxation. B vitamins also help with emotional symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, mood swings, and even insomnia. Vitamins A and C help maintain mucous membranes, resulting in relief from vaginal dryness and increased risk of urinary tract and vaginal infections brought about by low estrogen levels.
Herbal support includes black cohosh, an herb that naturally contains phytoestrogens. Black cohosh has been shown to reduce many menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, night sweats, and anxiety. Wild Mexican yam, a rich, natural source of progesterone precursors, has antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-rheumatic properties. Wild Mexican yam allows the body to balance and regulate all hormones. Dong quai is used as the main female tonic in the Orient to provide energy, reduce hot flashes, and help regulate the hormonal system. Chaste tree berry stimulates progesterone production and promotes balance, while white peony helps with hot flashes and night sweats.
Choosing the Right Nutritional Product
Thousands of nutritional products on the market are geared towards helping combat the symptoms of menopause. Although nature offers many alternatives to HRT, it may be difficult to determine the right product or products. What might work for one woman may not work the same for the next. Also, sometimes results arenâ€™t noticed immediately. Thatâ€™s why itâ€™s important to choose a natural product and stick with it for at least two to three months until results are achieved.
Many nutritional supplements for women are available in tablet form and are convenient to take on a daily basis. Most contain the essential nutrients and herbs necessary to help balance ever-changing hormones. However, progesterone-type creams made from wild yams are becoming popular. Progesterone creams quickly replenish progesterone levels as they are applied topically through the skin, the bodyâ€™s preferred method of absorption. This delivery method allows the natural hormones to enter the bloodstream quickly. Look for a water-based solution containing isoflavones, essential fatty acid oils, and extracts from chaste tree berries, ginger root, dong quai and passionflower. Make sure to choose a product without mineral oil.
It is helpful to do some research on the above-mentioned nutrients via the Internet, a local health food store or bookstore, or at the library. Consulting a nutritionist or healthcare provider is also helpful. Gaining insight on these nutrients will help you make a decision on which would be most beneficial for you.
Menopause is a natural stage of life for women. However, there is no reason to ride a hormonal roller coaster! Through the use of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and phytonutrients, women can effectively supplement their bodiesâ€™ hormone levels naturally to relieve the symptoms caused by ever-changing hormones.
Over the past few years the use of estrogen to treat post menopausal women has plunged in popularity. This occurred after the release of several major studies showing that instead of helping older women avoid arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and heart attacks the opposite was true. Recent studies showed that women taking estrogen after menopause were more likely to have heart attacks. Additionally, there has been a persistent concern that estrogen use is tied to increased risk of certain cancers, particularly breast and uterine cancer.
For most women, this knowledge was sufficiently convincing for them to stop using estrogen or to decide not to start.
When it comes to a hormone as complex in its action as estrogen there is a lot more to this story, however. A recently published study in the journal Neurology from the Mayo Clinic shows that women who undergo premature menopause due to surgical removal of one or both ovaries and who don’t receive estrogen replacement, have a significantly higher risk of developing memory loss, dementia (senility) and Parkinson’s Disease in later years. The younger the woman at the time of menopause the greater the risk of later brain dysfunction.
The benefit of estrogen use on brain function seems to end around the age of 50 years. The study did not address women who have spontaneous menopause before the age of 50. Is it possible that this group of women need to take estrogen to reduce the risk of developing brain damage as they grow older?
I am unaware of any study which answers this question. For any woman who wants to know if they should take estrogen, it is advised they confer with their own physician since the controversy and personal issues are so complex.
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