Menopause is a completely natural biological process, and therefore not a problem to solve. And although it concludes the time in a woman’s life for fertility, you can stay healthy, vital and sexual through your 50s and well beyond. That being said, there is generally a hormonal shift that occurs in women during menopause that may lead to mood swings, hot flashes, insomnia and other common symptoms.
What types of things can you do to help get find relief from menopause symptoms?
First and foremost, it’s important to realize that in most women, symptoms such as night sweats will decrease over time and then often go away completely without any treatment, including hormone replacement drugs. As the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care puts it, “Menopause is not an illness. It is normal for hormone levels to fall in middle age. These hormones do not need to be replaced.”
Natural remedies for menopause symptoms — meaning those that don’t involve taking hormone replacement therapy drugs — are safe and can be helpful during this transition phase to decrease symptom severity and duration. These include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, taking certain beneficial supplements to balance hormones, and using natural herbal treatments, such as black cohosh and progesterone cream.
The Most Common Menopause Symptoms
Women can experience a variety of symptoms and conditions related to changes in sex hormone levels and aging. Some of the most common menopause symptoms include:
• Irregular periods: As perimenopause begins (the period before menopause technically starts), periods can come and go, plus get heavier or lighter at times. This can sometimes continue for several years during menopause
• Hot flashes and night sweats
• Mood swings, irritability, anxiety or depressive symptoms
• Vaginal dryness and decreased sex drive
• Increased abdominal fat and weight gain
• Insomnia and changes in sleep quality
• Thinning hair and dryer skin
• Going to the bathroom more often
• Breast changes (including breasts becoming smaller or losing volume)
• Changes in the uterus, ovaries and cervix
• For some, a higher risk for certain other age-related diseases (including cardiovascular diseases, dementia and osteoporosis)
The Causes of Menopause
Wondering what causes symptoms like hot flashes, or how you can stop insomnia or night sweats?
Menopause is caused by hormonal changes, including altered levels of reproductive hormones including: gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), estrogen (three types including estrone, estridiol and estriol), progesterone and testosterone.
Menopause is a complex biological process, but the most significant changes taking place in a woman body during this time are that there’s increasing loss of ovarian follicles (called follicular astresia) and, therefore, a decreasing amount of estrogen being produced. Estrogen levels start to drop 6–12 months before menopause (during perimenopause, usually in the late 30s and 40s) and continue throughout the menopause process.
Natural Treatment for Menopause
Eat Foods that Help Manage Menopause Symptoms
When trying to balance hormones and reduce menopause symptoms, your diet should include plenty of essential minerals and healthy fats healthy fats. Filling up on the following foods which are “hormone-balancing,” nutrient-dense and unprocessed can help you eliminate your intake of empty calories and manage weight gain.
Keep in mind that you might need to consume less calories overall in order to maintain your weight as you get older. Due to a decrease in muscle mass and slowing of your metabolism, it’s more important than ever to limit processed foods and focus on eating a clean diet.
Foods that can help manage menopause symptoms include:
• 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. These veggies are also high in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K and electrolytes that are important for blood pressure and heart health.
• High-fiber foods: Fiber is important for cardiovascular and digestive health, plus maintaining a healthy weight. Some studies have even found that diets higher in fiber might help to balance production of estrogen. High-fiber diets are associated with less weight gain, healthier cholesterol levels and reduced constipation. Some of the best sources include nuts, seeds, legumes/beans, ancient grains, avocado, veggies and fruit.
• Natto: Fermented soy like natto contains a phytoestrogen that can help balance hormones. However, avoid this if you have had estrogen-positive breast cancer in the past.
• Phytoestrogen food: Phytoestrogens are plant-based estrogens that can mimic the effects of natural hormones your body produces. Their effects are controversial, so the research on their benefits or risks can seem overwhelming and conflicting. However, a large variety of studies have proved these dietary estrogens actually help some women during menopause by reducing cancer risk, reducing night flashes, protecting the heart and making a decrease in natural estrogen feel less drastic.
• 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 (found mostly in refined oils and low quality meat). Some of the best sources include wild-caught salmon, halibut, sardines, mackerel and anchovies. Studies show that frequently consuming omega-3s facilitates in hormone production and might help to prevent preeclampsia, postpartum depression menopausal problems,
postmenopausal osteoporosis, heart complications, depression and breast cancer.
• Healthy fats and cold-pressed oils: It’s true that fats have more calories than protein or carbohydrates do, but they are also the building blocks for hormone production, keep inflammation levels low, boost your metabolism and promote satiety that is important for preventing weight gain. Unrefined oils provide essential vitamin E that helps regulate estrogen production. Look for virgin coconut oil, palm oil, extra-virgin olive oil and flaxseed oil. Other sources of healthy fats include avocado, coconut milk, nuts, seeds and wild seafood.
• Probiotic foods: Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can actually improve your production and regulation of key hormones like insulin, ghrelin and leptin. They’re even capable of raising immune function and protecting cognitive functioning. The best sources include yogurt, kefir, cultured veggies such as sauerkraut or kimchi, kombucha and other fermented foods.
• Water: Aim for 8 glasses daily to help replace fluid lost from hot flashes and to decrease bloating.