Alleviating menopausal symptoms without reaching for HRT
Alleviating menopausal symptoms without reaching for Hormone Replacement Therapy
The menopause is a natural progression through a woman’s life yet with so many stories of horrendous symptoms that can extend over many years it certainly doesn’t seem natural.
HRT is one option that can be very helpful for women, but here I provide other natural approaches to take that can be just as effective to transition through the menopause more smoothly.
The symptom list linked to the menopausal stages is extensive. Ranging from poor brain function (cognition, brain fog, low mood, anxiety, poor concentration) to hormonal symptoms (low libido, sore breasts, hot flushes. night sweats) to digestive symptoms (constipation, bloating, IBS) to more generalised symptoms (muscle soreness, weight gain, insomnia, fatigue). It’s no surprise that women can be diagnosed with depression when it’s their hormones to blame!
What is the Menopause?
The menopause consists of three phases: pre menopause, peri-menopause and post menopause and this can last for up to ten years. The best approach is to prepare for the actual menopause before it happens. But if you’re in the thick of it now, don’t worry, it’s not too late to take action. After all, we spend one third of our life in (post) menopause, so it’s worth taking a proactive approach to be as fit and healthy as you can be.
Oestrogen and Progesterone
Woman (unlike men) are born with a finite number of eggs that become depleted. And because these are our main source of female sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone levels start to drop and quite rapidly.
What is less well known is that the adrenal glands produce weaker forms of oestrogen and progesterone.
Why are the adrenal glands relevant to the menopause?
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys. These are our source of stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. Modern lifestyles contribute to chronic stress and overtaxed adrenal glands. The body will be so busy producing cortisol – for “survival” – that it hinders the ability to produce oestrogen and progesterone. All these hormones are made from the same precursor source material, but there is a finite amount at any one time.
“Strip away the stress and the adrenal glands are free to manufacture female hormones.”
The ability to take control of the stress response so it does not control you is essential. Any techniques you can use that helps the body switch from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest” helps to minimise the release of cortisol.
My favourites are deep abdominal breathing, yoga, Pilates, walking in nature, gentle music, positive journaling, tapping (EFT). These should become integrated into our daily rituals. It’s easier said than done and new habits are hard to form, but just ten minutes a day of “self-care” is a good way to start.
Balancing Blood Sugar
Yo-yoing blood sugar levels contribute to the stress response. When blood sugar levels are low, then the body is “stressed” and triggers the release of stored glucose. Like “fight or flight” it’s another inbuilt and important survival process.
Eating to keep blood sugar levels stable will also help to keep your mood more stable, help concentration, help weight management, help you get a better night’s sleep and certainly helps fatigue.
My standard principles of a Healthy Plate with at least a third protein and good fats, 50% coloured vegetables and a very small portion of complex starches like brown rice helps to achieve steady glucose levels. Always have some protein with every meal and snack.
Avoid sugars, refined grains and processed foods as much as you can!
Did you know that the precursor to adrenal sources of oestrogen and progesterone is cholesterol? Whilst the liver is the source of cholesterol, eating a diet of good natural fats helps to provide the building blocks.
Aim to have a regular supply of healthy fats in your diet like nuts, oily fish (salmon, mackerel and sardines), avocado, chia, flax seeds, olive oil, coconut oil and olives.
I love these herbs in my practice as they can be so effective.
Adaptogens help to balance the stress response and provide resistance to chronic stress. They help to enhance physical performance like fatigue and enhance mental performance (reduce anxiety, help memory). They work to help balance cortisol levels (neither too high or low). And they have been found to increase calmness
Three well known adaptogens are Ashwagandha, Rhodiola and Shatavari.
There can be contra-indications with medications and during pregnancy, so seek professional guidance before considering these.
These are plant based compounds that mimic oestrogen. They bind to oestrogen cell receptors to exert an oestrogenic effect. They can be very useful during the menopause when natural oestrogen levels declines.
It isn’t wise to choose just one type of phytoestrogen. Focus on having rich dietary sources: fermented soya – tempeh, miso, tofu; edamame; flaxseeds – best eaten milled; celery; sesame seeds; sunflower seeds; chickpeas & hummus; lentils and peas;
cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.)
You can then consider supplementing herbs such as red clover or sage (fresh sage leaf)
Love your Liver
Your liver has a major role in metabolising and synthesising hormones. It is an overworked organ responsible for over 500 processes. It’s taken for granted that it can do everything we throw at it.
During the menopause you must respect your liver. The liver can become over-burdened, detoxifying excess toxins. These can come from poor elimination, overload of chemicals added to food, fertilisers, pesticides, processed foods.
To help your liver process hormones, eat liver friendly foods like herbs, spices, lemons, olive oil, beetroot and cruciferous vegetables (Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower). Give your liver a 12-16 hour break between meals overnight, as it is involved in the process of digestion. Stay well hydrated with 2L of hydrating fluids every day (water and herbal teas). Minimise processed foods that deliver a nutritional debt to the body. Choose some organic foods (“Clean Fifteen, Dirty Dozen”).
Transitioning smoothly through the menopause takes a 360 degree holistic approach to your health. In addition to my digestive gut work, I provide support to women with hormonal and menopausal symptoms. There is relief out there, and you may benefit from a personalised nutrition and lifestyle approach.
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