The Natural Approach to Menopause
Menopause is defined as the cessation of menses (periods) which is caused by the body’s decreased production of sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone). Most women will experience the beginning of menopause between ages 50 and 55, although some women may note changes earlier.
Surgical menopause is caused by removal of the ovaries and uterus.
There are three phases of menopause:
1) The climacteric phase in which the periods become irregular.
2) Actual menopause which is the last menstrual cycle, diagnosed only in retrospect.
3) Post-menopause which begins one year after the cessation of the menses. In this last phase, there may be signs of declining estrogen.
What can you expect?
Please remember that you may have one, some or none of the below symptoms as well as experiences that are not on this list. Factors such as prior health history and fitness levels may affect how you are affected by menopausal changes.
- Changes in the menses: heavier or lighter, more or less frequent
- Emotional/mood changes: more or less labile, moods may be unpredictable, may be more or less optimistic
- Body changes: more or less vaginal discharge, vaginal lining may become drier, skin may become drier, “hot flashes”, headaches, fatigue, weight changes, bone density changes
- Infections: may be more disposed to vaginal or urinary tract infections
The questions of how to manage problems that arise during your peri- and post-menopausal years and whether or not to take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) are some of the most difficult decisions that a woman will face regarding her health care. Naturopathic physicians have the expertise to make individual assessment of whether or not HRT is necessary. In many cases, they find that it is not necessary to use HRT in the management of menopausal symptoms, or in the prevention of osteoporosis. A naturopathic physician will evaluate your past medical history, current medical problems, medications, and physical exam findings. She or he will also conduct appropriate tests to determine the optimal way to prevent and manage menopausal symptoms.
All of the symptoms brought on by the process of natural physiologic menopause can be prevented or treated with naturopathic therapies. In addition, naturopathic physicians also treat many women who are already taking HRT who are still not feeling well. The addition of naturopathic therapies can make these women more comfortable and often leads to the discontinuation of HRT.
NATUROPATHIC THERAPIES FOR MENOPAUSE
Natural therapies used to decrease and eliminate hot flashes, prevent osteoporosis, and treat other symptoms include:
Nutrition: A special diet to prevent osteoporosis is probably the single most important factor in the management of menopause. A diet that is high in complex carbohydrates, and low in fat, protein, and sugar is generally recommended. In addition, a naturopathic physician can make specific recommendations which tailor this diet to a woman’s other health issues and personal needs.
Nutritional Supplements: The need for mineral, vitamin, or glandular supplementation may be indicated for some menopausal women. Use of these supplements will be determined from the overall evaluation of physical, emotional, and mental health. Naturopathic physicians will take a close look at mineral supplementation such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, and other trace minerals.
Botanicals: There are very specific plant extracts that have the ability to restore normal hormonal balance. Women who have hot flashes or mood changes find that they feel dramatic improvements within 1-2 weeks with the use of plant extracts. A comprehensive plan using other naturopathic approaches is usually incorporated with the use of the herbal medicines.
Homeopathy: Homeopathic medicine is one of the most successful drugless therapies in the treatment of menopausal symptoms. If one has mental/emotional problems including depression, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, anger, etc., homeopathy can offer dramatic relief and stability with no side effects. Homeopathic medicines are made from plant, animal, and mineral substances and are completely drug-free.
Hydrotherapy: The treatment of diseases with water is one of the oldest traditions in naturopathic medicine. Various hydrotherapy treatments improve circulation, reduce blood pressure, and improve sleep and digestion. Naturopathic physicians may also use hydrotherapy treatments to treat women with any chronic disease that becomes worse during the menopausal years.
Physical Medicine & Exercise: In joint and muscle problems in particular, the use of naturopathic manipulation and physical therapy may be important. These recommendations are made on an individual basis. In addition, an exercise program may be part of the treatment program. Naturopathic physicians also offer support for how to carry this out within a busy lifestyle. Weight-bearing exercise is one of the most important components in the prevention of osteoporosis.
Counseling: The menopausal period can often be filled with many changes and self-discovery in ones life. Naturopathic physicians at the Natural Health Clinic can provide referrals to in-house counseling services or elsewhere to assist in this process. Most of the Clinic’s patients find that routine office visits provide them with a great deal of support and insight. Physicians take the time to listen, understand, and help women deal more effectively with their unique situations.
Naturopathic Medicine as a Complement to HRT: There are medical situations where naturopathic physicians recommend a complementary approach to menopause management. In cases where a woman’s ovaries have been removed or damaged surgically, a naturopathic physician would not hesitate to prescribe HRT. In these cases, naturopathic therapies are aimed at reducing the risks of hormone therapy while enhancing overall health and reducing the risks of osteoporosis and heart disease. Naturopathic physicians can also advise women about safer forms of estrogen and overall hormonal balance of estrogen and progesterone.
Know Your Options: We urge you to consult a naturopathic physician regarding your questions and concerns about menopause. Naturopathic physicians have a unique, successful approach to the management of menopause. The Natural Health Clinic is staffed with physicians who are involved in a long-term research using naturopathic therapies in menopause management and can provide you with state-of-the-art treatment. Women deserve to know their options regarding this very normal life process.
1. Hudson, T. Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Keats Publishing, 1999.