The Women’s Health Initiative, a comprehensive large participant study was used to determine the results of estrogen supplementation in peri and menopausal women. This study evaluated as many as 16,000 women in terms of the value of hormone therapy and it’s effect on risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, osteoporosis, breast cancer, cognitive function and quality of life. With the exception of osteoporosis risk, hormone replacement was found to be ineffective at preventing future disease and may increase risk of stroke and breast cancer.
As a Naturopathic doctor I am often in the position to recommend therapies that encourage the body to produce more of a deficient hormone. I seldom will recommend replacing the hormone with a synthetic form as with many systems in the body, the body has a tendency to decrease it’s natural hormone production in response to the external source. Prior to this early termination of this study due to perceived risk to the participants I saw many women prescribed hormone replacement to relieve the unpleasant menopausal symptom such as night sweats or hot flashes without any concerns over possible health risks. Now with this powerful evidence it is essential to emphasize a variety of lifestyle, nutritional, and herbal therapies during this transition period in the woman’s life. Here are some of your natural options to hormone replacement therapy.
Any therapeutic plan must be built on a solid foundation of core lifestyle and nutritional practices. There can not be enough emphasis made on a regular (3-5 times per week) of exercise consisting of aerobic, anaerobic and flexibility training. Aerobic as the name involves an increased demand for oxygen by the body to maintain physical activity. Swimming, Bicycle riding, Cross country skiing, involve motions that are low impact on that they are considered acceptable for those at risk for bone and joint injury. Anerobic involves using resistance(weights) to increase the strength of muscles. Weight training can be modified to meet a variety of goals from building muscle size to building speed and endurance. Generally 15 repetitions repeated 3 times is sufficient per exercise for beginners. Flexibility is often the most neglected yet perhaps most important. Whether muscle stretching is encouraged through stretching exercises or activities such as yoga and Tai Chi, untreated muscle tension can lead to chronic pain, and muscle and joint injury.
We are what we eat, or at least we experience the highs and lows that create from eating healthy of not so healthy. One of the first areas to consider is how often you eat.
For a moment consider your body like a car. Back in the days of carborators, if you give your car too much gas at one time you would flood it, meaning your engine couldn’t digest all that food at one time. Your digestive system is somewhat similar in that five or six small meals taken every three hours are much more efficiently used for fuel than three meals over the course of the day.
What you eat is of course significant but I find most people have read an article or have watched a television show that has told than the basics about what foods are good or bad. My basic rule is, eat foods as close to their natural state as possible. An example would be eating a fresh salad rather than boiled veggies or stir fry (quick) as apposed to pan fry (longer cooking with added fats).
As a Naturopathic doctor my experience has shown nutritional and herbal therapies are generally most effective when the cause of an illness can be determined and specifically targeted. This does not often fit with the approach of providing female hormones to a women when her body has determined that they are no longer needed. When natural menopause has been determined ie. not caused by another type of pathology it is best to support the many body systems which are effected by highs and lows of hormones such as the Nervous system, the liver, the cardiovascular system among others. By developing a plan which supports these systems we can minimize the period of uncomfortable symptoms and begin the act of preventing future imbalances and diseases.
As any of my patients will tell you, I never nor plan to recommend one herb or supplement for any condition. As Chinese medicine practitioners have known for thousands of years the action of several herbs and supplements in low dose are effective at minimizing potential side effects and maximizing benefits.
Each treatment plan is as unique as the history, current presentation and health goals of the individual. A plan may include some or all of the following:
- Soy Protein: Research has shown that soy isoflavones mimic a weak form of estrogen and can alleviate many symptoms of low estrogen levels. Soy has shown benefits at maintaining bone mass and density which reduces incidence of osteoporosis. In patients with high levels of human estrogen soy can compete with the same receptors and cause a weaker action therefore result in a weaker estrogen effect in the body.
- Angeica sinensis-Dong Quai Has been used in china to regulate the menstrual cycle through estrogen-like action by relaxing uterine contractions, increasing liver metabolism,(balancing hormone levels), and pain relieving properties.
- Dioscorea villosa-Wild Yam. Anti-inflammatory, nervous system relaxant, and combine to relieve muscle spasm while providing a progesterone like effect.
- Leonoris cardiaca Motherwort- Increases circulation to the reproductive organs, and reduces nervous tension and anxiety.
- Trifolium pretense-Red Clover- Contains “phytoestrogens” , anti-tumor activity, and high vitamin and mineral content to nurish debilitated tissues.
- Vitamin E- Anti-oxidant (protects cell integrity), Anti-inflammatory, Anti-clotting (beware if on blood thinners), Increases oxygen supply to cells.
- Evening Primrose Oil-High in essential fats specifically omega-6 Decreases the production of pro-inflammatory hormones. The ratio of pro-inflammatory fats and anti-inflammatory fats (essential fats) is often very high. Supplementation as well as a diet high in fish legumes, nuts and seeds can correct this imbalance.
- Calcium (citrate, malate, gluconate, or aspartate) an essential mineral for bone metabolism, many dietary factors such an caffeine and acid blocking medication can decrease absorption. Leafy greens, yogurt and cottage cheese are good dietary sources however supplementation is often indicated with co-factors of Vitamin D and Boron.
- Magnesium (citrate, malate, gluconate, or aspartate) helps regulate the absorbsion of Calcium, relaxes smooth muscles (relieving cramping) decreases the production of pro-imflammatory hormones, decreases blood clotting (caution if taking blood thinners) dietary sources include soy, whole wheat, brown rice, and cashews. Again supplementation is often indicated.
Menopause as with any period of transition in life is a particularly important time to ensure solid lifestyle practices of exercise, nutrition and stress management. The changes made now will pay off with greater energy, emotional stability, prevention from injury and debilitating disease and promote a full and happy life into your golden years.
Christopher Fischer is a Naturopathic Physician and is the President of Natural Health Specialist in East Northport New York. He received his Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University.
Christopher regularly collaborates with traditional healthcare providers to assure for continuity of care. He has also has worked extensively in various therapeutic capacities in traditional medical settings including; the Swedish Hospital in Ballard WA, Saint John's Hospital in Smithtown New York and South Oaks Hospital in Amityville New York.
He frequently lectures on Naturopathic Medicine and natural healing, and has been a contributing expert for American Spa Magazine, Creations Magazine, The Northport Observer as well as the Natural Health Show on METRO TV (NY). He is the proud father of two boys and resides in East Northport New York.