By Dr Monique Hallee BScHK.
The eternal optimist may approach menopause with a comment like, “the hot flashes and night sweats will be so enjoyable in the cold winter months – perhaps I can take that artic expedition I’ve always secretly wanted to try.” Unfortunately, the majority of women who experience peri-menopausal symptoms will not be able have quite the same outlook.
Peri-menopause can be a difficult experience and in some cases becomes quite debilitating. Hot flashes, night sweats and weight gain are among the most common irritants to a woman’s life at that time. Further still, other complaints can be:
- inability to think straight or retain information (short term memory problems)
- moodiness or mood changes
- vaginal dryness and/or pain with intercourse
- incontinence issues (particularly with those who have had their uterus removed)
Menopause occurs when a woman has not had a period for 1 year. Up until that point, she may have periods that are farther apart or closer together. They can be lighter or heavier in flow and/or spotting can occur between periods. This time of irregular blood flow is known as peri-menopause. The above listed symptoms can occur in peri-menopause and into menopause.
Treatment with conventional medicine tends to be various type of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The theory behind using HRT is a good one: a replacement of lost hormones will help with symptoms but also prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures. This is because estrogen is one of the major contributors to proper bone strength, so when levels drop in menopause, women start to run the risk of breaking bones. While the theory of HRT is good, in practice the harms outweigh the benefit.
A major study that followed women using HRT, called the Women’s Health Initiative, found that the pharmaceutical and synthetic hormones that women were using were causing other health concerns, including cancer. One of the most common HRT options I have seen patients use is Premarin, which is an estrogen-replacement. Specifically it is a combination of many conjugated estrogens made from the urine of pregnant horses. While this is technically a “natural” source, it appears to not actually be that healthy.
Ideally, women are best suited to have hormones that match the ones their bodies make. The common equivalent prescription to these are Estrace and Prometrium. Still, women sometimes experience side effects, headache being one of the most common. From what I have seen, individualized and compounded preparations seem to be the best tolerated with least side effects.
Thankfully, natural medicines are also available to aid women, particularly those with less severe symptoms. While dosing can be a tricky topic, certain herbs like black cohosh and certain vitamin supplementation can greatly help women in aiding their health during peri-menopause, menopause and onward. Some personal things women can do to aid menopausal symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats are:
- Avoid hot beverages, particularly coffee
- Avoid spicy foods
- Get regular exercise
- If you smoke, quit!
- Eating a healthy diet is important (plenty of vegetables and fruits with meats while avoiding processed foods and excess grains. Don’t worry too much about eating soy – some women are afraid of it due to the claims of phytoestrogens. Soy can actually be helpful, as long as it is non-GMO).
- Try making an iced tea with sage to sip on to help with hot flashes
- Know when to get help (if your symptoms are negatively impacting your life, talk to a licenced ND or other qualified health care professional about what you can do to help).
If you have a health question you would like answered, contact Dr Hallee, and your question could be featured in an article.
For further information, see a health care provider for more tips on how to keep you and your family healthy or, if you have a specific question, use the comments box below or email Today Media to have it answered.