Are menopause symptoms ruining your life? Nutritional Director Rick Hay has 10 natural remedies that can make a big difference
Menstrual irregularity, hot flushes, night sweats and mood changes – do these bothersome symptoms sound familiar? These are some of the most common symptoms associated with the menopause and the perimenopause (the decade in the lead up to menopause).
As if us women don’t already have enough to deal with, the menopause sadly cannot be avoided and is a natural part of ageing for us women, supposedly occurring between the ages of 45 and 55. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51 according to the NHS.
So basically, the menopause can be described as when our ovaries start to fail in releasing eggs.
All women are born with a specific number of eggs, which over time reduce as we ovulate, usually every month. It is when we have lost most of our eggs and are left with around 1,000 that women will start to feel menopausal. So basically, the menopause can be described as when our ovaries start to fail in releasing eggs.
This failure causes our oestrogen levels to fall. This fall in oestrogen tells our brain to send more signals to our ovaries to try and get them to release an egg. To do this the brain also produces a hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which is what causes night sweats and those dreaded hot flushes.
Signs and symptoms of the menopause
Most women will experience symptoms of menopause for up to five to ten years before they have their last period. However, for reasons that are still unknown, some women sail problem free through the menopause whilst others suffer from symptoms that can significantly interfere with their quality of their life and their ability to function on a day-to-day basis.
The menopause, is also known as the ‘change of life’ for good reason. Not only are women plagued by hot flushes, night sweats and headaches but other more serious symptoms can be most unwelcome, especially when they start to effect life in the workplace for example.
Other common symptoms of the menopause include:
- Brain fog
- Impaired cognitive function
- Mood swings
- Loss of concentration
- Vaginal dryness
- Painful sex
- Dry skin
- Aching joints
To deal with these symptoms, many women choose to have hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT can alleviate menopausal symptoms and protect against osteoporosis (weak bones), lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of some cancers.
If you have a womb, then both oestrogen and progesterone are required as oestrogen used alone can increase your risk of cancer of the womb lining.
HRT can also increase the risk of breast cancer if used in its combined form of oestrogen and progesterone. The risk increases over time, but it is usually safe to take combined HRT for less than five years.
To avoid these risks, there are other options that don’t involve taking hormones. Luckily, Healthista’s Nutritional Director Rick Hay has 10 ways you can deal with common menopausal symptoms naturally without drugs.
#1 The humble herb sage
Herbs have been used traditionally for years to help all sorts of conditions and it turns out there are quite a few that can be especially helpful in easing menopause symptoms – yippee.
For starters there is sage. Sage is an evergreen shrub found in the Mediterranean region. Going back a thousand years, sage was used for protection against evil and to aid female fertility. Nowadays however, sage is commonly used as a spice but it still has many interesting health benefits.
Sage can also promote hormonal balance in women.
Sage is full of antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory powers that have even been said to improve memory, plus sage can also promote hormonal balance in women.
In fact, a study published in 2011, saw 71 menopausal women treated once-daily with a tablet containing fresh sage leaves for eight weeks.
The study found a significant decrease in hot flushes of 50 percent in just four weeks. Indeed, the total number of hot flushes per day decreased from one to eight per week. This suggests that adding fresh sage to your diet or taking it in tablet form can help to ease hot flushes and associated menopausal symptoms.
#2 Discover the herb red clover
Another herb that is proven to help ease menopausal symptoms is red clover. In traditional herbal medicine, red clover is typically used to treat a variety of health issues such as asthma, eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, and women’s health problems such as menopausal and menstrual symptoms.
Red clover is a rich source of isoflavones. Isoflavones are compounds that act as phytoestrogens (plant chemicals that are similar to the female hormone oestrogen). Isoflavone extracts can be found in many dietary supplements and other products, including teas, tablets, capsules and liquid extracts.
Moderate doses of red clover were more effective and superior to placebo in reducing hot flushes
Hormone changes can affect our body temperature, which is known as a ‘hot flush’. Thankfully, the phytoestrogen, isoflavone (found in red clover) has been associated with a significant reduction in hot flushes when compared to placebo.
A 2017 double-blind, randomised control trial involved 62 peri-menopausal women aged 40–65 who had reported suffering from hot flushes. The women received either red clover extract providing 34 mg/d isoflavones and probiotics or masked placebo formulation, twice daily for 12 weeks.
The trial found that moderate doses of red clover were more effective and superior to placebo in reducing physiological and self-reported symptoms of hot flushes.
Other herbs that contain phytoestrogens (isoflavones) and are scientifically proven to reduce menopausal symptoms include alfalfa, licorice, hops, and celery seed.
#3 Another menopause easing herb – agnus castus
Yet another herb (they just keep on coming don’t they?) is agnus castus. This herb is both effective and well researched for the natural relief of menopausal symptoms. It is used to treat menstrual irregularities associated with both the physical and emotional symptoms.
One study on Japanese patients published in 2014 found that agnus castus dramatically improved irritability, depressed mood, anger, headaches, fatigue, drowsiness and sleeplessness. Like red clover, agnus castus has also been shown to reduce hot flushes.
A natural supplement containing many of these herbs is Biocare’s Phytosterol Complex. This supplement contains a combination of botanical extracts including: hops, alfalfa, licorice, sage and celery seed. Suitable for women during and after child bearing age.
#4 Stop stressing out
Let’s talk about those unhealthy habits that you know deep down you could totally get a grip on. Firstly stress. It wont surprise you to know that stress can affect our hormones in many different ways.
Being under increased amounts of stress can make the inevitable drop in oestrogen that comes with the menopause far worse.
the herb agnus castus dramatically improved irritability, depressed mood, anger, headaches, fatigue, drowsiness and sleeplessness
Plus, stress can also reduce natural progesterone and testosterone levels. Although testosterone is usually considered to be a male hormone, women still need it for a healthy sex drive. A low libido can be infuriating and therefore lead to further stress and we don’t want anymore of that.
So although it can be out of your control, try not to stress out or you’ll only end up more stressed, it’s a viscous cycle. To try and calm yourself down, find a form of relaxation that works for you, such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, pilates or simply watching your favourite movie or reading a book.
Relaxation is also important, especially for those who suffer mostly from anxiety and poor sleep.
#5 Don’t over-do wine o’clock
Next unhealthy habit that may or may not be an issue is, alcohol. We all love a drink, but unfortunately studies have shown that alcohol can wreak havoc on your hormone balance.
Alcohol depletes nutrients from our body and upsets blood sugar levels, which can trigger hot flushes and night sweats. And of course as we know all to well, alcohol affects our liver, which has to be in tip top form to efficiently detoxify excess hormones.
Of course the occasionaly drink isn’t going to cause problems but chronic consumption of a large amount of alcohol can disrupt the communication between nervous, endocrine and immune system, causing hormonal disturbances that can lead to serious consequences at both physiological and behavioral levels.
A sensible guideline to stick to is having no more than one glass of alcohol a day. It may even be a good idea to abstain from alcohol during the week, and enjoy a few drinks on the weekend.
#6 Swap takeaways for homemade meals
Fast food, another unhealthy habit that can be easily avoided. Eating high fat, sugary or refined foods can also cause our blood sugar levels to dip and peak, which as mentioned previously can contribute to low mood, hot flushes, weight gain and fatigue.
Try to avoid eating too many refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pastries, white rice, white pasta, and pizza. Also consume less of the foods that contains too much sugar, such as sweets and fizzy drinks. Takeaways are also a no-no.
Swap these foods for wholefood alternatives such as oatcakes, wholewheat pasta, brown rice, fruit and nuts. If you are a ‘fizzy drinker’, try to switch to flavoured fizzy water, this will keep your blood sugar stable – it’s cheaper too.
Start making food from scratch too, rather than relying on quick microwave meals or takeaways. That way you will know exactly what is going into the food you are eating.
In addition to avoiding the ‘bad stuff’, you can add more of the ‘good stuff’ to your diet too. Add foods rich in phytoestrogen to your diets. Phytoestrogens are natural plant compounds that have an oestrogen-like effect in the body. They’re found in most plant foods including vegetables, beans, lentils, sage, parsley, nuts, rhubarb, brown rice, chickpeas, and flaxseeds.
In fact, a meta-analysis on studies published in 2015 found that consuming phytoestrogens resulted in a significantly greater reduction in hot flush frequency when compared to placebo.
#7 Stop sitting, get moving
Do you sit at your desk all day, sit on the tube home and then sit on the sofa to watch TV? This sitting habit is something else that should be addressed.
It goes without saying that exercise is good for us and regular physical activity, even just getting our 10,000 steps a day can help to prevent weight gain by burning excess fat.
As you get older your body becomes less efficient in producing and releasing key hormones that are responsible for many important functions within the body. Strength training, even with smaller weights will help your body to respond and regulate the release of these hormones.
One of these hormones is insulin (insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas). By lifting weights, insulin levels will become more stable, helping to maintain blood sugar levels and therefore preventing those hot flushes.
Cardio or aerobic exercise not only helps with fat loss and weight loss but also with heart health, osteoporosis and sleep patterns. Some of the best low impact aerobic exercise you can do are swimming, cycling and rowing.
Whatever exercise you choose to do, make sure it is something you enjoy, as this will help lift your spirits with feel good endorphins such as seretonin, if one of your menopausal symptoms is a low mood.
It doesn’t have to be a huge change like going to the gym everyday or running a marathon, but reaching 10,000 steps a day, taking the stairs instead of the escalator or going for a lunch time walk will still make a huge difference.
#8 Magnesium and vitamins
Do you spend some nights just tossing and turning, wishing you could get even an hours sleep? If poor sleep is an issue for you, then you may need to start taking the mineral magnesium. Not only will this help induce sleep but will also help to reduce stress, headaches and muscle cramping
Studies have shown that women taking 400mg of magnesium daily show reduced nervous tension, dizziness and headaches.
Magnesium increases a chemical neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA which encourages relaxation
Magnesium increases a chemical neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), which encourages relaxation as well as sleep. Magnesium also promotes good sleep by helping us to unwind.
Indeed, a 2012 study found that 500mg magnesium taken for eight weeks before bed had a positive improvement on insomnia levels.
Additionally, researchers in 2017 published a study in the journal PLoS One and found that adults who received 248 mg magnesium a day for six weeks saw a significant improvement in their levels of depression and anxiety.
Good food sources of magnesium include leafy greens, seeds, almonds, cashews and peanuts, spinach, brown rice and black beans along with edamame. Avocados and whole wheat are a great breakfast or lunch choice as these are both rich in magnesium.
A couple of other diet additions that you may want to consider are wholegrain carbs such as brown rice and quinoa as these can help to boost feel good serotonin levels essential to lifting mood and reducing cravings. Plus, try to eat more cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage and kale – aim for two servings a day.
Combining both B vitamins and magnesium can further reduce menopausal symptoms, especially if you are feeling down, anxious or lacking in energy.
B vitamins are required for the release of energy from food, for the healthy function of the nervous system and for the production of hormones. B vitamins also support the circulatory and immune systems and help maintain the health of skin, hair and eyes.
Plus, vitamins B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12 all contribute to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
Biocare’s Methyl B Complex is a superior B complex, providing nutrients in their naturally active forms. Methyl B Complex also contains folate as methylfolate or 5-MTHF.
5-MTHF is the natural form of folate found in foods such as leafy green vegetables.
Biocare use Quatrefolic, which they say is the most advanced form of folate supplementation available, with optimum stability and bioavailability.
#9 Get those Omega 3s
Another easy way to reduce menopausal symptoms is by making sure you are consuming omega fatty acids. It may be that omega fatty acids affect certain hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
Indeed, people living in countries with the highest intakes of fish oil have the lowest rates of unhappiness and depression. Results from 21 studies, involving over 255,000 people, found that those who ate the most fish were 22 per cent less likely to develop depression than those who ate the least.
A 2013 double-blind placebo-controlled study on 184 women published in the journal Complementary Therapy Medicine, found that taking 2000mg of omega-3 fatty acids for 45 days reduced psychiatric symptoms such as depression, anxiety and lack of concentration.
Interestingly, research has also shown that eating a daily portion of oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines could help delay the menopause by three years.
Salmon is an excellent source of both omega 3 and B vitamins. These help to produce energy and aid brain function. So if you’re feeling a little foggy, then a salmon dish could help to get you moving and improve cognitive function and mood at the same time
If you would like to supplement with fish oil rather than getting it from food sources, aim to take 3000mgs of fish oil daily – 1000mg with each meal.
If you’re a vegetarian, you can take Algal Oil which is fish free but still contains the all important elements of omega-3s that your body needs.
#10 Swap your coffee for green tea
As well as alcohol, caffeine too can upset our blood sugar levels. So it might be time to have less than the usual five cups of coffee a day, fine three, lets not exaggerate.
Is it just me or is green tea the elixir of health? One of the biggest benefits of drinking green tea however has got to be its ability to increase energy and metabolism. Perfect if you are suffering from menopausal symptoms such as weight gain and fatigue.
The increased fat burn and metabolism effect comes from phytochemicals that are present in green tea called catechins.
Three to five cups a day can help you burn an extra 70 calories
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that green tea-extract can increase the metabolism by four per cent over a 24 hour period. Three to five cups a day can help you burn an extra 70 calories – that’s seven pounds a year.
The advantage of green tea as an energy boost is that the natural caffeine found in it is slow releasing.
Despite the energy boost, green tea is balanced out with an amino acid called L-theanine, which works on calming alpha waves in the brain, helping with anxiety, stress and sleep issues.
So it really is an all rounder. Hay recommends drinking four to five cups of green tea a day. if you think you can’t drink green tea because it’s too bitter, take a look at our latest post on the 13 best-tasting green teas we have tried.