Approximately 65 million women in America between the ages of 40 and 70 are either approaching menopause, in active menopause or post-menopausal. The cause of menopause is the gradual depletion of estrogen in the body as we age, resulting in symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disruption, thinning bone density, mood swings, hormonal imbalance, thinning hair and low libido.
While there is no way to stop menopause, the good news is that there are ways to manage its symptoms for improved health and quality of life.
There are several medical options for treating menopause that can relieve symptoms and help with chronic conditions that may occur with aging. One of the most common treatments is hormone therapy.
There are two basic types of hormone therapy (HT):
- ET means estrogen-only therapy. Estrogen is the hormone that provides the most menopausal symptom relief. ET is prescribed for women without a uterus due to a hysterectomy.
- EPT means combined estrogen plus progestogen therapy. Progestogen is added to ET to protect women with a uterus against uterine (endometrial) cancer from estrogen alone.
There are two general ways to take HT:
- Systemic products circulate throughout the bloodstream and to all parts of the body. They are available as an oral tablet, patch, gel, emulsion, spray, or injection and can be used for hot flashes and night sweats, vaginal symptoms, and osteoporosis.
- Local (nonsystemic) products affect only a specific or localized area of the body. They are available as a cream, ring, or tablet and can be used for vaginal symptoms.
There are some risks associated with long-term use of HT, including heart attack and breast cancer. You should discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor to determine if HT is a safe choice for you.
Other treatments for symptoms of menopause include vaginal estrogen, anti-depressants and medications to slow the progression of osteoporosis. Again, your doctor can help you determine which course of treatment is right for your particular symptoms and health conditions.
Can “super foods” help manage menopause?
Research suggests that since nutritional deficiencies can occur because of the demands that menopause puts on a woman’s body, addressing those deficiencies can be one of the keys to effectively treating menopause. For example, the aging process diminishes the body’s ability to activate vitamin D, which lowers absorption rates and increases the risk for osteoporosis. Magnesium deficiency can contribute to insomnia. And B vitamins can help reduce stress.
The right diet and dietary supplements can improve these symptoms by correcting deficiencies. Try adding these “super” foods to your menu:
- Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens and broccoli, as well as beans. These can help lower your risk for osteoporosis, heart disease and breast cancer.
- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5), found in salmon, sunflower seeds and avocados, can reduce hot flashes and help stabilize moods.
- Royal jelly, a supplement made by honeybees, is loaded with minerals, vitamins, protein and pheromones.
- Phyto-active compounds found in fruits, vegetables and herbs mimic the body’s natural hormones to help alleviate stress, reduce hot flashes and fight fatigue.
What about those hot flashes?
Roughly 75 percent of menopausal women experience hot flashes. While you probably can’t prevent them entirely, there are some steps you can take to reduce your discomfort:
- Learn your hot flash triggers. Keeping a journal to record your findings can help identify underlying triggers.
- Use common sense. Dress in layers that can be removed when feeling warm; use a fan or open a window to keep air flowing; lower the thermostat and decrease the room temperature; sip a cold drink.
- Say no to the hot tub. Both hot tubs and saunas can cause your body temperature to rise and trigger a hot flash.
- Watch what you eat and drink. Hot and spicy foods, caffeinated drinks and alcohol can trigger a hot flash.
- Relax. Yoga, meditation or other helpful relaxation techniques may provide some relief.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking is linked to an increase in hot flashes.
For a list of common questions and answers and other information about all things menopause, visit The North American Menopause Society.