- Women's Health
The Menopause And Natural HRT
The menopause is a natural phase in a woman's life when her fertility draws to a close. It usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 with an average of 51 years. The menopause is dated from a woman's last period, but the process really starts five to ten years before, as the ovaries slowly run out of egg follicles. As a result, levels of oestrogen (oestradiol, oestrone plus oestriol) start to fall until too little is produced to maintain the monthly menstrual cycle.
Some women quickly adapt to lower levels of oestrogen and notice few - if any - problems. Others find it harder to lose their oestrogen and experience unpleasant symptoms that last from one to five years - and occasionally longer. Surveys suggest that one in four women have few problems, a half only notice mild symptoms while a quarter suffer quite badly.
The short-term symptoms of oestrogen withdrawal vary but commonly include hot flushes, night sweats, headaches, tiredness and mood swings. In time, symptoms such as vaginal dryness, urinary problems, thinning and loss of elasticity of skin occur. In the long term, oestrogen withdrawal also increases the risk of a number of potentially serious problems such coronary heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) supplies natural or synthetic oestrogen plus, for women who have not had a hysterectomy, a synthetic form of progesterone hormone (progestogen) to prevent your womb lining from being over-stimulated.
HRT restores oestrogen levels to their pre-menopausal range, relieves short-term menopausal symptoms and helps to postpone medium and long-term symptoms. HRT can only be used for up to 10 years (counting from the age of 50) however, in order to minimise any increased risk of breast cancer.
Not every woman is willing - or able - to take prescribed HRT. Luckily, several natural supplements are available that can help. (Do not take during pregnancy, breastfeeding or if you suffer from an oestrogen-sensitive tumour - except under advice from an accredited practitioner).
Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) is a rich source of essential fatty acids that act as building blocks for sex hormones. EPO has also been shown to help guard against osteoporosis by increasing absorption of calcium from the diet, increase calcium deposition in your bones and reduce calcium loss through the kidneys. It also helps to keep skin, hair and nails in good condition.
Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) has a direct action on centres of the brain that help to control dilation of blood vessels, so reduce menopausal symptoms of hot flushes and sweating. It also has a normalising effect on hormone levels. Several comparison studies have shown standardised extracts of Black Cohosh give better results in relieving hot flushes, vaginal thinning and dryness, depression and anxiety than standard HRT. Most women experience significant improvement in symptoms within two to four weeks.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) is a natural diuretic that helps to reduce fluid retention and can also reduce the unpleasant effects of night sweats.
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) Chinese angelica has a balancing effect on oestrogen levels, supporting normal ovarian function and relieving painful periods. One study found it was 1.7 times more effective than aspirin in relieving painful periods, which can occur as the menopause approaches.
Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) helps the body to adapt during times of stress. It displays oestrogen-like activity and has been shown to relieve hot flushes, vaginal dryness, night sweats and anxiety.
Hypericum (Hypericum perforatum) is effective in lifting mild to moderate depression. One trial showed that Hypericum plus Black cohosh was effective in treating 78% of women with hot flushes and other menopausal problems within two to four weeks. Another study involving 111 post-menopausal women (aged 45-65 years) with low sex drive plus physical exhaustion found that taking Hypericum for three months helped 60% became interested in sex again. Eighty-two per cent also suffered less irritability, anxiety, low mood, hot flushes, sweating and disturbed sleep.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense). Clinical studies have shown reduced menopausal symptoms of hot flushes and mood swings within three to four weeks of taking the supplement, with 90% of volunteers choosing to continue taking Red Clover at the end of the trials.
Soy extracts: Soy extracts have been shown to help reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats.
Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) is rich in hormone building blocks from which progesterone can be synthesised in the laboratory. The body cannot carry out this conversion itself, but wild yam does seem to have some useful actions that many women find helpful at the menopause.