How To Survive Menopause Without HRT
What can you do if you’re struggling your way through menopause?
In terms of treatment, we all know that HRT is one option, but it’s not for everyone. Your Doctor might offer you antidepressants, but if you don’t feel depressed, or you worry about side effects, you might prefer to look at herbal medicine or other alternatives. Whilst on the one hand I know that mainstream these kinds of medications can be really helpful, at the same time, they’re forcing your body into a state it wouldn’t naturally be in. Some women feel uncomfortable about using hormone replacement therapy, hormone contraceptives or antidepressants certainly to start with, and prefer to look at self care options, including herbal or natural remedies first. So here are a few of my suggestions for how to survive menopause without HRT.
What Is Menopause?
Firstly, we need to understand a little bit about what’s going on. Officially, menopause marks the first year’s anniversary since your last period, but it’s not quite as simple as that! Firstly, I’ve known lots of women get a period 14 or so months after their last one, although it doesn’t happen that often.
But for anywhere between 2 and 10 years before that point, we can go through a phase called ‘perimenopause’. This is the lead up to menopause, where your hormone levels will start to wobble somewhat as your body prepares for its next phase. And when I say your hormone levels wobble, I mean that virtually ALL of them do at some point or another, not just the ones you need for reproduction! Your thyroid, adrenal and pancreatic hormones are all affected too, as well as key brain chemicals like Serotonin. This is why perimenopause can bring us such a wide variety of both physical and mental symptoms at different points.
When you think of menopause, you probably think of hot flushes, mood swings and weight gain, but the fun doesn’t end there! Those symptoms your body saves for later on in the proceedings, but the signs that you’re in perimenopause can start off much more subtly. Here are a few to be aware of:
- Anxiety, insomnia, depression or irritability (read my blog on Menopause Anxiety here)
- General aches and pains
- Loss of self confidence
- Loss of libido
- Heavy bleeding or other changes to your cycle
- Itchy skin
I know, I’m not painting a very pretty picture here, but the more we can understand what’s going on, the easier it becomes. Far from heralding the start of our old age, it’s thought that menopause is actually a very clever evolutionary adaption, which has been vital for the survival of humankind. Back when we used to live in nomadic tribes, we obviously would have depended on hunting and gathering to feed ourselves. The problem was that feeding an entire tribe in this way took a lot of effort, and sometimes the hunters would have to spend long periods of time away from home. Raising babies and children was also very labour intensive, and if the mothers were taking care of their little ones, there weren’t many able people left to forage for food. So along came menopause to the rescue! That meant that the older women weren’t able to have children of their own, but could raise the others, leaving their mothers to go and get food. Elder women had also accumulated years of wisdom that would help the tribe survive any crisis, so they became highly revered for their life experience!
Women’s lives have three phases: The Maiden phase – childhood up to childbearing age. The Mother phase – childbearing age. The Elder phase – after childbearing age. So where adolescence marks the transition from Maiden to Mother, menopause marks the transition from Mother to Elder. Both are natural processes we need to go through, but just because they’re natural, it doesn’t necessarily make them plain sailing. I honestly don’t know many people who enjoyed their teens, and most women don’t relish the thought of being menopausal either.
Why Is Menopause So Difficult?
Although menopause comes to most of us around the age of 50, it can happen at any point during adulthood. Very rarely, some women go through it in their teens or early 20’s, and I know one lady who reached menopause in her early 60’s! The problem is, that this isn’t common knowledge, even amongst Doctors, so often women complain that their Doctor has dismissed their concerns about menopausal issues because they’re too young.
As well as the physical changes, it can be a very emotional time too. The window of opportunity for starting a family is closing, and it’s unbearable for those women who desperately wanted children but couldn’t have them for whatever reason. As another rite of passage, menopause often gets us thinking about our mortality, how our life has gone so far, and what we’d like to do with the rest of our lives. If something’s made us unhappy for a long time, menopause usually brings that to crisis point, heralding the end of unhappy partnerships or careers. The emotional and psychological side of menopause is often harder to cope with than the physical side. Everyone knows about hot flushes and mood swings and they’re talked about often. We don’t hear so much about the raging anger, the sense of grief, emptiness, or disconnection. Many women don’t realise that anxiety, depression and even paranoia can all come with menopause, and that makes them all the more frightening if they happen.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Menopausal ladies around the world are coming out of the closet, and we’re talking about it more. Discussions around menopause in the workplace are happening, employers are slowly becoming more aware and more supportive of their female workforce. The more we talk about it, understand what’s happening and what the options are, the easier it becomes.
Is HRT Really The Only Menopause and Perimenopause Option?
The first thing most of us think of when we’re looking into surviving menopause is HRT, but it’s certainly not the only option. As far as mainstream medicine goes, the main medications in their box of tricks for menopause are:
- Benefits – what are the benefits of the medication you’re being offered?
- Risks – what are the risks?
- Alternatives – what other options might be suitable for you?
- Nothing – what would happen if you did nothing?
Whilst BRAN is always a good place to start, finding reliable information about the risks and benefits can be tricky. You could use the BNF website here to learn more about the benefits and side effects of the specific medication you’re being offered. Your Doctor or Pharmacist will be able to tell you about the benefits, and how long it might take for you to notice a difference.
For alternatives, you’ll need to look elsewhere but there are lots of options. Self care is always the best place to start, as it’s good to get the basics in place, and even small changes can make a big difference. If after that you still need more help, there’s plenty available, but do make sure you check out any prospective practitioners thoroughly before you hand over any money.
Self Care During Menopause
Usually by the time we reach menopause, we’ve put ourselves at the bottom of the list of priorities. Family, career or other commitments have come first, and perhaps we’ve spent years not getting quite enough sleep, or moving enough, or eating quite as well as we could. When menopause happens to a chronically overstressed, overtired, undernourished person, it’s no wonder we can run into problems is it? But luckily our bodies are very forgiving when we step up and take better care, and for me, tackling the root cause of the problem first makes far more sense than simply taking medication.
The clients on my programmes work on eight key areas of self care to get all these basics in place. They are:
- Understanding – finding out where things have gone wrong, and what their body is trying to tell them.
- Mindset – as all health issues begin in the subconscious mind, this is where we start working.
- Nutrition – learning what to eat, how to make it easy to eat well, and making sure you get maximum nourishment from your food.
- Hydration – how drinking water, and using hydrotherapy can help you reach optimum health.
- Oxygen – how to oxygenate your whole body with healthy breathing and circulation.
- Activity – why movement is so important for mental and physical health, and how to find activities you enjoy.
- Rest – how to get restorative sleep, and deep relaxation.
- Joy – cultivating happiness and resilience.
Ideas For Self Care For Menopause
Here’s a ‘Could Do’ list of things to try at home, but please treat them as fact finding exercises only, and be kind to yourself no matter what you discover.
If you’re struggling with sleep, become aware of your bedtime routine, and what’s keeping you awake. Are you giving yourself time to relax before bed? A great trick for getting off to sleep is to take a deep breath in, tense every muscle in your body, from your scalp to the tips of your toes, and relax them all as you breathe out.
For weight gain, notice exactly what you’re eating and when. Insulin resistance is largely responsible for weight gain during menopause, and it can be helped by balancing your blood sugar through healthy eating, and stress management. If you’re skipping breakfast, craving sweet or stodgy foods, or caffeine, blood sugar is likely to be a problem. Eating in a way that balances your blood sugar and keeps you energised throughout the day will help your mood as well as your energy levels.
As for your mental health, notice what kinds of situations, if any, are particularly challenging for you. It’s always worth getting into the habit of daily deep relaxation, but if hormone imbalance is the problem, smoothing out the fluctuations really is the only fix. Herbal medicine can be wonderful for helping women to feel calmer, clearer and more in control throughout menopause.
For hot flushes, again, look to see if there are any patterns or triggers. Stress can be a big one, but low blood sugar can do it to, and others can seem completely random. Keep a spray bottle of water or a facial mist like this one in your fridge, or with you when you’re out, to help you cool down instantly.
For any symptoms that are affecting your work, your employer has a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for you. That might include things like giving you a notepad if brain fog is making things difficult, or a desk fan to help you stay cool. Companies like ‘Menowhaat?’ can help start raising awareness and getting people talking about menopause in your workplace.
What Other Help Is There? Herbal Remedies For the Menopause
It’s important to remember that menopause herbal remedies and HRT work in completely different ways. Often I get asked “Which herb should I take for ‘hot flushes?” or something similar, and I have to explain that it really depends on what the cause of the hot flushes is. We’re treating the whole person, and the cause of their flushes, rather than the flushes themselves. Herbs like Sage can do that by introducing phyto-oestrogens, which mimic the body’s own natural oestrogen, but I’ve found that in some women St John’s Wort is far more effective than Sage because the flushes are more due to low serotonin levels. It really depends what’s going on behind the scenes! Whilst it is quite difficult to do yourself serious harm self-medicating natural menopause remedies, you can easily waste a lot of time and money finding the best fit for you.
If you’re willing and able to invest in some help, the sky really is the limit, and I’d suggest you assemble your own ‘team.’ They might include the friends who will make you laugh no matter what, your GP, maybe a meditation or yoga teacher, or a massage therapist, and someone who can work on getting your hormones back to their happy place.
That’s where I come in! All the information you need about my 90 Day Rescue Programme is here, but if your symptoms are still quite bearable, my ‘Better MySelf’ programme might be the best fit. It’s a home learning programme all about self-care, where you learn how to love your body, and let it love you back. Over the course of the eight modules I listed above, you get to learn the theory of what to do, and the practical aspects of exactly how to do it, so you can take back control over what’s going on, and make lifestyle choices that will work well for you.
And if you’re not sure exactly what help you need, click here to book a free call and we can work it out between us