Natural Menopause Treatments That Really Work
What are your options if you’ve got terrible peri-menopause symptoms and you can’t take HRT? Here are some natural menopause treatments that really work.
Are You In Peri-Menopause?
The early signs are so subtle, it can be hard to tell if you’re in peri-menopause. I’ve written another blog here which explains more about the many symptoms of peri-menopause that can happen at the different stages, but for now, the more common tell-tale signs are:
- Mood changes or anxiety
- Feeling hot, or getting hot flushes
- Changes in the length of your monthly cycle, or pre-menstrual symptoms
- Weight gain that doesn’t move with diet & exercise
- Aches and pains
Menopause can happen at any age, so if you’re not aged between 40-55, you’re getting these symptoms and they can’t be explained any other way, do see if you can get your hormone levels tested.
Why HRT Is The Number One Choice For Menopause
Menopause has become a very hot topic in recent years, particularly since Davina McCall’s TV programme about it first aired in May 2021. During the following month, demand for HRT increased by 30%, and skyrocketed to a 130% increase by the end of the year. HRT has become the default choice for women struggling with menopause symptoms and/or worried about developing dementia, osteoporosis or heart disease later in life. One of the downsides is that the increased demand has worsened shortages of HRT which were already affecting women after BREXIT. Unfortunately this is still an ongoing problem even now.
What Are Natural Menopause Treatments?
Natural menopause treatments work in a rather different way to HRT. When our reproductive hormones naturally decline in late peri-menopause, HRT tops the levels back up again. With natural menopause treatments, we don’t add in new hormones. Instead we work on the basis that your body has its own intelligence, which has allowed you to create yourself from just 2 cells, cope with birth, puberty, possibly pregnancy and birth, and any repairs needed along the way. When we struggle with menopause symptoms it’s usually because we’re running on empty, and no longer have the resources we need to make this latest transition smoothly. Fortunately the human body is very forgiving, and when we give you back what you need in the form of rest, sleep, good nutrition, activity, and herbs, menopause suddenly becomes much easier.
That might sound vague, but perimenopause is a big ask even when you’re well. Your body has to learn to make its hormones in new forms, in a new way. Your adrenal glands take over most of your oestrogen production, but if you’re like most people, by now they’ve already become tired from pumping out stress hormones to help you cope with life for the last 4 or 5 decades. This is why adapting your lifestyle to reduce your stress levels, and possibly taking herbs and vitamins to calm down your stress response is so important if you’re looking to tame your hormones.
There are lots of different natural menopause treatments to choose from, but in my world we usually start with self care. That’s because by getting the foundations of good health in place, it’s often possible to resolve at least some symptoms. Self care ideas include:
- Adopting a bedtime routine to support restful sleep
- Learning some deep breathing exercises to oxygenate your body and start resetting your hormones.
- Adding more phyto-oestrogens into your diet.
- Switching to chemical free toiletries.
- Trying cold water swimming
- Changing your diet and eating habits to minimise insulin resistance.
It may not even be necessary to use herbal medicine, but they’re the next port of call if improving diet, relaxation, sleep and exercise doesn’t quite help enough.
How Do We Know That These Natural Menopause Treatments Really Do Work?
It’s a great question! Firstly, many have stood the test of time which would imply that they’re effective. However, it’s always good to understand more about how they work, and that’s where the science comes in. Unfortunately herbal medicine often gets criticised for not having enough scientific ‘evidence base’, and that’s largely because herbs only get 0.1% of the global research budget! If you enjoy reading research articles, there are still plenty on PubMed or Google Scholar, but here are some I’ve found:
- This is one of several which backs the use of breathing exercises in reducing hot flushes.
- Even one dose of cold water therapy has been found to significantly improve mood. Cold water therapy improves your ability to move into and more importantly back out of your stress response, building mental resilience and healthy brain function too.
- Both flaxseed and the herb Vitex agnus castus reduced cyclical breast pain after three months.
Do Phyto-oestrogens Work For Peri-menopause?
There’s been a lot of interest in phyto-oestrogens in recent years, which partly stemmed from observing that in parts of Asia where soya was a staple food, there was very little problem with menopause. Sheep grazing on pasture with lots of red clover would often have difficulty conceiving or birthing lambs. Phyto-oestrogens are thought to be a plant’s way of protecting their own survival by stopping over grazing!
There are eight different kinds of phyto-oestrogens. Steroidal saponins are the ones that the pharmaceutical companies most often use to create HRT from herbs like Mexican Wild Yam. Another common kind is isoflavones, which are found in soya and red clover.
I use phyto-oestrogenic herbs in my menopause prescriptions all the time, and there’s a lot of scientific evidence backing their use. Sage is strongly phyto-oestrogenic and studies back its traditional use for treating sweating, brain fog and hot flushes. Studies on Red Clover show that it’s effective in treating vaginal dryness, fatigue, low libido and hot flushes.
Unfortunately there’s also a lot of confusion in the medical community around what phyto-oestrogens are they are and how they work. Women who’ve had oestrogen receptive cancers in the past, or are navigating their way through cancer and menopause at the same time, are often warned off taking phyto-oestrogens. This was the advice when I was training 30 years ago, but since then research has shown that some phyto-oestrogens actually have a protective effect by blocking the oestrogen receptors from our own home made oestrogen. Phyto-oestrogens therefore have a modulating effect on oestrogen, dampening down the effects of oestrogen excess or increasing the oestrogenic effects depending on what’s needed at the time. This is why phyto-oestrogens are now being rebranded as phytoSERMs. SERM stands for Selective Estrogen (US spelling) Reuptake Modulators.
I appreciate that despite the research, many women are still very uncomfortable with the idea of using phyto-oestrogens. Phyto-oestrogens are in so many foods and drinks that they’re actually very hard to avoid altogether, but I’m happy to treat my more nervous patients without using phyto-oestrogenic herbs if they’d prefer.
Other herbs can have a normalising effect on progesterone and testosterone levels too.
Are Natural Menopause Treatments As Good As HRT For Protecting Against Osteoporosis, Heart Disease And Dementia?
This is a bit of a minefield, and as far as I know, there are no studies comparing HRT with herbal medicine for protecting against these signs of aging post menopause. Because herbal treatment from a medical herbalist is personalised to each patient, it’s impossible to test against HRT which would be the same for each woman.
If you’re in any of the many menopause forums on social media, you’ll see that many people think that HRT helps to protect us from heart disease, osteoporosis and dementia. This is based on assumption, because oestrogen does have a protective effect on all tissues throughout the body, including brain, bone and heart. However, at the moment there is insufficient evidence for the use of HRT as a means of protection, which is why the Menopause Society, and governing bodies for GP’s and Gynaecologists don’t currently recommend HRT for this purpose. Personally I know lots of elderly women who haven’t taken HRT and are still in good health, so common sense tells me there has to be more to staying healthy than oestrogen.
There is a large study being conducted at the moment into the effects of phyto-oestrogens on brain health post menopause. It will take a few more years to complete but I’ll write about that when the results become available.
In the meantime, there is some evidence backing the use of some herbs. Sage has been traditionally used to encourage thoughts, wisdom and improve memory and there’s evidence confirming it can help prevent dementia. Mexican Wild Yam has been shown to help protect against osteoporosis by stimulating the cells which create new bone. I would always recommend a healthy diet and lifestyle alongside taking herbs for maximum benefit though!
Seeing A Medical Herbalist For Peri-menopause vs Buying Menopause Natural Remedies
If you’re using shop bought herbal remedies for your menopause, you might be lucky and find one that helps, or you might waste lots of time and money trying to find the best one. There’s a lot of guesswork involved when you’re trying to decide which supplement to take, and the quality of the herbs can vary. Some supplements don’t actually contain the herbs they say they do either! It’s always worth investing in better quality supplements, and brands I like include A Vogel and Pukka Herbs. It doesn’t necessarily follow that spending more means you’ll get a premium quality product – I have seen a few very expensive ones which are very low quality and/or potency!
Working with a Medical Herbalist is about much more than simply taking herbal remedies. When I work with my peri-menopause patients we start with a long first consultation, where I take their full medical history. That means that I can build a picture of what their overall health looks like, and look at their menopause symptoms in that context. Your reproductive health is an indicator for your total health, so if you’re having serious peri-menopause symptoms, it’s a sign that your overall health needs attention.
Here are some other good reasons why working with a medical herbalist is better than buying your own natural remedies for peri-menopause:
- You’re in control of your own treatment. You decide which symptoms you’d like to treat first, and how your treatment changes as you get better.
- I can help you to understand any symptoms which don’t make sense.
- Your treatment is put together especially for you, and it’s very versatile.
- Any early warning signs picked up in your consultations are discussed with you, and I can help you get some tests underway with your GP if you’d like me to. It can be literally lifesaving!
- You get lots of moral support, guidance and advice as and when you need it.
- The aim is to support your long term health as well as help you have a smooth menopause.
As with all forms of private healthcare, there is an investment to be made when you work with a medical herbalist. Menopause is a perfect window of opportunity to get your health in order, and I expect there are a number of people depending on you at home and work! Often if a woman’s health fails there’s a wider knock-on effect on the rest of the family, and work colleagues, so you investing in your wellbeing at this point would be money very well spent.
How Do I Find Out More About Taking Herbal Remedies For My Peri-menopause?
If you’d like to use nutritional supplements, herbal remedies or aromatherapy safely at home, you need to know about my Rejuven8 home learning programme.
And do these programmes really work? Click here to find out!