In some cultures, menopause is lauded as a rite of passage, a time of wisdom and potency, and a transition into the next stage of life. But as hormone levels shift and change-leading to sometimes dramatic physical changes-many women come to consider menopause as a condition to be dreaded or dealt with rather than celebrated.
You don't need to fight the change; instead, celebrate the passage into the next phase of your life, with supplements that support your body into a more harmonious transition.
1 Maca root, from a member of the brassica family, has been used for thousands of years to treat infertility and hormone balance. Modern studies have found that maca can effectively treat many discomforts of menopause, including anxiety, depression, and loss of libido. In one study, 3.5 grams per day of maca reduced anxiety and depression, and helped treat sexual dysfunction, independent of estrogenic and androgenic activity.
Maca root is available to consumers as a tincture, in capsules (such as NOW Foods Maca Capsules), or as a powder (such as Navitas Naturals Maca Powder) that can be added to smoothies or beverages.
2Soy isoflavones. Soy is rich in isoflavones, plant compounds that are very similar in structure to the body's estrogen and can ease the symptoms of menopause. A number of clinical studies have found that soy isoflavones can reduce hot flashes and increase bone density in women. In one study, soy isoflavone supplements were significantly more effective than a placebo in reducing the frequency and severity of hot flashes. However, some research suggests that isoflavones may increase the incidence of breast and endometrial cancer. If you're at risk, check with your health care provider or avoid soy altogether.
You'll find soy isoflavones in capsules (such as Nature's Way Soy Isoflavones), or in a less concentrated form in soy protein powders (such as Jarrow Formulas Iso-Rich Soy Powder).
3Red clover is a wild plant that's a member of the legume family. Like soy, it is naturally rich in isoflavones. In one study, women who took 80 mg of red clover isoflavones showed an overall 60 percent reduction in hot flashes. In another study, red clover significantly reduced anxiety and depression. Other studies suggest it can protect against osteoporosis and increased risk of heart disease.
Red clover is available in stores as a tea or tincture (such as Nature's Answer Red Clover Flowering Tops Tinctures), or in capsules (such as Solaray Red Clover Blossoms).
Note: if you have estrogen-positive breast or uterine cancer, check with your health care provider before using red clover, or avoid it altogether.
4 Omega-3 Fats. Numerous studies have pointed to the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which include protecting the heart, improving immune function, lowering inflammation, and reducing the risk of cancer, all of which are important for menopausal women. Other studies suggest that omega-3s can help reduce hot flashes and improve mood. In one study, women who took omega-3 fats had a decrease in the frequency of hot flashes. In another, omega-3 fats eased psychological distress and depressive symptoms often experienced by women during menopause.
Omega-3 fats are available in liquid, capsule, and chewable forms. They can be derived from a variety of sources, including fish oils, algae, and flax seeds.
5 Black cohosh, from the root of the North American black cohosh plant, has traditionally been used by Native Americans for women's health concerns. Like red clover, it's rich in phytoestrogens that may ease both immediate and long-term effects of menopause. In one study, black cohosh was as effective as estrogen and superior to placebo in decreasing hot flash symptoms. A more recent study suggests that black cohosh may also protect against breast cancer.
The herb is most commonly taken as a tincture, in capsules or tablets (such as Source Naturals Black Cohosh Tablets), or as softgel capsules (such as Natural Factors Black Cohosh Softgels).
Breast Cancer Prevention
A woman's risk of breast cancer starts to increase around age 49, as many women are on the cusp of menopause. The risk continues to go up as a woman gets older. There are a few things you can do to decrease your odds. Better Nutrition columnist and natural health expert Michael T. Murray, ND, suggests the following preventive steps:
- Boost your intake of dietary fiber. "Breast disease, both breast cancer and fibrocystic breast disease (FBD), has been linked to a low-fiber diet and constipation," says Murray. One study found that women who had fewer than three bowel movements per week had a risk of FBD that was 4.5 times greater than women who had at least one a day. Murray believes the connection stems from the absorption of gut-derived toxins and a less than ideal bacterial flora in the large intestine. "The take away message is to promote effective elimination and detoxification by keeping things moving. A high-fiber diet is critical in this goal," he says. To learn more about high-fiber foods, visit whfoods.org.
- Improve your body's elimination of estrogen. How can you do this? One way is by taking probiotics, which have been shown to lower the activity of beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme linked to increased cancer risk and involved in the removal of estrogen and toxins. DIM can also help detoxify estrogen.
- Eat more flax. Flax seeds contain phytoestrogens. "By competing with estrogen, phytoestrogens cause a drop in estrogen effects," says Murray.
Two good books on the topic are Anticancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD, and The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen: Nourishing, Big-Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery by Rebecca Katz and Mat Edelson.
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Michael T. Murray, ND, is the author of more than 30 books on natural health, including The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Third Edition. He is regarded as one of the world's top authorities on natural medicine, and is a sought-after lecturer and educator. Visit him online at doctormurray.com.