When it comes to menopause, women seem to fall into one of two camps: The lucky few who sail right through the change of life while barely noticing the transition, or those who face uncomfortable (and even downright debilitating) symptoms.
Most, however, fall into the latter group, as approximately 85% of women report experiencing symptoms of varying type and severity. “Interestingly, around 73% of women do not even try to mitigate them,” says Christina Burns, L.Ac, FABORM, a licensed doctor of Chinese medicine with board certification in Oriental reproductive medicine and founder of Naturna. “They just suffer symptoms like hot flashes, weight gain, hair thinning, emotional instability, insomnia, and vaginal dryness. Many will consult a doctor, but not act on the course of treatment. This is due mainly to the bad press hormone replacement therapy has gotten.”
And while it may be 2022, doctors still don’t understand why there’s such a variation in symptoms.
“If we knew why some women have no problems and others are miserable, we would have our Nobel prizes,” says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, Yale Medical School. “No one knows.”
When to Seek Help
But the one thing the medical community can agree on is that nobody needs to suffer in silence.
“My experience has shown that close to all women going through menopause have symptoms, and they need to be addressed when they start affecting your life,” says functional health expert Dr. Mindy Pelz, author of The Menopause Reset: Get Rid of Your Symptoms and Feel Like Your Younger Self Again. “So if you’re getting hot flashes at night, and it’s affecting your sleep, you need to address it. If a woman has severe brain fog or mood disorders, like anxiety or depression, that is affecting the quality of her life, she’s going to need to address it. It all depends on how bad her symptoms are, and how drastically it’s affecting her ability to function in normal day-to-day life.”
If you decide to take matters into your own hands, versus seeking the help of an expert, proceed with caution. “It can be dangerous to pile on many remedies without knowing how they interact,” warns Burns. “If you try the DIY approach, try one thing at a time for two to three weeks before considering any additions.”
How to Ease Menopause Symptoms Naturally
If you’re looking to take a more holistic approach to menopause, consider implementing the following as needed:
- Fasting. It’s tempting to treat yourself to comfort food when you’re not feeling your best, but giving your digestive system a break with intermittent fasting may be just what the doctor ordered. “Compressing your eating window anywhere between 13 to 15 hours naturally aids a woman going through menopause because it makes her ‘insulin sensitive’ again,” says Dr. Pelz. “For a menopausal woman, as estrogen declines, she becomes less insulin-sensitive and she’s more insulin-resistant, causing her to gain weight.
- Carb cycling. Instead of cutting carbs in hopes of staving off weight gain, try cycling them instead. Simply put, this means you’ll have days with low carb intake, then days with higher carb intake. “The reason that this is important is that it helps her balance hormones,” explains Dr. Pelz. “Estrogen is going to do really well on a lower-carb diet. But progesterone actually does better with a higher carb diet.” Not just any carb will do, though. She says the specific carbs that help progesterone are beans, rice, squashes, tropical fruits, and citrus fruits.
- Eating greens. If you aren’t familiar with estrobolome, it’s a set of bacteria in our gut that breaks estrogen down — and it can make a noticeable difference in menopausal women. “She’s going to want to make sure that she is eating plenty of green leafy vegetables and getting a really diverse amount of vegetables,” advises Dr. Pelz. “So if she goes to make a salad, she’s going to want to use mixed greens, spinach, parsley, basil, mint, etc. — throw as many different greens in there as possible in order to feed the estrobolome.” This set of bacteria is so critical for menopausal women because it breaks estrogen down so that it doesn’t get stored in our tissues. “Most breast cancers and hormonal cancers happen to women after menopause and that’s largely because of the inability to break estrogen down,” she concludes. “So, bottom line, increase your intake of leafy greens.” While nutrition is top of mind, brush up on these seven best foods for menopause.
- OTC products. Sometimes, a trip to the drugstore or health foods store can provide lasting relief. Dr. Minkin recommends Replens for vaginal dryness to help restore moisture. And if hot flashes are the problem, she has a few over-the-counter suggestions: Remifemin (or German black cohosh), Relizen (a Swedish pollen extract) and S-Equol (this soy derivative works as a weak plant estrogen).
- Chinese herbs. This option involves developing a relationship with a doctor of Chinese medicine and committing to several months of treatment with Chinese herbs, yet many women swear by this solution. “Chinese herbal medicine is incredibly effective and is best as a custom formulation,” says Burns. “Herbs like Black cohosh and Maca can be great to mitigate symptoms. The botanicals reduce inflammation and provide plant phytoestrogens that mimic our hormones. In menopause, they replace the hormones we lack to balance the symptoms.”
- Acupuncture. For those who aren’t scared off by tiny needles, acupuncture may be the answer. “It works with the nervous system and circulatory system to detoxify, balance hormones, reduce inflammation, and improve sleep,” says Burns, who recommends at least one session per week — or several if symptoms are severe.
- Managing stress. For menopausal women, sustaining long periods of cortisol spikes is a no-no. “If levels of chronic stress are up, cortisol is constantly surging through the body, then sex hormones — estrogen, progesterone and testosterone — will be very, very low,” says Dr. Pelz. “And these hormones are already decreased in menopausal women.” Lean on tools that help you slow down, such as mindfulness techniques, meditation, yoga, and breathwork.