Alternative Treatments for Menopause and its Symptoms
Do not despair if you have menopausal symptoms and are afraid of or cannot take synthetic hormone replacement.
There are alternatives that work just as well.
So you have heard about the risks associated with taking Hormone Replacement Therapy and want to avoid them. But you still have hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and other symptoms associated with menopause.
Are there any alternatives that can relieve your symptoms without increasing risks of other diseases? The answer is a resounding yes!
To start with, many herbs contain phytoestrogens…plant estrogens…that can help relieve symptoms such as hot flashes. However, studies of these herbs have been contradictory, most likely due to variations among the forms and dosages studied, as well as a strong placebo effect. You should also realize that these herbs contain much less estrogen than the synthetic estrogen medications and thus may not be strong enough to control your symptoms.
Nevertheless, many women report excellent relief while taking such herbs, and it is worth a try. However, if the herbs do not help within 4-6 weeks, they are unlikely to be beneficial.
Additional herbs can be used for other menopausal-related conditions. For sleep, you can try Valerian (400-800 mg nightly) or 5-HTP (100-300 mg daily). You may need to take Valerian for several weeks before it becomes effective. For depression, St. John’s wort (500 mg, 3 times daily) is effective, but may interfere with other medications. You can also try 5-HTP or SAMe (400 mg daily); the latter can be very expensive if you want the highest quality brands. It may take 2-3 weeks for all these anti-depressant herbs to help you feel better. For memory problems, you can try Gingko biloba (240 mg daily in divided doses), but give it 6-8 weeks for full effects. For vaginal dryness or thinning, vitamin E can be effective: it comes in oils, salves, creams, and suppositories.
A supplement I highly recommend, even if you have minimal or no menopausal symptoms, is fish oil, which can help memory loss as well as help prevent heart disease and lower cholesterol, conditions that can commonly occur after menopause. Dosages range from 1000-4000 mg daily. However, not all fish oils are the same and like flaxseed oil, can deteriorate rapidly. The best choice is Krill oil, which is the most potent form and the most stable. Some fish oils may thin the blood and cause you to bruise more easily.
If you need something stronger than herbs, natural hormones are another choice. Unlike the synthetic hormones manufactured by drug companies, natural hormones do not contain added chemicals. Although studies are limited, natural hormones appear to relieve symptoms without increasing the risk of other diseases. These hormones can be formulated by specialized (compounding) pharmacists in many forms, including pill, topical cream or troche (absorbs through the gums), the latter two are preferred. They can also be obtained in health food stores. Avoid using Yam creams, which the body cannot break down.
The most common natural hormone used is progesterone, 50-100 mg micronized (pill) or 20 grams daily of the topical cream. DHEA, a hormone precursor, can also decrease symptoms. Start with 25 mg and increase to 50 mg daily if necessary, but don’t take more than that due to the risk of increased side effects. DHEA may also help decrease the weight gain common in menopause and dissipate problems such as “brain fog,” aptly named to describe the increasing forgetfulness that can accompany menopause. These hormones can be obtained over the counter or prepared by pharmacists.
Natural testosterone can be beneficial for libido problems as well as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, fatigue, and brain function. Start with 2% topical once daily, although you can take an oral form as well (if you do, make sure it is methylated, which won’t break down into estrogen). Estrogen also comes in natural forms, but it should be taken only if nothing else works, or for specific problems such as vaginal dryness. It can also be taken in a variety of forms, including a patch and vaginal suppository. Oral forms are usually a combination of either two or three types of estrogen, called bi-est or tri-est. Both natural testosterone and natural estrogen must be prescribed by a doctor and are compounded by pharmacists.
Chinese medicine also is useful in controlling menopausal symptoms. The Chinese herb Dong Quai has been used for thousands of years, but taking it alone may not be effective. I recommend taking an herbal formula called Er Xian Tang (also called Three Immortals), which contains Dong Quai along with eleven other Chinese herbs. Long Dan Xie Gan Tang or Liu Wei Di Huang Wan are other Chinese herbal formulas that can relieve hot flashes and the last one is also beneficial for night sweats.
Taking herbs and supplements may be helpful, but what if you could get rid of your symptoms altogether? This actually can be accomplished with acupuncture. Usually, six to ten treatments are necessary to significantly reduce or resolve the symptoms. Acupuncture uses 8-12 small needles, each the size of a hair. It is not known how acupuncture resolves menopausal symptoms, but it most likely re-balances hormones.
Because there are many alternatives, some with potential side effects, it is always wise to obtain guidance from your doctor or an expert in complementary medicine.
So do not despair if you have menopausal symptoms and are afraid of or cannot take synthetic hormone replacement. There are alternatives that work just as well.
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"Alternative Treatments for Menopause and its Symptoms"
Dr. Altshuler graduated magna cum laude from Duke University in 1972, and received his medical degree from the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine in 1976. A board certified Internist since 1979, he founded the Balanced Healing Medical Center,...