We take a look at the Naturopathic approach to managing Menopause mindfully. Menopause is a transitional time for women which can be viewed as a natural event associated with midlife and the ageing process.(1) From a medical science viewpoint it is currently unclear exactly why women experience this period of infertility, and exactly why it is accompanied by many unpleasant symptoms.(2) On the other hand, across all fields of healthcare there is much that is understood about the symptoms experienced and a variety of options to utilise to manage them including nutritional and herbal medicine, diet and lifestyle changes and in some cases when complaints are severe enough to warrant it, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Since many women seek complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for symptom management(3) we will take a look at the Naturopathic approach to managing Menopause mindfully.
The experience of menopause is influenced by a woman’s beliefs, values and approach to changes in this phase of life.(1) Health management of peri-menopause can include screening general health, weight management and a holistic approach to symptoms.(4) In one population-based assessment of 386 Australian women, 86% consulted a clinician at least once to discuss menopausal symptoms(5) indicating that most women are looking for guidance and solutions during this transition period which brings a series of dynamic changes in physiology(4) and can impact quality of life.
A cooling off period
Hot flushes and night sweats are the strongest symptoms reported,(1) affecting more than 80% of women and are the symptoms for which most women seek treatment.(3) The average duration of hot flashes is about 5.2 years, based on an analysis of the Melbourne Women’s Health Project.(5)
Menopause is also associated with sleep problems such as insomnia, mood disorders, sexual dysfunction including vaginal dryness and decreased libido, weight gain, and decline in cognitive functioning.(3,5) A study at the Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne demonstrated that postmenopausal women experience more forgetfulness and less satisfying memory than women before menopause.(6) Other associated complaints include fatigue, joint pain(5) and urinary tract infections (UTIs). Since the urinary tract contains oestrogen receptors in the urethra and bladder, the loss of oestrogen may lead to patients experiencing UTIs.(5) Avoidance of antibiotics is always desirable and so preventative strategies are key when it comes to this issue.
Menopause is also the period during which serious health problems such as cardiovascular diseases and osteoporosis occur with increasing frequency.(7) As postmenopausal women are already at risk for Osteoporosis and Cardiovascular Disease,(5) a thorough general health screening is warranted. Osteoporosis affects an estimated one in six women over the age of 50.(8) Post-menopausal women experience a higher incidence of fracture and in the first five years immediately after menopause, can experience bone loss at a rate of 2% to5% per year.(8) Clearly, bone health is a priority and Calcium supplements may not be the quick fix solution most would expect – bone requires a range of both vitamins and minerals for effective treatment of this problem.
How to change ‘The Change’
Defined as the permanent cessation of menses for 12 months resulting from oestrogen deficiency,(9) the average age of natural menopause (ANM) in Western societies is estimated to be 51 years.(8) There are several factors which determine and influence menopausal age including lifestyle changes and nutritional factors:(7,10)
- Smoking accelerates ANM by about 1.5-2 years, whereas smoking cessation can result in delaying menopause therefore prolonging natural oestrogen protection
- A high intake of oily fish and fresh legumes were associated with delayed onset of natural menopause by 3.3 years while refined pasta and rice was associated with earlier menopause
- – Interestingly, a vegetarian diet accelerates ANM by about 2 years, while unsurprisingly a high intake of fat, cholesterol, coffee also accelerate menopause
Traditional Wisdom for the Transition to Wise Woman and Sage
Herbal medicine has a long history and many a wise woman has concocted brews to dispel those unpleasant feelings associated with the ‘time of life’. Sage (Salvia) is one such herb traditionally known to impart wisdom to its users. As modern day science catches up studies have shown Salvia extract improved menopausal symptoms such as flushing, night sweat, heart palpitations, muscle and joint pain, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and sexual desire.(6) Here at the clinic we find herbal medicine to be an invaluable part of treatment support and use a range of plants tailored to the individual to achieve the desired effect. Phytoestrogens for example can be found in a wide range of herbal products such as Valerian, Black cohosh, Chamomile, Hypericum, Licorice, Fennel, Soya, Red clover and Salvia.(6) While these herbs are noteworthy, there are several more on hand in our dispensary and prescription is paramount since many factors influence the finished product.
The ABC’s of HRT
Hormone Replacement Therapy has been a primary conventional treatment for menopausal symptoms for some time, however, due to the health risks associated with its use, many women cannot or choose not to use it.(3) When utilised its important to know that HRT should only be used for the shortest duration of time and at its lowest effective dose.(9) We do still recommend concurrent natural health management strategies when HRT is in use.
Naturally needing new solutions to new health problems
Menopause is a rite of passage. Patients are living longer, and women are spending up to one-third of their lives in post-menopause.(9) There are health implications which if left unresolved can have consequence so as most women realise, it’s important to get support and advice. Considering menopause is a time when women feel vulnerable, personal and tailored healthcare according to needs, preferences and expectations should be provided.(1) Creative and dynamic coping strategies are essential to ensuring effective support for menopausal women.(1)
We offer a range of expertise in a variety of modalities including Acupuncture, Bowen Therapy, Herbal Medicine, Kinesiology, Massage, Naturopathy and Nutritional Medicine which can all contribute to improved sense of wellbeing and alleviating concerns. We understand the journey is one best shared and encourage those needing support to seek it, allowing a significant adaptation to be supported – even celebrated and embraced!