Read about what really happens during menopause and what we can do to ease the suffering and embrace the change.
Delaying the dreaded drop in hormones with the onset of menopause is something every woman wishes for. Cries of “Can’t I stay young forever?” echo the halls of my integrative and aesthetic practice daily. Let’s learn to celebrate the change and welcome the pleasures of growing wiser gracefully, without paying the price of suffering through the unfortunate symptoms.
Despite what women have been led to believe, Menopause, like pregnancy, is not a disease, it’s just a normal phase of life that often produces discomfort of varying degrees. It is when the ovarian function drops off and so causes fluctuation of all the hormones in the system. Menopause most often occurs between the ages of 40 and 60 and peri-menopausal symptoms, which can begin well before the actual change in menstruation and continue after the periods have ended, can last up to five years.
The symptoms women in my practice often complain of are irregular periods, hot flashes, fatigue, mood swings, vaginal dryness, loss of libido, hair loss or thinning, acne or bladder infections, but there are many more as hormones affect almost every part of our bodies. The risk of osteoporosis, heart disease and other chronic illnesses also rise dramatically with the drop of certain hormones.
HRT or synthetic hormone replacement has long been the doctor’s automatic go-to therapy for menopause but with side effects like stroke, heart attack, leg clots and increased risk for at least four different types of cancer, more and more women are recognising the benefit of alternative therapies. Many of the women in my practice are prefer not to use chemical drugs and welcome the general holistic wellness that an integrative approach can bring.
An integrated approach to managing this biological event is to address both the aggravating symptoms and resulting dysfunctions, without blocking the process entirely.
Lifestyle management may be enough for some and can include dietary modifications like the exclusion of heating foods like spices or caffeine, eliminating food intolerances to reduce inflammation and cutting out toxins like smoking or alcohol to reduce further risk factors for disease. A balanced diet, low in processed carbs and with enough protein and beneficial fats can go a long way to improving well-being.
Regular exercise including weight-bearing-osteoporosis-preventing activities, like hopping on a trampoline is also very important and has been shown to help with mood disorders of menopause. Loss of body fat percentage has another wonderful side effect of helping to balance out hormones in the system.
This is also an excellent time of life to engage in a practice of meditation or mindfulness; this not only reduces stress but can also assist in finding new meaning for one’s life and help deal with the psychological challenges of entering a new phase. Meditation has also been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer if done regularly.
Aesthetics can also play a huge role in the acceptance of growing older and aesthetic medicine has many therapies and products aimed at anti-aging. This may well be the time to consider the wellness benefits of things like botox, collagen stimulation treatments or other rejuvenating therapies if you haven’t before.
Important supplements to take at the onset of menopause are:
Calcium and magnesium – largely to protect the bone breakdown after estrogen reduction.
Vitamin D3 – to allow calcium absorption into bone and prevent a number of cancers.
Omega 3 fatty acids – to minimise menopause symptoms and again support all body functions, including preventing heart disease and cancer.
Vitamin B12, B6 and folic acid – these are very useful for many menopausal symptoms including fatigue and mood disorders.
Vitamin E – is particularly helpful for vaginal dryness among other menopausal symptoms.
Typical alternative medicines used to diminish the symptoms of menopause in my practice
include the following:
1. Phytoestrogens or plant based estrogens, these can naturally be found in flax seed or chickpeas for example, and are the basis of many over-the-counter menopause preparations. They can effectively help reduce most of the symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes and mood disorders as well as reduce risk factors for chronic disease.
2. Bio-identical hormones are hormonal supplements, but unlike synthetic hormones, these are made to be the same as the hormones produced by the ovaries. They have the same benefits as HRT but with fewer risks as long as they are sourced from a reputable compounding pharmacy. The preparations are most often in the form of a cream.
3. Herbal remedies:
Black Cohosh is mostly beneficial for hot flashes but dosing is not easy and studies do not report a benefit above placebo. There are also concerns about liver toxicity, though this is probably the most widely used remedy available over the counter for menopause.
Red clover is also a commonly used remedy, assisting many in the milder symptoms of menopause, though there is little evidence as yet to support its use.
Ashwaganda, Chaste Berry, Passion Flower, Sage, Agnus Castus and wild yam among others, also help to relieve different menopause symptoms and many herbal blends containing these are available over the
4. Evening Primrose Oil has also anecdotally shown to be of benefit in treating hot flashes but can have unpleasant gastric symptoms at high doses.
5. Chinese medicines like Ginseng, Dong Quai and acupuncture treatments show remarkable benefit in treating the symptoms of menopause as well as improving general well being. It’s best to have these prescribed by a trained Chinese medicine doctor, as opposed to buying them over the counter.
6. Ayurvedic remedies have been shown as greatly beneficial in reducing most symptoms of menopause, as well as reducing risk factors for chronic disease. Most Ayurvedic preparations do contain plant Oestrogens among other herbs and I most often prescribe these blends in my practice.
Menopause is a magical time, where women settle into a whole new empowered phase of life, one that is not subconsciously focused on procreation any longer. A time where we can really settle into who we’ve become and what we’ve learnt. A time to revel in our hard earned wisdom, with less concern of what people think of us and more confidence in ourselves, our integrity and our beliefs.
It is a time to be celebrated and not suffered through. Find the right combination of treatments that work best for you and instead of meno-pause, you can be a meno-GO-GO-GO!
DID YOU KNOW? The most important predictor of when you will reach menopause is the age your mother reached hers. Menopause timing is strongly genetic but other factors that shorten the lifespan of your ovaries include smoking, chemotherapy, gynae surgery and ethnicity. The use of birth control however, does not seem to delay or hasten menopause.
Dr. Leila is an aesthetic and integrative general practitioner in Pinelands, Cape Town. Her warm empathetic nature and focus on finding the root cause of disease is what sets her practice apart. She embodies the lifestyle and exudes the wellness she teaches. Dr. Leila believes that doctors should be facilitators on the patients’ own journey to well-being. She can be contacted on Tel: 021 511-2672 at Medicross Pinelands, Block A, Park lane Building, Alexandra rd, Pinelands.