Alternative Menopause Therapy vs. HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy)

Medically speaking, menopause is characterized by an absence of a woman’s menstrual cycle for a period of twelve months. Menopause is the time in a female’s life when the ovaries stop functioning and she becomes unable to bear children. Many women begin to enter the process of menopause in their early forties, but some can start as early as their middle to later thirties.

What is perimenopause?

The actual term perimenopause means “around menopause”, and it refers to the phase of time in which a female’s body makes the natural transition to menopause. A woman may notice the signs in her body as it makes the natural progression towards menopause. The levels of estrogen in a woman’s body will rise and fall unevenly during perimenopause, which may prompt some women to seek different methods to help alleviate the accompanying symptoms.

What is menopause?

With the absence of a menstrual cycle, a female will no longer be considered fertile. Not only can menopause happen naturally, but it can also be brought on prematurely. If a woman has surgical removal of her ovaries, goes through cancer chemotherapy and radiation treatment or experiences premature ovarian failure, it can bring on early menopause.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

Every woman’s journey through menopause is different, some have multiple symptoms and others will pass through the process with barely any issues. The most common symptoms of menopause include the following:

  • Irregular vaginal bleeding
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Vaginal dryness and itching
  • Emotional symptoms such as mood swings, nervousness and anxiety
  • Weight gain
  • Dry skin
  • Acne
  • Hair growth on the abdomen, chest and upper lip (hirsutism)

Though these are just a few of the symptoms of menopause, a woman can experience other things related to diminishing estrogen levels, in addition to the ones listed above.

What types of holistic therapies are available for women during menopause?

As menopause happens naturally for every woman, some want to go about treating the symptoms in a natural or holistic way. The following natural methods can help a woman find the right balance for making menopause symptoms more tolerable:

  • Diet: The diet a woman eats can play an important role in controlling and alleviating the symptoms of menopause. According to the Mayo Clinic 1, avoiding caffeine and alcohol during menopause can help eliminate hot flashes, irritability (we wrote an extensive article about menopause and irritability which you can read here) and mood swings. By eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and calcium rich foods, a woman’s body will function at optimal levels and feel healthier. You can also read our nutrition article here.
  • Exercise: Regularly exercising helps to prevent weight gain, improves sleep and releases endorphins, which can improve mood and overall mindset. Getting a minimum of 30-minutes of weight bearing exercise each day will help increase bone density, which can help prevent bone loss that is associated with menopause. 2
  • Meditation: Menopause can bring stress, anxiety and tension to a woman’s life. Setting aside time for daily meditation can help restore a sense of calm and promote inner peace. Meditation has been around for thousands of years and it is commonly used for relaxation and stress relief. There are many forms of meditation, so exploring each one individually is the key to finding the one or ones which can work best for you.

What are some natural remedies a woman can use to alleviate menopause symptoms?

For females who cannot use oral or vaginal estrogens for controlling menopause symptoms, there are a variety of natural remedies available. The following herbs can be used as a natural alternative for women who are seeking to alleviate the symptoms of menopause:

  • Black Cohosh: Black cohosh is an herb has received a lot of scientific attention because it can control hot flashes in menopausal women 3. The herb is available in supplement form and because it not does actually act as estrogen does, there is reduced concern about how it would affect hormone-sensitive tissues in a woman’s body.
  • Red Clover: Red Clover is a plant belonging to the legume family and it grows wild. It is a rich source of calcium, chromium, magnesium, thiamine and vitamin C. The plant is used to control the hot flashes and night sweats in menopausal women. In a study done by the University of Maryland, red clover was shown to give some women relief, but others did not notice a difference. 4
  • Ginseng: Ginseng is a root which has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine. In a study performed by Vanderbilt University, women taking ginseng supplements experienced a reduction in hot flashes, improvement in vaginal dryness, enhanced mood, increased energy and vitality and better concentration (Hurteau)

What is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)?

Hormone replacement therapy is routinely used to treat the symptoms in women going through menopause. The drugs contain female hormones to replace the ones a woman’s body no longer produces. Using hormone therapy changed in recent years when a large clinical trial found that HRT posed more health risks than benefits 5. In order to discover the benefits and risks associated with HRT, it is best for a woman to speak with her gynecologist or general practitioner for more information.

What is BHRT?

Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) is a term which is used to refer to the hormones which are identical to those used in hormone replacement therapy. BHRT is associated with pharmacy compounding and by conducting blood or saliva testing; a pharmacist could mix a drug combination that would help a woman reach optimal hormone levels in the body. The specific hormones used in BHRT include progesterone, estradiol, estrone, testosterone, estriol and dehydroepiandrosterone.

BHRT can pose both risks and benefits, the Food and Drug Administration warns people to only use a licensed, responsible pharmacist to tailor a drug combination to meet one’s specific needs. It is advised to avoid any pharmacies which could be questionable or may not have experience with BHRT or compound pharmacy. 6

What methods would work best for controlling your menopause symptoms?

If you are like many women entering menopause, it can bring with it many bothersome and uncomfortable side effects. In order to find out which combination of methods will work best to alleviate your menopause symptoms, you should do some research and discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.

Notes:

  1. Mayo Clinic Staff; April 20th, 2013 URL: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/perimenopause/basics/lifestyle-home-remedies/con-20029473
  2. NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center; January 2012; “Exercise for Your Bone Health” URL: http://niams.nih.gov/health_info/bone/bone_health/exercise/
  3. Jacobson JS, Troxel AB, Evans J, et al.: Randomized trial of black cohosh for the treatment of hot flashes among women with a history of breast cancer and menopause. Journal of Clinical Oncology 19: 2739-2745, 2001.
  4. University of Maryland; URL: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/red-clover
  5. National Cancer Institute; URL: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/causes/hormonetherapy/menopausal-hormone-use/Page2
  6. United States Food and Drug Administration; URL: http://www.fda.gov/drugs/guidancecomplianceregulatoryinformation/pharmacycompounding/ucm183088.htm#MenopausalHormoneTherapy

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