DO ALL WOMEN EXPERIENCE MENOPAUSAL SYMPTOMS AND SHOULD THESE SYMPTOMS BE REGARDED AS NORMAL?
A woman’s life can be greatly influenced by the fluctuations of two hormones, progesterone and estrogen. When these hormones are in balance life seems to be wonderful, but as soon as they are out of balance problems follow.
Fortunately, not all but most women experience some menopausal symptoms. Also the severity and duration of these symptoms varies from woman to woman.
Unpleasant menopausal symptoms are often regarded as the “normal” stage of life, but there are many reasons to believe that they are actually triggered by an unhealthy lifestyle. According to one renowned expert, “the only normal menopausal symptom should be the absence of menstruation”.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON SYMPTOMS?
The most common symptoms of hormonal imbalance during menopause may include the following: Hot flushes, night sweats, fatigue, sleeplessness, difficulty concentration, mood swings, irritability, aggressiveness, panic attacks, anxiety, feelings of sadness, depression, memory lapses or loss, lack of motivation, tension, heart palpitations, headaches, bloating, weight gain, muscle tension, sore joints, vaginal dryness, loss of libido, frequent urination, and urinary tract infections.
WHAT CAUSES MENOPAUSAL SYMPTOMS?
The menopause is a time during which levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which control a woman’s menstrual cycle, decline triggering the mentioned above symptoms.
For instance, the hormones progesterone and oestrogen work together to regulate mood. The declining levels of these hormones during the menopause means a woman at this stage of life is more susceptible to anxiety and other menopausal symptoms. If the hormonal imbalance which causes anxiety is left untreated it can escalate into panic attacks.
It is important to remember that the above listed symptoms are not always linked to the menopause. For example, low serotonin, deficiency of adrenal hormones, or low glucose levels (hypoglycaemia) can trigger many of the above symptoms.
DO NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCIES, UNHEALTHY DIET AND LIFESTYLE CONTRIBUTE TO MENOPAUSAL SYMPTOMES?
Hormonal imbalance before and during menopause can be exacerbated by many different factors such as lack of physical activity, environmental toxins, fear and negative attitude toward menopause, or chronic emotional stress.
However, the strongest negative influence on hormonal balance seems to be imposed by an unhealthy refined diet which is deprived of various essentials nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, vitamin E, and vitamin C that are required by the body to make hormones including progesterone and oestrogen and maintain their balance.
It is believed that the key reason why women in other countries (such as Korea or China), do not experience bad menopausal symptoms is that they do not share unhealthy western diet and lifestyle habits.
WHICH NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS ARE MOST IMPORTANT IN PREVENTING AND REDUCING MENOPAUSAL SYMPTOMS?
- There are reasons to believe that due to severe soil depletion and refined diet majority of people in the UK are very deficient in minerals such as magnesium and zinc. Magnesium and zinc not only allow the body to absorb calcium, thus preventing osteoporosis during menopause, but they also play important role in maintaining healthy nervous system function as well as maintaining normal levels of progesterone and oestrogen.
- Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, demonstrated that participants who had normal vitamin D levels were less likely to experience menopause symptoms, compared to those who had less vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency also plays important role in the prevention of osteoporosis during menopause. It is essential in helping human organism to properly absorb and use calcium which helps to keep spine and bones strong. Without vitamin D, our body begins to robe the bones and spine of calcium.
- A daily dose of vitamin E and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) was found to be helpful in alleviating hot flashes and other symptoms in menopausal women.
- vitamins are essential for proper hormonal balance and nervous system function. Their deficiency can cause hormonal imbalance, fatigue, slow metabolism (overweight), and poor mental health.
- Folate (vitamin B9), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) and B6 (pyridoxine) are very important for the body to make many of the mood-regulating hormones including progesterone, oestrogen, and serotonin.
- Some studies have found that higher doses of a Vitamin B3 (Niacin) can be beneficial in coping with menopausal symptoms.
OTHER IMPORTANT SUPPLEMENTS
Apart from good quality multivitamin-mineral supplements that contain all mentioned above nutrients, including magnesium, zinc, vitamin D3, B-complex, vitamin E and C, the following supplements can be offered by health stores and pharmacies to prepare women for the menopause:
- Maca is a plant that grows in central Peru and it is traditionally used for female hormone imbalance, menstrual problems, tiredness, and symptoms of menopause and osteoporosis. Although maca doesn’t contain any hormones, yet it has a rare set of nutrients that nourish the endocrine system and help correct levels of oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, or DHEA. As an adaptogen herb, maca has been used to lower the effects of stress by decreasing cortisol levels. It can also help reduce hot flashes and weight gain while improving libido and energy.
- Studies have demonstrated beneﬁts of Rhodiola in promoting hormonal balance by improving adrenal function. It also helps reduce fatigue and enhances mental function.
- Evening primrose oil and Star flower oil supplements (both high in gamma linolenic acid) are known to help to regulate hormones and combat mood swings.
- Supplements containing Omega 3 fats (such as molecularly distilled fish oils or flax oil) have been suggested by research to have a calming effect on the nervous system enhancing brain health and mental well-being.
HOW CAN I PREPARE FOR MENOPAUSE BY MAINTAINING NORMAL LEVELS OF PROGESTERONE AND OESTROGEN?
In preventing and dealing with menopause symptoms it is important to understand that there are reasons to believe that it is even more important to focus on increasing progesterone than oestrogen. First of all, body uses progesterone to make oestrogen thus preventing or eliminating menopause symptoms. In addition, progesterone regulates oestrogen levels and prevents its dominance. It means that without healthy levels of progesterone, oestrogen can be not only too low but also too high, thus significantly increasing risk of breast cancer, obesity, depression, heart attacks or strokes.
Before menopause starts a still menstruating woman can maintain and increase progesterone by taking the following supplements:
- Zinc acts on multiple organs of the body that are implicated in progesterone production including the pituitary gland and ovaries. Zinc increases levels of follicle stimulating hormone, which in turn causes ovulation and also stimulates the ovaries to produce estrogen and progesterone.
- The most important nutrient for maintaining normal progesterone levels before menopause is vitamin B6 which is absolutely crucial for the development of the corpus luteum (a gland produced in ovaries after the egg is released) out of which progesterone is produced. Therefore, vitamin B6 is necessary for preventing progesterone deficiency and through progesterone for balancing other hormones including oestrogen.
- Also vitamin C is required to assist the body in producing progesterone. In a 2003 study, women who took 750 mg of vitamin C increased their progesterone levels by 77 percent! It is important to remember that in order to be effective vitamin B6 must be taken with zinc as without zinc vitamin B6 won’t help to cope with low progesterone! You need to take daily dose of about 20 to 50mg of zinc (such as zinc citrate) after breakfast.
- Magnesium regulates the pituitary gland, which in turn controls the production of FSH (follicular stimulating hormone), LH (luteinizing hormone), and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) that in turn regulate the production of progesterone and oestrogen.
- Also amino acid L-arginine is known to help increase progesterone levels.
- The most effective herb to increase and balance progesterone before menopause is Agnus castus (Vitex). Agnus Castus (known also as Vitex, Chaste Berry or Monk’s Pepper) is a large shrub (native to the Mediterranean region of southern Europe) with lilac or white flowers and small fruits. Taking Agnus castus works by stimulating the body to produce more natural progesterone in a safe and controlled way. That is the reason why Agnus castus is so effective in helping women to cope with PMS and other symptoms associated with low progesterone.
HOW CAN I INCREASE PROGESTERONE LEVELS DURING MENOPAUSE (AFTER MENSTRUATION STOPS)?
Unfortunately, once the menstrual cycle stops, the ovaries can’t produce progesterone anymore since corpus luteum (out of which progesterone is made) ceases to appear in ovaries. However, since the body still needs progesterone it continues producing it in the adrenal glands and nerve cells.
Unfortunately, because due to chronic stress and nutritional deficiencies many menopausal women suffer from adrenal fatigue and poor nervous system function their adrenals and nerves are unable to take over the function of ovaries and make enough progesterone.
For this reason it is also crucial to recover from adrenal fatigue and strengthen nerves by learning to control stress, regular exercise, healthy high in nutrients unrefined plant-based diet and by using various supplements including zinc, B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin D, and antioxidants as well as adaptogenic herbs and foods such as maca, rhodiola, ginsengs, ashwagandha, gotu kola, chlorella, and spirulina.
WHAT ARE THE MOST EFFECTIVE HERBS AND SUPPLEMENTS TO BE USED TO REDUCE OR ELIMINATE MENOPAUSAL SYMPTOMS?
Apart from vitamins, minerals and super foods mentioned above, the following herbal remedies that are commonly available in the form of supplements have been proved to be very beneficial in coping with existing menopausal symptoms:
Numerous studies have shown that Soy isoflavones (natural phytoestrogens) help boost oestrogen and reduce menopausal symptoms in a safe way without increasing the risk of breast cancer. Research suggests Soy isoflavones may even reduce the risk of breast, uterine, and colon cancer, while beneﬁting women with menopause, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Soya isoflavones (daidzein and genistein) are famous for their oestrogen-regulating properties (although it may depend on one’s capacity to convert the isoflavone daidzein to equol that has greater estrogenic activity than daidzein itself). In the past, trials studying the effects of these isoflavones on hot flushes and other menopause symptoms have given mixed results, but now a new meta-analysis combining data from 17 different studies provides strong support for their efficacy.
The analysis revealed that an average intake of 54 milligrams per day of soy isoflavones for between six weeks and 12 months was associated with an average 21% reduction in the frequency of hot flushes, compared with placebo. However, soya supplements don’t seem to be equally effective in regulating oestrogen and alleviating menopause symptoms in women. It is so because isoflavones from soya can be significantly more effective in women whose colon is inhabited by probiotic bacteria able to convert soya isoflavones into equol (isoflavandiol metabolized from daidzein by bacterial flora in the intestines). Unlike endogenous estrogenic hormones such as estradiol are steroids, equol is a non-steroidal estrogen. Equol has been also suggested to be responsible for enhancing many other health benefits of soya. However, some sources state that only about 30-50% of people have intestinal bacteria that make equol from daidzein.
Some studies also indicate that in Japan, Korea, or China over 50%, while in Western countries only 25 to 30% of the adults are able to produce equol after eating soy foods containing isoflavones. Also vegetarians and vegans due to diet higher in fibre are more capable of converting daidzein to Equol. There are over twenty different types of intestinal probiotic bacteria that have the ability to convert daidzein into equol but two strains Eubacterium ramulus and Flavonifractor plautii are particularly active in this process. Both species are normally highly prevalent in healthy human gut but due to numerous factors including antibiotics, diet high in sugar and deprived of fibre many women today are low in probiotic bacteria and therefore may experience less or even no benefits from soya flavonoids. For this reason it is highly recommended to use soya isoflavones together with good probiotic formulas such as ColiProbio or UltraProbio.
Since the same soya isoflavones (daidzein and genistein) are potent antioxidants they also help remove free radicals preventing them from causing gene mutations in our cells, thus reducing the risk of various cancers. People today are brainwashed with the idea that consuming these phytoestrogens is dangerous and may contribute to various problems including breast cancer. The opposite is true as these isoflavones are actually powerful antioxidants (particularly genistein) and research has repeatedly demonstrated that they are very beneficial and protect against breast cancer. Being a weak form of oestrogen, soya isoflavones compete at estrogen receptor sites, blocking the stronger oestrogen (naturally produced by the body) from working with full strength. Since high blood levels of oestrogen increase risk of breast cancer; daidzein and genistein may provide protection against this disease.
- Studies show that Black cohosh this herb can reduce hot ﬂushes and improve mood. Research involving Black cohosh has shown benefits for both hot ﬂushes and depression in menopause. Like Soy isoflavones, Black Cohosh also mimics the effects of oestrogen, thus relieving hot flushes and vaginal dryness, and is reported to have a sedative and relaxing effect. According to some controversial studies regular use of black cohosh for a longer period of time may contribute to liver damage and higher lead levels in the blood. It is not clear whether black cohosh stimulates the growth of breast cancer cells or inhibits their growth. With regards to both liver toxicity and breast cancer research has been limited and has produced mixed results as according to some studies the same herb was beneficial in treating breast cancer. Nevertheless, taking supplements such as Menovital that contains Black cohosh as one of many other natural phytoestrogens and vitamins is not only effective but also safe and eliminate any possible side effect of Black cohosh.
- Red clover contains isoflavones, which work as phytoestrogens, with possible benefits for menopause. It may help reduce cholesterol levels and protect against osteoporosis by reducing bone loss. Red clover may assist in the relief of menopausal symptoms as it is rich in phytonutrients and phytoestrogens, which are similar in shape to the female hormone called estrogen.
WHAT ARE THE RECOMMENDATIONS AFTER MENOPAUSE?
Post menopause refers to the years after menopause. During this stage of woman’s life menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, may ease or disappear for many women. However, as a result of lower levels of estrogen, postmenopausal women may still be at higher risk for a number of health conditions, such as depression, osteoporosis, or heart disease.
For this reason they should continue using previously mentioned vitamins, minerals as well as some of the herbal remedies that help maintain normal hormonal balance, metabolism and nervous system function.
In addition they should keep on implementing principles of healthy lifestyle such as regular physical activity, positive thinking and stress control, and healthy plant-based mostly raw unrefined diet high in nutrients, antioxidants, and fibre.
Written by Slawomir Gromadzki, MPH
- The Mao Clinic Staff, "Menopause Symptoms," The Mao Clinic
- Teschke, R., Schwarzenboeck, A., Schmidt-Taenzer, W., Wolff, A., and Hennermann, K. H. Herb induced liver injury presumably caused by black cohosh: a survey of initially purported cases and herbal quality specifications. Ann Hepatol. 2011;10 (3) :249-259. – See more at: http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/Blackcohosh.html#sthash. W9jiyEwt.dpuf
- Naser, B., Schnitker, J., Minkin, M. J., de Arriba, S. G., Nolte, K. U., and Osmers, R. Suspected black cohosh hepatotoxicity: no evidence by meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials for isopropanolic black cohosh extract. Menopause. 2011;18(4):366-375. – See more at:http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/Blackcohosh.html#sthash.W9jiyEwt.dpuf
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