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Natural Remedies

Natural Ways of Managing Early Menopause: Vitamins, Herbs and Other Nutrients that May Help

Many women deal with early menopause or premature ovarian failure -- the symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings, and the risks of osteoporosis and heart disease -- by taking hormone replacement therapy. And I’m one of them. HRT replaces the hormones my body normally would have made until I reached the usual age of menopause (about age 51) and, in truth, I’ve been happy with my choice.

But HRT isn’t the only method of helping control symptoms, fighting osteoporosis and heart disease risks, and gaining other health benefits. Thereare a number of vitamins, herbs and other nutrients that can help you manage your early menopause -- ones that are especially helpful if you’re not on HRT.

And, in fact, even if you’re on HRT, these natural supplements can be a good idea. They can help when and if symptoms arise again (something that has happened to me from time to time); they can help support the benefits of HRT by improving your risks of getting osteoporosis or heart disease; and they can help replace vitamins that are sometimes depleted when taking HRT.

So here’s a quick rundown of some of the main supplements that can help you deal with your menopause naturally. (One important note: Check with your doctor before taking any of these -- and, if you’re already taking any vitamins or herbs, be sure to tell her what you’re taking and the dosages.)

Soy: Rich in phytoestrogens, specifically isoflavones, cholesterol-free and containing protein, omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, folic acid, iron and other vitamins and minerals, soy is one of your best bets to add to your diet to gain a wide range of health benefits when you’re in coping with premature ovarian failure or early menopause.

More specifically, a number of recent studies have found that soy can help reduce hot flashes, night sweats, and other menopausal symptoms. It can also help lower your cholesterol -- which often rises when you enter premature menopause -- and help your coronary blood vessels dilate, both of which are important in fighting heart disease. In addition, it may help lower triglycerides -- which often rise when you take estrogen. Finally, soy may help prevent osteoporosis. Studies have shown that soy isoflavones help cut down on bone resorption, keep calcium from leaching from your bones, and increases bone density and bone mineral content.

It’s a good idea to aim for at least 25 grams of soy protein daily to help with symptoms.

You can get soy from a variety of sources -- including soy milk, tofu, roasted soy nuts, tempeh, soybeans, even products that are made to taste like other foods (like soy hot dogs, soy cheese, and soy ice cream) And, if you don’t like the taste of soy (something that isn’t all that uncommon!) you can also get soy and soy isoflavone power at vitamin or health food stores, or take soy isoflavone capsules. (However, keep in mind that most studies indicate that getting whole soy, not simply isoflavones, may be your best bet.)

One important note:  High amounts of soy isoflavones can affect your thyroid, so if you have thryoid disease, speak with your doctor before using soy as a symptom reliever.

Flaxseed: Another nutrient high in phytoestrogens (especially lignans), flaxseed also is high in omega-3 fatty acids -- a key helper in fighting heart disease.   And, like soy, it’s a good all-round helper in your body.   More specifically, because it’s high in phytoestrogens, flaxseed can help minimize symptoms like hot flashes.   Studies have shown that it can help lower LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol. And other studies have shown that it also may help fight breast cancer and other cancers. It can help prevent heavy bleeding -- a common symptom when you’re first beginning to enter premature menopause and going through erratic periods. And, because it’s high in omega-3 acids, to may help ease symptoms like breast tenderness, cramping, and other PMS-like discomfort.

You can get whole flaxseed at health food stores and grind it -- to sprinkle in cereal, smoothies, yogurt, salads, and so forth -- or buy flaxseed oil and/or high lignan flaxseed capsules, which are filled with ground flaxseed.

Red Clover (available under the brand name Promensil) is another phytoestrogen which also is high in bioflavonoids. Like the other phytoestrogens, red clover has been shown to reduce hot flashes, help fight osteoporosis, and generally minimize other menopausal symptoms.   But there have recently been other studies that found that it wasn't as helpful as initially believed.  As with so many other supplements, the jury is still out.

Vitamin E and Citrus Bioflavonoids: This combination is a hot-flash buster -- with studies showing that taking these two supplements together helps combat hot flashes.   400 IUs of Vitamin E along with 1200 mg of bioflavonoids taken in the morning and again before bedtime has been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes. (One note: Vitamin E isn’t safe for everyone. If you have rheumatic heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes, or take digitalis drugs, Vitamin E can be harmful. So be sure to check with your doctor about the appropriate dosage.)

One study (conducted in the 1960s. . . unfortunately there have been few more recent studies) found that, after only one month, over 50 percent of the 94 participating women taking 1200 milligrams of bioflavonoids along with 1200 milligrams of Vitamin C stopped having hot flashes completely and another 34 percent had a drop in hot flash frequency and intensity.  Studies have also shown that bioflavonoids also appear to help relieve moodiness, anxiety, irritability and other emotional side effects of menopause -- and can help fight vaginal dryness.

Vitamin E is also good for helping with vaginal dryness (you can even use it as a vaginal suppository -- just putting the capsule in your vagina .)

Vitamin A or Beta Carotene: If you’re suffering from vaginal dryness -- or if you’ve noticed a change in your skin texture, a drying or loss of elasticity, Vitamin A or beta carotene can help. Vitamin A (which is what beta carotene converts to in your body) helps maintain tissues, skin, and mucous membranes -- which can help fight back against vaginal dryness and skin changes that often come with low estrogen levels.

B-Vitamins: This family of vitamins can be a big help in coping with premature menopause, both in terms of helping combat symptoms and fighting negative long-term risks.   B vitamins can keep your energy levels up; support your liver function ( a definite plus if you’re on HRT, as oral estrogen is broken down by your liver); prevent vaginal dryness; increase your resistance to infection; help maintain your adrenal gland function -- which is where the precursor to estrone (the form of estrogen still produced by your body after menopause) is produced. Last, but definitely not least, B vitamins are considered stress fighters -- so can help you to deal with the emotional symptoms that crop up during premature menopause such as anxiety, irritability, mood swings, even insomnia.

In addition, if you’re on HRT, it’s a good idea to be sure you’re getting B-vitamins either through your diet (whole grains, beans and brewer’s yeast are all good sources of B vitamins) or in a multi-vitamin or B-complex supplement, since studies have shown that HRT may cause a deficiency in B2, B12, B6 and Biotin.

Calcium: A definite must to help prevent osteoporosis, calcium can also help lower blood pressure, reduce triglyceride levels (that sometimes rise in women on some forms of HRT.)

Magnesium: Often found in calcium supplements, magnesium is a very important calcium helper -- and also appears to help fight the crashing fatigue that often comes at the beginning of premature or early menopause by boosting energy levels.

Potassium: Another important mineral, potassium also can help boost energy. Another big benefit: It regularizes your heart beat, which can help if you get palpitations -- a fairly common symptom of menopause. In addition, it can help you cope with water retention and bloating, both of which are side effects with certain forms of HRT, particularly progestins such as Provera.

Black Cohosh: An herb that’s very popular to help cut down on hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms, black cohosh may also help with cramps, heavy periods and other menstrual irregularities. Studies conducted using black cohosh have shown that it appears to be quite effective, especially for hot flashes. And some researchers believe it may help prevent osteoporosis and reduce bone resorption, although no long-term studies conducted on humans have substantiated this. Most studies recommend that you take black cohosh extract that contains either 20 or 40 mg twice a day -- and keep in mind that it may take two to four weeks before you notice results.  One note:   The German Commission E (which studies herbs) recommends that you take this no longer than six months, however, this was before more recent studies examining its toxic properties were conducted -- and thesefound that black cohosh appears to be safe for long term use.   In addition, a recent study found that black cohosh might encourage the growth of breast cancer tumors, so if you're a cancer survivor speak with your doctor before trying this.

Chasteberry (also known as Vitex agnus castus): This (like black cohosh) appears to act like a progesterone and has been used in Europe for many years to alleviate PMS symptoms as well as menopausal symptoms. It may help diminish both LH and FSH and appears to affect your pituitary function. Different studies have found that it reduced menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flashes and irregular bleeding. And it appears to be very helpful for breast tenderness, primarily because chasteberry suppresses prolactin production. Typically, it takes about three to four weeks notice results.  One note, however:  While chasteberry is widely used in Europe, there have been no double-blind placebo studies conducted on it.

Evening Primrose Oil: A good source of GLA (gamma linoleic acid), evening primrose oil has been used by many women to help fight PMS symptoms -- many of which are the same as menopausal symptoms. It’s a good bet to help prevent bloating, water retention, breast tenderness, cramps and vaginal dryness.

St. Johns Wort : If you’re finding yourself more easily depressed, St. Johns Wort may help. Widely touted as a natural tranquilizer, this herb helps relieve irritability, depression, and fatigue. Over 23 different studies have found that it’s effective in fighting depression -- which often affects women when their hormone levels plunge suddenly, such as after surgical menopause. But, keep in mind, that it can interact with other medications, including birth control pills.  Ask your pharmacist for more information.

Kava Kava : Another herb that appears to be a big help in reducing anxiety, fighting depression, and leveling mood swings, kava kava has been shown to be quite effective. One recent study found that women with menopausal symptoms taking 100 mg of kava kava three times a day reported a difference after only one week..

Valerian: If you’re suffering from insomnia, a common symptom, valerian may help. It’s used widely in Europe to treat sleep disturbances, as well as for nervousness and menstrual problems. It’s also known as an anxiety reliever -- so may help with mood swings and tension.