Many women deal with early menopause or premature ovarian failure (POF) — the symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings, and the risks of osteoporosis and heart disease — by taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT). 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 troublesome symptoms, fighting osteoporosis and heart disease risks, and gaining other health benefits.
There are 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 if and when symptoms arise again (something that has happened to me from time to time); they can help support the benefits of HRT by lowering the odds of getting osteoporosis or heart disease; and they can help replace vitamins that are sometimes depleted when taking HRT.
With all that said, let’s get right into it — here’s your quick rundown:
Soy is rich in phytoestrogens (specifically isoflavones). It’s cholesterol-free and also contains protein, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, folic acid, iron and other vitamins and minerals.
It may be one of your best bets to add to your diet to gain a wide range of health benefits when you’re coping with premature ovarian failure (POF) or early menopause.
What does the science say?
Specifically, a number of studies have found that soy can help reduce hot flashes, night sweats, and other menopausal symptoms (1, 2). However, reviews of a wide range of studies suggest that the benefit may be only “modest” (3).
However, 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 (4).
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 (5).
How much should I consume?
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 and even products that are made to taste like other foods (like soy meat substitutes and soy cheese).
And, if you don’t like the taste of soy (something that’s relatively common!), you can also get soy and soy isoflavone powder at vitamin or health food stores, or take soy isoflavone capsules. However, keep in mind that isoflavones alone may not replicate the benefits found in studies using whole soy.
Another nutrient high in phytoestrogens (especially lignans), flaxseed is also 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 may help minimize symptoms like hot flashes (6).
Studies have shown that it can help lower LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol (7).
According to a recent systematic review, flax may help fight breast cancer (8). It has also been linked with protective effects against other cancers.
And, because it’s high in omega-3 acids, flax may help ease symptoms like breast tenderness, cramping, and other PMS-like discomfort (9).
Some women have also reported benefits using flax to prevent heavy bleeding — a common symptom when you’re first beginning to enter premature menopause and going through erratic periods. However, more data is needed before we can conclusively tell whether flax is helpful in this regard.
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 is another phytoestrogen and it is also high in bioflavonoids.
Like the other phytoestrogens, attempts have been made to evaluate red clover for its potential to reduce hot flashes.
Nevertheless, it’s possible red clover may have wider benefits other than simply alleviating hot flashes and night sweats. A review conducted in 2005 found positive health effects on cholesterol and triglycerides, suggesting a possible role for red clover in reducing heart disease risk (11).
Animal studies have suggested a possible role for red clover in helping fight osteoporosis (13). This study was conducted with estrogen-deficient rats and requires much further investigation before any conclusions can be drawn.
Vitamin C / Vitamin E and Citrus Bioflavonoids
This combination is a potential hot-flash buster. Studies have shown that Vitamin E may help combat hot flashes (14).
An old study also showed significant drops in hot flash frequency and intensity from a combination of Vitamin C and bioflavonoids.
One possible regimen includes 400 IUs of Vitamin E along with 1200 mg of bioflavonoids taken in the morning and again before bedtime. Several women have reported success in taking these two supplements together to combat the frequency and severity of hot flashes.
Unfortunately there has been little recent research, but one dated study (Smith 1964) 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.
There is also some evidence that bioflavonoids may help to relieve moodiness, anxiety, irritability and other emotional side effects of menopause. Some women have also reported benefits in fighting vaginal dryness with bioflavonoids. However, more studies are needed to investigate these effects.
Vitamin E is useful for the relief of 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.
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; and increase your resistance to infection.
They also 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 HRT may cause a deficiency in B2, B12, B6 and Biotin.
This herb has been used to help cut down on hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Black cohosh may also help with cramps, heavy periods and other menstrual irregularities.
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.
Chasteberry (also known as Vitex agnus castus)
It also appears to be very helpful for breast tenderness, perhaps because chasteberry suppresses prolactin production (17).
Typically, it takes about three to four weeks notice results.
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.
Some individuals have reported success using evening primrose oil to prevent bloating, water retention, breast tenderness, cramps and vaginal dryness; but more research is needed to substantiate this.
St. John’s Wort
If you’re finding yourself more easily depressed, St. Johns Wort may help. Widely touted as a natural tranquilizer, this herb may be moderately useful in relieving irritability, depression, and fatigue.
Dozens of studies have found that it’s effective in fighting mild to moderate depression — which often affects women when their hormone levels plunge suddenly, such as after surgical menopause.
Most notably, it appears to be effective in improving the mood-related symptoms of menopause specifically (11).