September is National Menopause Awareness Month which is aimed at helping women to understand and embrace menopause in lieu of suffering from its symptoms. To celebrate, the Women’s OBGYN Medical Group of Santa Rosa takes a look at healthy ways women can work with the physical changes caused by menopause.
The severity of menopausal symptoms will vary among woman. A healthcare provider specializing in menopause is expert in helping patients find the best way to address lifestyle expectations and relief from uncomfortable symptoms with the latest treatment options, including hormone therapy. At the same time complementary therapies offer a variety of alternative treatments and products that can relieve symptoms for many menopausal women. While these treatment options may fall outside of what can be called conventional medicine, there are many therapies that are considered safe and effective.
What is Menopause?
Menopause marks the stage of a woman’s life when her body has transitioned from regularly producing estrogen and progesterone in the ovaries to its post-menopausal state. This process occurs naturally in women typically between the ages of 40 and 60, but there are also natural causes and voluntary procedures that can induce premature menopause such as the removal of both ovaries due to treatments for cancer, disease or trauma, and hysterectomy.
Symptoms arise in most women as the body adjusts to new hormone levels. Common, though generally mild symptoms which can be treated effectively with complementary therapies include; hot flashes, sleep difficulties, and stress-induced muscle pains, etc. Examples of complimentary therapies for these types of symptoms include;
- herbal & dietary supplements
- yoga, tai chi, qi gong
- biofeedback, meditation
Massage therapy can offer safe and effective relief for many women experiencing menopause, at any stage. Typical symptoms of menopause can be intensified by feelings of anxiety and fatigue which in turn can cause additional pain in the back, neck and shoulders. Massage therapy as well as other forms of bodywork actually allows the body to relax, offering relief from anxiety and stress. Massage therapy is well known for its ability to relieve headaches and body tension, and increased range of motion. It can also help women reconnect with the natural rhythms of their bodies during menopause. Massage also improves flexibility by stimulating the natural lubricants between connective tissue, helping to alleviate back, neck and shoulder pain caused by menopausal stress. Another aspect of massage that may help improve hormonal imbalances caused by menopause is reflexology which is an ancient method of massaging acupressure points, most commonly in the hands and feet.
Herbal & Dietary Supplements for Menopause
Although research has yet to provide the necessary scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of many complementary health practices, women are discovering symptom relief during the menopausal transition with the wise use of herbal and dietary supplements. To that end, it is vital that patients discuss all complementary therapies they are using with their physician, as not all are proven safe and/or effective and some supplements can interfere with conventional treatments. The physicians at Women’s OBGYN Medical Group are happy to help provide individualized guidance for complimentary therapies, including herbal and dietary support.
Some commonly talked about supplements include;
Flaxseed contains substances called lignins which are important modulators of hormone metabolism.
Dong quai is touted for its ability to support and maintain the natural balance of female hormones. However, this is one of the herbs commonly recommended for menopause that should not be taken if a woman is experiencing heavy bleeding.
Black cohosh is one of the best-studied traditional herbs for menopause commonly used for hot flashes. Black cohosh may work by maintaining hormonal levels, which may lessen the severity of hot flashes, although it isn’t effective for everyone.
Taking in magnesium-rich foods or supplements helps strengthen bones and prevent conditions like osteoporosis, which can develop during menopause. Maintaining strong bones throughout menopause can help prevent bone fractures and serious injury. Magnesium is also known to help reduce common symptoms of menopause such as insomnia, tissue dryness, mood swings, anxiety, irritability and water-retention and it can also help improve energy levels, which may decline during menopause.
Evening primrose oil is a good source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid that can help influence prostaglandin synthesis and help moderate menopausal symptoms.
A daily dose of 400 IUs of natural vitamin E has proven to help alleviate symptoms of hot flashes in some menopausal women.
Water-soluble B-vitamins may also help women deal with the emotional stress of menopausal symptoms.
Yoga, tai chi, qi gong
A 2010 National Institute of Health (NIH) review of 21 papers evaluated mind and body therapies for menopausal symptoms where researchers found that yoga, tai chi and meditation-based programs may be helpful in reducing common menopausal symptoms including the frequency and intensity of hot flashes, sleep and mood disturbances, stress and muscle and joint pain.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, many nonprescription techniques may relieve the symptoms of menopause including meditation, acupuncture, hypnosis, biofeedback and deep breathing exercises. Many of these exercises involve focusing attention inward and eliminating stressful thoughts. While this type of relaxation helps reduce stress immediately, it can also help a person to better deal with stress throughout the day.
Weight gain is common after menopause and as many as 30 percent of women ages 50 to 59 are not just overweight today, they are obese. Lack of estrogen may cause the body to use starches and blood sugar less effectively, which may indeed increase fat storage and make it harder for women of a menopausal age to lose weight. There is a way that mature women can avoid this particular symptom of menopause while helping to reduce the risk of many other health problems associated with aging; by adopting a routine of aerobic exercise.
A National Institutes of Health review showed that people who took part in aerobic activities every day for just 10 or more minutes had as many as six fewer inches around the waistline, compared to people who didn’t exercise. A regular routine of aerobic activity can help lower the risk of many menopausal symptoms including osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and relief of depression and anxiety.
Professional, Compassionate Care throughout the Menopausal Years
Complementary therapies are not covered by most insurance, so it is important to check with your insurance provider when considering trying these therapies in conjunction with any conventional treatments. Physicians and nurses at the Women’s OBGYN Medical Group carry decades of experience providing professional, compassionate treatment and advice to women going through menopause, and it brings our practice great satisfaction to help ease the emotional and physical discomfort that comes with it. To learn more visit our website or call (707) 579-1102.