Treating Menopausal Symptoms with functional medicine
The menopause is when a woman stops having menstrual cycles. It typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. It’s common for a woman’s periods to become irregular for a few months to year before they stop entirely.
The menopause is a natural part of ageing and occurs when a woman’s supply of eggs is used up. When there are no eggs remaining the ovaries no longer produce the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone at the same level or in the same cycle. It’s the drop in the levels of these hormones, combined with other hormonal changes as the body adjusts that are responsible for menopausal symptoms. Menopause can also be induced by medical treatments such as a hysterectomy (where a woman’s ovaries and womb are removed) or by medications that block female hormones, for example tamoxifen.
Most women will experience some menopausal symptoms, but for a small number these symptoms can be severe and have a major impact on quality of life.
Common menopausal symptoms include:
- Hot flushes
- Night Sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Reduced sex drive
- Weight gain (especially around the middle)
- Thinning hair
- Dry skin
- Shrinkage of breast tissue
- Joint pains
- Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
The menopause is usually diagnosed based on a woman’s symptoms but blood tests to measure hormone levels may be carried out if you’re under 45.
Conventional treatment centres around hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This includes tablets, skin patches, gels and implants that relieve menopausal symptoms by replacing oestrogen. Whilst these treatments can help reduce symptoms they also have some downsides. Side effects include bloating, breast tenderness, nausea, headaches, indigestion and vaginal bleeding. HRT has also been associated with some more serious risks, such as an increased risk of blood clots and female cancers.
The functional medicine approach to the menopause is different.
Dietary changes, therapeutic foods, herbs and supplements are used to balance hormone levels instead of HRT.
Functional medicine also recognises that menopausal symptoms aren’t just all about oestrogen. High levels of stress hormones and drop in blood sugar can also trigger symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and mood changes. Working to support the adrenal glands, reduce stress and restore blood sugar balance through a healthy diet can go a long way to mitigating the effects of the menopause.
It’s also vital to ensure the body has all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients it needs to deal with the challenges of the hormonal shift. In order to make and correctly process hormones, we need a range of nutrients from magnesium to B vitamins, antioxidants and groups. Many women will find that simply improving their diets can make them feel better!