Traveling the Alternative Route: Non-Hormone Treatment for Menopause Symptoms

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

In recent years many questions have been raised about the safety and efficacy of treatment options for menopause symptoms. The release of the Women’s Health Initiative Study (WHI) results, the largest study ever conducted on hormone therapy, sent many women back to the drawing board to re-evaluate their treatment regimen.

The good news is that although hormone therapy (HT) remains one of the standards in effectively alleviating symptoms, many alternative treatments are also available to help your transition through menopause.

Lifestyle Modifications

First and foremost, you may be able to manage your menopausal symptoms by making healthy lifestyle choices. Often times, subtle changes in exercise and diet can make a world of difference. In fact, your healthcare provider may recommend that you try making changes to your exercise or eating habits first before you try medication. Incorporating these changes earlier rather than later can also ward off long-term health issues like osteoporosis and heart disease. However, if after trying lifestyle modifications you’re still dealing with bothersome symptoms, you have a myriad of options besides hormone therapy to help relieve your discomfort.

Prior to the WHI, hormone therapy was believed to promote long-term health postmenopausally, such as reducing your risk of heart disease. Although the WHI supported the belief that HT helps lower your risk of osteoporosis and colon cancer, it does not seem to protect you against heart disease or stroke. So, here are some lifestyle choices that can make a difference.

  • Don’t smoke and avoid excess alcohol
  • Get moving – exercise daily
  • Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet, plentiful in fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage high blood pressure
  • Keep blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride levels and diabetes in check
  • Avoid excess alcohol
  • Reduce stress
  • Take Calcium and Vitamin D
  • Non-Prescription Remedies

When it comes to treating your menopause there is no one-size-fits-all solution because each woman’s experience with menopause is unique. And, as researchers learn more about menopausal treatments, recommendations may change. Review your current treatments with your doctor on a regular basis to see if they’re still your best option.

As previously mentioned, many women who are concerned about the health risks of synthetic hormones in conventional hormone therapy are looking for natural alternatives. It’s very important to know that products are not necessarily safe just because they’re natural. The same questions we ask about FDA approved drugs need to be answered for alternative therapies too: what is the specific reason to take it? Are there studies to show that it’s effective for the recommended purpose? What are the risks associated with taking it?

Alternative products are less studied than conventional drugs so it’s even more important to learn what is known about natural products and consider any safety concerns in order to make an informed decision.

Most women can benefit from a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement. However, after menopause, women should choose a supplement without iron because iron is no longer lost through menstrual bleeding.

A typical daily supplement contains 400 IU of Vitamin D and for those women over 70 and seldom in the sun, 600-800 IU is recommended. In addition, multivitamins usually do not contain enough calcium to meet the recommended daily intake of 1,200 to 1,500 mg, so most women should take a separate calcium supplement to meet those needs.

Non-hormonal vaginal lubricants and moisturizers are often used by women to treat vaginal dryness and discomfort. To ease intercourse, water-based lubricants can be used and vaginal moisturizers like Replens act directly on tissue to make it less dry.

Alternative Treatments

Phytoestrogens (soy), herbs and “natural” hormones are the three types of alternative treatments most commonly promoted for women at menopause.

Phytoestrogens, such as isoflavones, are the most studied of the alternative treatments for menopause symptoms. Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring compounds found in abundance in soy beans, soy products and red clover. They are similar to estrogen in chemical structure so they can produce estrogen-like effects. However, they are 1/1000th as strong. Effects usually take two to four weeks to notice and hot flashes may be reduced by up to 50% in both frequency and intensity. (Seibel MM. The Soy Solution for Menopause. Simon & Schuster. 2003. Simon Says).

Black cohosh, dong quai, ginkgo, and red clover are among the most popular herbs for women experiencing symptoms with menopause.

In some studies of black cohosh, women got relief from hot flashes and improvements in vaginal lubrication. This is a short-term solution, however, because there are no published human studies on its long-term safety and no published study in which it’s been taken for longer than six months. Studies of gingko show that it may help relieve forgetfulness, but it should not be used by people taking anticoagulants (including aspirin) or with bleeding problems because it can cause bleeding.

In Summary

Women who want to try non-hormonal alternatives should look for the available evidence and test out options, starting with those that carry the least known risk, to find what works for them. In addition, all treatments should be use at the lowest, effective dose for the shortest amount of time. Because every woman is unique, there is no single way to ensure the best healthcare for every woman at menopause. It is beneficial for every woman to take the time to investigate what is best for her and communicate clearly with her healthcare provider about treatment plans, questions and concerns to ensure a long-term healthy life.

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