Women have been told to expect hot flashes, disrupted sleep, fatigue, weight gain, depression, and decreased sex drive as they enter into menopause. But the transition doesn’t have to be disruptive. Here are six natural remedies to minimize menopausal symptoms.
What is Menopause?
First, some background to illuminate what’s happening as you shift into menopause. The average age for menopause in the U.S. is 51, but some women begin to experience hormonal shifts as early as their late 30’s. One explanation Is endocrine disrupting chemicals in our environment and bodycare products. Click here for an interesting article on the role of chemicals/cosmetics in disrupting endocrine function.
Peri-menopause is the time leading up to the end of menses. When a woman has not had a period for one year, she is considered menopausal. Decreases in progesterone and estrogen, a woman’s 2 main sex hormones, are the first shift into menopause. That’s when symptoms may crop up, usually due to stress on the adrenal glands. The adrenals are the command and control center of the body and are responsible for the release of cortisol and sex hormones. The adrenals communicate with the hypothalamus and thyroid through a complex feedback loop to trigger the release of sex hormones and thyroid hormone.
Ideally, one should transition into menopause without experiencing major symptoms, but sadly, this is pretty rare these days. During menopause, the adrenals “take over” for the ovaries to help manage and produce dropping hormone levels produced by the ovaries. If your adrenals are taxed from stress, poor diet, lack of sleep, too much sugar/booze, and pain/inflammation, you may experience more severe menopausal symptoms.
If you want to check your hormone levels to see if you are in menopause, you can order a hormone kit yourself (contact me for details).
Six Natural Remedies for Menopause Symptoms
These supplements, diet adjustments, and lifestyle habits can ease uncomfortable menopausal symptoms.
1. Address stress! As I mentioned, stress can be emotional, work-related, lack of sleep, or dietary (eating inflammatory foods, foods to which you are allergic, too much booze and sugar). If you feel exhausted and harried going into menopause, your symptoms will be worse, so support your adrenals with a solid diet, 8 hours of sleep, yoga or whatever kind of mind/body exercise works for you. Click here to read more about how to balance your adrenals. Acupuncture helps, too. Consider a saliva test for cortisol and hormone function. You can also try an adaptogenic herbal blend for adrenal support. I like Gaia adrenal support. You’ll also want to get your thyroid tested. Check your TSH, T3, T4 levels. More on thyroid health here. You can order a thyroid panel online yourself here. Use this link for a discount.
2. How is your diet? Remove inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy (unless you tolerate it OK), vegetable oils, sugar, and excess alcohol. Alcohol is the enemy of menopause: it affects sleep, blood sugar (which rises naturally during menopause), and increases anxiety. Stick to plenty of good fats (helps your body produce the hormones you need) like coconut oil, butter, and lots of fresh pressed olive oil; eat organic proteins & veggies; and get plenty of probiotic-rich foods (such as raw kraut) to support healthy body composition and good gut flora. There is pretty solid evidence that a high protein low carb diet is the best diet to maintain body composition during menopause. (source)
A word about weight gain during menopause: dropping estrogen may increase inflammation, blood glucose, and fat storage and decrease basal metabolic rate. That’s why many women experience menopausal changes in body composition. Increasing protein and decreasing refined carbs (bread, pasta, sweets) and higher glycemic foods will help normalize your weight. Check out the book Women, Food & Hormones for more on this.
Additionally, blood sugar levels naturally rise during menopause, and this can cause weight gain or make weight loss difficult. Blood sugar stability is key. Read this post for more, and consider adding in a berberine supplement to help manage blood sugar levels. This also positively impacts sleep!
3. Be aware that inflammation and inflammatory conditions can crop up during menopause because estrogen (in normal levels during reproductive years) protects against inflammation in the body. Increased risks of cardiovascular disease, higher insulin, and higher lipids (LDL) may result, so avoid the above mentioned inflammatory foods and increase the foods that combat inflammation: omega 3 rich foods like fatty fish (wild salmon, sardines, cod), leafy greens, walnuts, chia, curcumin. Consider a fish oil for beneficial fatty acids. Increase calcium and mineral rich foods like sea vegetables, bone broth (click here for my bone broth recipe), leafy greens, root veggies, and super mineral-rich root vegetables. Do NOT take a calcium-only supplement; it needs to be balanced with magnesium. Get as much as you can from food. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try the Natural Calm cal-mag blend before bed.
4. SOY may be beneficial for menopausal symptoms. A 2021 study of postmenopausal women found that when they added half a cup of soybeans (edamame) to their diets, they had an 84% reduction in moderate to severe hot flashes, from five a day to one. You can also add in other phytoestrogenic foods like flaxseed (add ground flax to smoothies). These foods may help plug estrogen receptors and balance estrogens in the body. Just be aware not to consume processed soy like soy isolates present in many protein bars and protein powders. Some people have trouble digesting legumes such as soy. If that’s you, just use flax.
5. Supplements to help: My highest rec goes to Femenessence, a type of maca that can help with hot flashes and sleep disruption. There is also compelling research about Siberian rhubard extract. It apparently has the magical ability to reduce hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms relatively quickly. In one clinical study it reduced hot flashes from 12 daily down to 1.5! I personally haven’t witnessed much improvement with black cohosh, the other purported menopause miracle cure. I think this phyto-B supplement works well— it contains plant-based estrogen (from licorice root) and progesterone (from wild yam). The goal is not to restart your cycle but to support falling hormone levels during the transition. If you’re experiencing symptoms, you’ll need to work with a practitioner to address the root cause and correct the underlying imbalance, whether it’s adrenal exhaustion, diet, or other factors.
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6. Get 7-8 hours sleep, exercise (but don’t over-exercise!), keep blood sugar levels stable by eating in regular intervals (also drains adrenals when blood sugar levels spike and crash), and support the liver! Your liver metabolizes hormones and could use support during this transition. Read more on how to support the liver here. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try this herbal sleep support. It’s great because it’s a blend of botanicals, nutrients, and neurotransmitter precursors designed to support sleep. This passion flower extract has been a life saver for my clients too. Keep it by your bedside and take it before bed and when you wake in the middle of the night.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.