Do you feel down, blue or downright depressed in the winter? Feelings of fatigue, craving comfort foods or malaise are not your imagination. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects billions of people around the globe. Those who live in climates where there is not a lot of sun for several months out of the year are particularly affected. Although your friends and family may playfully refer to your despondent mood as a “case of the winter blues,” for you it doesn’t feel light-hearted at all. In fact, SAD is a serious condition that can lead to disruption in your daily life
Menopause is a normal, natural and inevitable event that affects all women reaching middle to late adulthood. In a very basic sense, menopause occurs as a result of aging. Changes in the structure and function of the female ovaries lead to a drastic drop in estrogen levels and permanent cessation of menses. Unfortunately, its associated symptoms can make this process quite uncomfortable for many women and can negatively impact their social life, psychological health and overall well- being.1
The most common concern in postmenopausal women are hot flashes; these cause an episodic feeling of heat, intense sweating
The most common conventional treatment used to address the concerns of menopause is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). While this therapy may provide relief for symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats and protection against bone loss, evidence exists to suggest that HRT may also increase the risk of heart attacks, coronary attacks, strokes and even breast cancer (see page 17 for information on breast cancer). An online survey of 166 menopausal women showed that 27% of respondents stopped or didn’t use HRT at all because of these safety concerns.5
With all of this in mind, it’s no surprise that menopausal women experiencing discomfort want safe and alternative solutions. The good news is that there are many effective options. Let’s take a closer look at some of the best alternative therapies available for the most common menopausal symptoms:
Exercise has long been considered a beneficial treatment for easing the transition into menopause, most notably through reducing the frequency and intensity of hot flashes. It is proposed that the exercise-induced production of beta- endorphins (the “happy” chemical associated with a sense of euphoria) combats the natural decrease in β-endorphins seen with decreasing estrogen levels in aging women.6 These peptides act on many areas of the brain and ultimately may help to stabilize the thermoregulatory centre of the hypothalamus, an area crucial to temperature regulation.6
Multiple studies have reported that physical
activity has positive effects on
various menopause-related symptoms and overall health. As many people are aware, these improved health outcomes include better cognitive function, sleep patterns, mood, bone density, cardiovascular function and energy levels.6 Observational studies confirm this notion.
In a survey of over 66,000 menopausal women in Italy, those that reported the lowest level of regular exercise were significantly more likely to experience more severe symptoms such as hot flashes.7
A 2008 study examined the effects of physical exercise and HRT on “health-related quality of life” (HR-QOL) in 44 post-menopausal women. Only 3 hours per week of moderate aerobic exercise led to an increased HR-QOL and decreased severity of menopausal symptoms (including hot flashes, insomnia, nervousness, headaches and joint pains) after a period of six months. While the groups receiving only HRT and no exercise showed similar decreases in menopausal symptoms, they did not experience the similar increase in HR-QOL that exercising women exhibited.2
Finally, there is also strong evidence that menopausal symptoms such
It’s no secret that diet affects many aspects of our health. Menopausal symptoms are no exception to this rule and many women have seen firsthand that dietary factors can influence menopausal symptoms for better or for worse. A very recent 2013 prospective
Findings of this study identified one specific type of diet that appeared to aggravate menopause symptoms, and two diet types that decreased the risk of menopause symptoms. Diets high in fat and sugar noticeably worsened hot flashes, while diets higher in fruit and diets closely resembling a Mediterraneandiet(greaterproportions of garlic, peppers, mushrooms, salad greens, pasta and red wine) appear to be protective of the same symptom. Diets high in meat, dairy and vegetables did not show any trend in either direction.11 Other studies have also found that high fibre and low fat intakes may be associated with reduced menopause symptoms.11
Many other modifiable lifestyle factors that are closely tied to diet
have shown to be risk factors for increased vasomotor symptoms as well. Specifically, women with a higher body mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight relative to height) are at an increased risk.11 A 2012 study actually showed that menopausal women who lost 10 lbs or more through increased fruit and vegetable intake and reduced fat intake were more likely to eliminate their hot flashes and night sweats completely after one year.12 Interestingly, many women who adopted this new dietary regimen but did not lose weight also found some benefit in the form of reduced hot flashes and night sweats. This shows that dietary interventions and weight loss both independently improve these menopause concerns.12
As a final note on dietary and lifestyle factors, women who smoke cigarettes regularly and those with
Black Cohosh (also known as Actea
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2. Moriyama C et al. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of the effects of physical exercises and estrogen therapy on health-related quality of life in postmenopausal women. Menopause 2008;15(4):613–18.
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