Nutrition as a First Line Approach Before, During and After Menopause
By Dr. Seth Herbst
Of all the changes women experience during their reproductive life there is no doubt that the most dreaded are the three phases of menopause. That is not surprising since all of the symptoms associated with menopause are replete with unpleasantness. Hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbance, mood swings, bone density issues, hormonal imbalance and low libido are not only distressing, but can impact a woman’s health and quality of life in multiple negative ways. The gradual depletion of estrogen production associated with aging is the catalyst for most menopausal symptoms. Lack of estrogen may affect other organs of the body including the brain, contributing to negative emotional well-being, and skin, reducing thickness and elasticity. There is also evidence that declining estrogen levels may make women more vulnerable to heart disease and stroke.
With such a comprehensive list of negative affects brought on by menopause, it is understandable that the most logical remedy for symptoms associated with menopause became the administration of synthetic hormones, or hormone replacement therapy. HRT came into use nearly six decades ago and was generally prescribed to women as they began to experience menopausal symptoms. However, as multiple studies over the decades associated traditional HRT with various cancers and other negative side effects, the use of artificial hormones to treat menopausal women has declined significantly.
Natural options considered
Although artificial hormone therapies for menopausal women continue to be debated and refined, nutritional therapies with no link to negative side effects merit serious consideration. Examining the nutritional deficiencies that may accompany the demands that menopause places on the female body indicates that addressing nutritional needs at the cellular level is vital to effectively treating all phases of menopause.
The process of aging diminishes the body’s ability to activate Vitamin D. This lowers calcium absorption rates which increases the risk of osteoporosis in the post-menopausal woman.
Calcium may lose its effectiveness if Vitamin D is deficient or estrogen levels are low. Magnesium deficiency can contribute to insomnia and other menopausal symptoms. Estrogen enhances magnesium utilization and absorption; declining levels of estrogen associated with the stages of menopause can create magnesium and other mineral deficiencies.
B vitamins play a key role in reducing menopausal stress. Thiamine, niacin, B-12 and folic acid are often referred to as the “stress vitamins.” Although the ovaries stop producing estrogen in time, adrenal glands and fat cells will continue to produce the hormone. B-3 and folic acid help support this production. Mildred Seeling, M.D. describes this in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition1.
“Estrogen enhances magnesium utilization and uptake by soft tissues and bone, and may explain the resistance of young women to heart disease and osteoporosis — as well as the increased prevalence of these diseases when estrogen production ceases,” says Seeling.
The roles superfoods and cellular nutrition play in women’s health
Dark, green leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens and broccoli are a low-calorie source of phytoestrogens. They are also rich in important nutrients such as iron, calcium, folate and B-vitamins, which support healthy management of menopausal symptoms.
Beans and soy are rich in phytoestrogens. Daidzein, an isoflavone found chiefly in legumes and especially soybeans, helps reduce menopausal hot flashes.
Panothenic acid, or vitamin B-5, is found in salmon, sunflower seeds, and avocados. It can reduce hot flashes and help mood stabilization.
Royal jelly is a true superfood loaded with minerals, vitamins, protein and pheromones. Plant hormones stimulate weak estrogenic actions and stimulate adrenals to help alleviate stress, reduce hot flashes and fight fatigue associated with menopause. Bee pollen extract also helps with these symptoms and may help with weight management as well.
Plant-based supplements such as Guggul Gum, Cnidium Monnieri and Moringa leaf contain vitamin D and calcium for bone health; they help regulate mood swings, reduce hot flashes and night sweats and increase libido.
Dr. Seth Herbst, M.D., founder of the Institute for Women’s Health and Body in West Palm Beach, Florida has experienced a substantial rise in menopausal patients seeking alternatives to traditional hormone therapy.
“Seeing a trend in my own practice and talking with colleagues, more women are inquiring about natural options from their doctors to treat the debilitating symptoms of menopause,” said Dr. Herbst.
“As a western trained physician I have found that while traditional hormone therapy has helped many women, we have ignored correcting nutritional deficiencies and using functional medicine, an approach which women prefer and has been quite successful in my own practice. Using quality, organic sources, many of the symptoms associated with menopause can be successfully treated with virtually no negative ramifications,” said Dr. Herbst.
Addressing nutritional support for women during menopause, peri-menopause and post-menopause with scientifically validated phytonutrients can and does provide a frontline treatment for symptoms associated with all stages of menopause. In addition to reducing the risks associated with traditional hormone therapy, this approach to wellness empowers women to take more control of their own unique health needs holistically and in a much more natural way than previously accepted protocols.