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Lifestyle

Can you reverse menopausal symptoms without taking hormones?

by Dr Rangan Chatterjee   /  October 30, 2015

We’ve all heard the phrase “going through the change” but what does it actually mean – and can you treat the symptoms of menopause without taking hormones? Here, I explain how making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle can dramatically decrease the need for HRT.

WHAT IS THE MENOPAUSE?

The menopause marks the end of menstruation. During this time a woman’s body prepares to switch off its reproductive system and stop producing eggs. This means she will no longer be able to have a period or have children naturally. The average age is 51 (in the UK) but some women experience it in their 30s or 40s. During this time a woman’s body prepares to switch off its reproductive system and stop producing eggs. This means she will no longer be able to have a period or have children naturally.

WHAT ARE PERI-MENOPAUSAL SYMPTOMS?

The years leading up to menopause are called peri-menopause and can be a source of worry and frustration. As hormone levels change, many women experience hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings and insomnia – just to name a few.

Some women find these symptoms can lead to awkwardness. For example, having hot flushes in the middle of meetings in front of their work colleagues. Others have mood swings so severe that it can put strain on their relationships.

IS IT POSSIBLE NOT TO EXPERIENCE THESE SYMPTOMS?

We get taught at medical school that symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats are a result of falling oestrogen levels. However, every menopausal woman will have falling oestrogen levels but not every woman will have menopausal symptoms.

Why? Because there are many other factors that play a part – most importantly, nutrition and lifestyle.

The actual process of menopause is unavoidable – and so are the hormonal changes that can cause menopausal symptoms. However, it’s not just your hormone levels in isolation that dictate how unpleasant the symptoms are or even if you get them at all. Making positive changes to your lifestyle – eating better, moving better, sleeping better as well as knowing how to react in stressful situations – will all make your body better able to keep these symptoms under control.

HOW DO YOU TREAT MENOPAUSE WITHOUT HORMONES?

I often manage to successfully treat menopausal symptoms without using hormones. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is a treatment used to relieve symptoms of the menopause by replacing some of the hormones that are decreasing in the peri-menopause. However, HRT has been linked with certain risks and side effects so I try and avoid prescribing it until I have explored all other options.

As always, I like to look at the root cause of problems rather than simply suppressing symptoms.

The first thing to understand is that hormones are messengers of communication. That is their job – to help communicate between different parts of the body. What’s key, however, is that they are all linked. If one set of hormones goes up, the other hormones in your body will change as they try and compensate for the fluctuating hormone. No hormone works in isolation. It is like a complex symphony where everything affects everything else.

If your stress hormones – like cortisol – are raised, this will have an impact on many of your other hormones. If you are on a blood sugar roller coaster all day because of your high sugar diet, your insulin levels will be fluctuating and this can lead to subsequent changes in your cortisol and adrenaline levels. They’re all linked.

Often I find when women make some simple (although often, not easy) changes to their diet and lifestyle, they can rapidly start to improve their hormonal symptoms.

These are some of the key areas I work on to improve hormonal balance:

  1. Stabilising your blood sugar. If you eat a diet that doesn’t spike your blood sugar, your insulin levels stay stable. If your insulin levels rise too high, they start off a hormonal cascade that can exacerbate menopausal symptoms. (You can read more about this in my e-book)
  2. De-stressing and relaxation. Modern life is stressful, no doubt about it. Women often juggle looking after small children, working in high pressure jobs and often caring for elderly parents as well. Most women I see with menopausal symptoms have a degree of background stress in their lives. It can often be impractical to remove the sources of those stresses but it is possible to change the way you react to them. Having 10-15 minutes per day of “me” time can be hugely beneficial. Try 10 minutes of meditation (there are loads of helpful apps on the market, such as Headspace) or try to switch off all electronic devices one hour before bed and take a relaxing hot bath instead.
  3. Moving more. Don’t fear, I’m not talking about a vigorous gym workout. Just putting more movement into your everyday life can help. Simply by giving an overweight patient of mine a pedometer and asking her to reach 10,000 steps per day was a hugely powerful motivating factor and dramatically changed her physical activity levels.
  4. A good night’s sleep. Not sleeping makes menopausal symptoms worse. The problem is that the hormonal changes during peri-menopause can actually make you not sleep, so it can be a vicious cycle. Often, while you’re putting the above lifestyle changes into practise (these can take a few weeks to kick in), I find it helpful to give some of my patients a magnesium supplement to help them sleep. Magnesium can be thought of as a “relaxation” mineral.

WHAT CAN I START DOING NOW TO REDUCE MY MENOPAUSAL SYMPTOMS?

  • Make changes to your diet to balance blood sugar and insulin
  • Get a pedometer and try to walk 10,000 steps every day
  • Make a commitment to 10 minutes meditation daily
  • Try acupuncture to help reduce hot flushes
  • Work on your reaction to stressful situations to help reduce cortisol levels (stress hormone levels)
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist for information about personalised food supplements, such as Magnesium to help you sleep and relax

If you’re suffering from peri-menopausal symptoms, why don’t you give these ideas a go before taking HRT? As always, I’m on hand to answer any questions that you may have. You can comment below or share your stories with me on Facebook or Twitter – I’d love to hear how you go.

— Dr Chatterjee



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DISCLAIMER: The content in this blog is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog or on this website.



Dr. Rangan Chatterjee MbChB, BSc (Hons), MRCP, MRCGP