by Olivia Janz Registered Acupuncturist Kenmore Centre for Health Brisbane
Menopausal symptoms can vary from annoying to debilitating. These symptoms often improve with hormone treatment, but hormone treatment isn’t for everyone. Diet and lifestyle changes, herbal medicines and acupuncture can all improve symptoms such as hot flushes, insomnia, anxiety, depression and body aches.
Menopause Indicates the end of Fertility
Menopause signals the end of fertility and the menstrual cycle caused by the decline in a woman’s reproductive hormones. This natural process occurs on average somewhere between age 45 and 55 and can also occur because of treatment for a medical condition such as breast cancer.
For most women a range of symptoms are associated with menopause and can vary from annoying to debilitating. Hot flushes will be experienced by a little over half of women and these can last for an average of 8 years. Other common symptoms which can last 5 to 10 years include Insomnia, joint aches, fatigue, anxiety and bladder discomfort. While the onset of these symptoms occurs with a fall in oestrogen levels, many women have these same lower oestrogen levels without symptoms, which means the cause of these symptoms is more than just a reduction in hormones. Never the less hormone supplementation can relieve menopausal symptoms. Doctors may prescribe a range of prescription medications including both hormonal and non-hormonal medications.
Lifestyle Changes can Help
Hormone therapy is not suitable for all women and not preferred by some others, and most Australian women seek out natural options to help with menopausal symptoms as well. Usual lifestyle advice of maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and stopping smoking can improve overall wellness but doesn’t seem to address menopausal symptoms specifically. Avoiding alcohol can improve hot flushes in some women.
Herbal Alternatives to Hormone Therapy
A range of herbal products are available, and the list is long with limited research supporting the effectiveness of various options. Commonly used products for hot flushes include phytoestrogens (plant hormones) such as soy isoflavones and red sage; black cohosh, ginseng and Chinese herbal medicines. Popular supplements for other symptoms include evening primrose oil, fish or krill oil, glucosamine, maca, valerian, St John’s Wort and the list goes on. Some supplements have a safety cloud over them, especially for women who need to avoid oestrogen particularly after breast cancer. A qualified herbalist or naturopath will match a herbal medicine to a specific person to reduce the trial and error process of selecting a product and to maintain safe prescribing.
Acupuncture can be Effective and is Well Researched
One of the best studied natural treatments for menopausal symptoms is acupuncture. Acupuncture has been found to reduce the severity and frequency of hot flushes, as well as addressing many of the other symptoms which affect quality of life such as mild anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, body pains and lethargy. A recent randomised controlled trial treating women once a week for six months found that acupuncture reduced hot flushes on average with 8 weeks of treatment (some women improving earlier, others later), and that other symptoms associated with quality of life improved as well. The benefits of treatment persisted by six months after the end of treatment.
Acupuncture, Breast Cancer, and Menopausal Symptoms
Acupuncture has also been studied in women who have had breast cancer. The reduction in hot flushes was not as significant in this group, however it improved sleep, depression, joint pain, palpitation, headache, tingling, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue and joint aches.
Treatment Adapted to Individuals
Not all women are the same and neither are their menopausal symptoms. Not everyone will require or choose prescription medication to address their symptoms. A range of natural options may be all that is needed for some women, and acupuncture rates highly on the list. Acupuncture can be combined with prescription medication or herbal products to suit the needs of the individual.
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