Beyond HRT

woman day dreaming

There are many ways in which you can help yourself feel better, both physically and emotionally. And, seeing as women live a third of their lives beyond the menopause, it’s a good time to take stock and put a plan into place to start living a healthy life.

Hot flushes and night sweats usually lessen over time and go away by themselves. However some women, whether they are taking HRT or not, find that they need extra strategies to help alleviate their menopausal symptoms.

Exercise

It is important for people of all ages to exercise, but it becomes even more crucial for women approaching, or in the menopause. Not only can exercise help you handle the menopause better, but by keeping you fitter and trimmer it also protects you against conditions that become more of a danger once a woman reaches the menopause, such as osteoporosis or heart disease. You may find that you have slowed down over the years without even noticing. In the past you may have been running around after children, or racing about for your job, and haven’t noticed that you’re perhaps not doing as much physical activity now as you once were.

The benefits of exercise are multiple:

Emotional well-being: Activities such as yoga and pilates are well-known for increasing a sense of well-being and emotional calm. Not only are they excellent for physical balance, but they can help you to centre yourself and find inner strength and calm. This can be especially useful during the menopause when some women feel a bit low, or find the physical changes upsetting. In addition, exercise in the form of social activities such as tennis can provide both physical and social benefits, combining exercise with getting out and meeting new people and having a laugh. The endorphins produced by your body during exercise are mood-enhancers and as you start to enjoy exercise (which can sometimes take a little while, hang in there!) you will soon notice that you can feel the energy and mental boost that exercise gives you.

Physical well-being: It goes without saying that any exercise that keeps you toned and strong, strengthening your core muscles (e.g. yoga and pilates), can help you avoid falls and broken bones which become more of a problem as we age. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking, running and tennis help you lose weight, which protects against heart disease and reduces hot flushes. They also build muscle, which increases your metabolism, and they protect against osteoporosis. Increasing exercise has even been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer. So, even if you start slow, and get walking instead of driving, doing any exercise can be of immediate benefit to you.

Alternative therapies

Some women find that using alternative therapies can help them physically or emotionally to cope better with the symptoms of the menopause. Therapies that may be beneficial include acupuncture (may help hot flushes), aromatherapy (many different oils have roles in reducing tension, anxiety, improving sleep and calm), reflexology, homeopathy and hypnosis amongst others. As with all alternative therapies, it is important to make sure that whatever therapy you choose is safe for you to try, and to find a reputable practitioner, preferably one well-versed in the menopause. 

Another possible treatment is CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), a type of psychological therapy that helps people to manage the way they think and feel. You may be offered this if you have low mood or anxiety as a result of menopause.

Complementary therapies 

There are non-prescription, natural, plant-based remedies available, which may be beneficial in helping with certain symptoms of the menopause. Whilst these may be marketed as ‘natural’, this doesn’t mean that they are ‘safe’, and some may have harmful effects if used incorrectly. The quality, purity and constituents of some therapies may also be unknown. So, if you are considering using any natural remedies, please discuss this with your doctor first as some may interact with other medications, and some, including phytoestrogens, may be unsuitable for certain women, especially those with a history of cancer. 

St John's wort - Some women have found St John's wort can reduce their hot flushes and night sweats during menopause. However, the ingredients of products containing St John's wort may vary and their effects are uncertain. Also, these products can interfere with other drugs, including those used to treat breast cancer (for example, tamoxifen). 

Phytoestrogens (soy isoflavones, red clover) & black cohosh – Many women are attracted by these supplements, which claim to help reduce menopausal symptoms. While some women may feel improvements, there is little scientific evidence to show that they work. And, as they contain substances, which are plant-based oestrogens (“phytoestrogens”), they may mimic the effects of oestrogen in the body which may be harmful if a woman has a history of oestrogen-dependent cancer. In addition, black cohosh contains an ingredient that may cause liver damage. So if you’re interested in trying any herbal supplement, please check with your doctor before taking it.

A healthy diet

A healthy diet should include 5 portions of fruit/vegetables per day. Keep as much to ‘real’ food as possible, avoiding processed and refined foods and keeping fat and sugar in moderation. Your weight makes a big difference to how you handle the menopause and its associated conditions such as heart disease, and your diet is an essential part of that so can have a real impact on your symptoms. Alcohol and excess caffeine can also worsen hot flushes and increase the risk of osteoporosis, so keep those occasional as well.

By making the most of these other strategies, you can not only improve symptoms of the menopause but also enter this period of your life feeling healthier and happier about yourself.