Menopausal symptoms affect millions of women. The conventional treatment, was, and still is, replacement of hormones with synthetic versions. In the last few years, these synthetic hormones have been implicated in increased risk of cancer – and women have been left wondering what else they can do to manage their symptoms.
Naturopathic medicine views menopause not as a disease, but as a transition which, in many women, elicits significant symptoms. Any transition is a reminder to prepare oneself for the next step, and this is also true for menopause. The three fundamental goals of treatment are: relieving symptoms, preventing disease, and treating disease. Naturopathic doctors look at each woman as an individual, and decide on the best course of treatment that takes into account the severity of the woman’s symptoms, her current status of health, as well as her risk for developing osteoporosis, heart disease, breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and colorectal cancer and other chronic diseases. All these factors are taken into account when deciding what treatment (including hormones, whether natural or synthetic) is right for a particular individual.
A naturopathic evaluation of menopausal symptoms must balance these sometimes competing needs; therefore, the intake is fairly extensive, and includes a detailed personal medical history, family medical history, physical exam, and gynecologic exam. Lab testing is usually also done; this helps the provider to evaluate the current state of health and risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis – such as blood testing, bone density testing, electrocardiogram, mammogram, and colonoscopy.
A holistic approach recognizes that there are different levels of intervention when treating any condition. For menopausal symptoms, these levels include:
- Lifestyle interventions, such as diet, exercise, and stress management
- Supplementation with beneficial nutrients
- Botanical medicines to support the hormonal balance and symptom relief
- Natural bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (nHRT)
- Patented bio-identical hormone preparations made by pharmaceutical companies
- Conventional hormones (cHRT)
For all women, dietary modifications are an important first step. Many women experience symptom relief with simple dietary changes, and have no need to move on to the higher levels of intervention. Exercise and managing stress are effective at regulating the cortisol, a stress hormone which is involved in menopause. Naturopathic doctors also use nutrients that have been shown in clinical studies to be very effective in relieving hot flashes and vaginal dryness, as well as others that help prevent osteoporosis, heart disease, and other conditions. Botanical medicines provide natural plant estrogens and progesterone.
If none of these lower-level interventions help, or if there are other reasons to use more intensive therapy, naturopathic doctors will discuss with each patient the risks and benefits of bio-identical or conventional hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The decision to use HRT, whether bio-identical or conventional, should take into account each woman’s symptoms, family history, past medical history, and risk factors. Every woman is an individual when it comes to the decision to use HRT – no decision is right for everyone, and it is a decision that is made together with each woman.
Naturopathic medicine has many safe, effective tools for treating the symptoms of menopause and easing the transition. Throughout the process, naturopathic doctors take the time to help each woman understand her treatment options. If you’re suffering with menopause, give us a call. We would be honored to help guide you as you move into the next phase of your life!