Between those dreaded hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and hours spent tossing and turning at night, menopause is downright miserable. Hormone replacement therapy is one option, but if you’re concerned about the risks or want to try natural fixes first, the good news is that there are non-hormonal remedies that can help.
Here are five of the most common symptoms of menopause and natural remedies to try.
1. Hot flashes
It’s unclear what causes hot flashes, but they might be linked to the adrenal glands. When estrogen falls during menopause, the adrenal glands can become deficient, which then causes a surge of cortisol to be released and, in turn, hot flashes, said Dr. Prudence Hall, founder of The Hall Center in Santa Monica, Calif.
Approximately 80 percent of women will experience hot flashes and about 10 percent will have significant hot flashes that last for over 10 years, said Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. and author of “A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Health.”
Herbs such as black cohosh, wild yam, Korean ginseng and red clover can help, but you should consult with a physician, naturopath or herbalist to make sure you choose a reputable brand. Also, avoid triggers like wine and spicy foods, try adding soy foods to your diet and dress in layers.
Although exercise will likely make your hot flashes worse while you’re doing it, it can help alleviate symptoms throughout the day. In fact, women who reported less than three sessions a week of physical activity had more severe symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, compared to women who were more active, a study in the journal Menopause found. Losing weight can also help hot flashes since heavy women have worse hot flashes than slimmer women, Minkin said.
2. Night sweats
Approximately 95 percent of women will also deal with night sweats, which is not only uncomfortable, but it makes getting a good night’s sleep nearly impossible.
To feel better, adjust the thermostat, try cooling sheets, pillows or blankets and wear moisture-wicking pajamas.
3. Vaginal dryness
Unlike hot flashes that tend to get better with time, unfortunately vaginal dryness gets worse. The decrease in estrogen levels cause the vaginal tissues to become thin and dry, which leads to discomfort, itching, irritation and pain during sexual intimacy. If it’s not treated, vaginal dryness can lead to atrophic vaginitis, a condition that causes the walls of the vagina to become inflamed.
Some things to try include long-lasting over-the-counter moisturizers that can be used two to three times a week, or coconut oil and personal lubricants when you have sex.
Restlessness, waking up several times throughout the night, or trouble falling asleep are all common during menopause.
Questioning who you are or your life’s purpose— which is common during this stage of life— can cause anxiety and also make sleeping difficult, Hall said.
Make a point to exercise every day, which can help you sleep, but do it too close to bedtime and it might keep you up.
Avoid known triggers like alcohol and caffeine, and practice good sleep hygiene by keeping your bedroom cool and dark and powering down electronics one to two hours before you get into bed.
Acupuncture can help relieve sleep disturbances associated with menopause too, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
During menopause, there are many factors at play that can cause you to feel on edge.
For starters, when estrogen is low, it can affect the neurotransmitters in the brain and lead to irritability and mood swings. If your libido is low and your body isn’t releasing oxytocin, the “love hormone” during an orgasm, your mood can suffer. Not to mention that if you’re not sleeping, you’re bound to feel crabby.
To cope, find opportunities to de-stress and relax, whether it’s heading to the spa for a massage, meditating or meeting friends for dinner. If your poor mood persists, it’s important to see your doctor because thyroid levels can plummet during menopause, which might be the real reason you’re feeling low.
Although menopause is no walk in the park, it’s important to take time to take care of yourself.
“Even if we’ve given our care, our love and our attention to everyone else, now is the time for ourselves so we stay full of light, love and life,” Hall said.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.