Medically speaking, menopause occurs one year after a woman’s last period and marks the end of her fertility.
Perimenopause—the four to seven years leading up to menopause—is a time of wildly fluctuating hormone levels, which can spark a variety of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. “Think of [perimenopausal] estrogen levels as the Dow Jones industrial average,” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a professor of ob-gyn at Yale University. “Estrogen goes way up, then it comes crashing down.” Levels stabilize after menopause, and most of the uncomfortable symptoms go away, she says.
When menopausal symptoms do strike, these alternatives to drugs can help you cope.
Diet. Holly Lucille, ND, recommends the following changes to the all-American diet: • Cut out refined sugars and processed foods in favor of whole grains and organically raised meats. • Increase your intake of fresh fruits and veggies as well as good-quality fats (such as olive oils). • Eat cold-water fish for fatty acids. • Cut back on your alcohol and caffeine intake and look into a liver cleansing supplement, such as milk thistle or dandelion tea, to help rid your liver of stress-causing toxins.
Supplements. Take a multivitamin that includes calcium for bone health and omega-3 fatty acids for your heart. Omega-3s also appear to alleviate some of the anxiety and mood swings caused by fluctuating hormone levels, according to a recent study by researchers at Universite Laval’s Faculty of Medicine.
Phytoestrogens. Plant-based estrogens curb hot flashes, weight gain, and other complaints. Black cohosh, whole or fermented soy, red clover, dong quai, and chasteberry (vitex) are the most common. The products we recommend for overall relief (see page 61) contain one or more phytoestrogens.
Herbs. These herbs, alone or in combination, can alleviate—or at least mitigate—your menopausal challenges:
wild hops. This herb can help you sleep, eases anxiety, and may relieve night sweats and hot flashes.
Ashwaganda. Called “mood food,” this adaptogenic herb calms nerves and lifts spirits.
Sea buckthorn. Also called Omega 7, it combats vaginal dryness and regenerates thinning mucus membranes.
Holy basil. Another adaptogen, this ayurvedic herb reduces stress and guards against fatigue.
Ginkgo. This herb increases circulation and eases depression and brain fog.
Licorice root. Mildly estrogenic, licorice stimulates the adrenals and may ease depression. Don’t use if you have high blood pressure.
Raspberry leaf. This tonic herb eases cramping and tones the uterus.
Motherwort. A lovely herb to calm anxiety, it also helps promote restful sleep.