Natural alternatives to HRT
Many people who have periods can expect to reach menopause at some point in their life. Though it’s a natural part of ageing, the emotional and physical effects can be challenging. HRT is one of the various medical treatments given that can help alleviate symptoms, but some people are unable to take it or may wish to try other approaches to managing menopause instead.
What is menopause?
Menopause is a stage in life where a person’s periods stop due to lower hormone levels in the body. It typically happens between 45 and 55 years of age, although it can happen earlier or later in life.
Perimenopause is the period leading up to menopause. You’re considered to have reached menopause when you have not had a period for at least a year. Both menopause and perimenopause can come with side effects; the most commonly noted include mood swings, hot flushes and brain fog.
How does HRT help?
Hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, is most commonly prescribed as a treatment for people who are struggling with the symptoms of menopause. It works by replacing the lower levels of hormones in your body.
There are different types of HRT and the dosage needed will vary from person to person.
- HRT increases levels of progesterone and oestrogen hormones. However, if you do not have a womb, you can take oestrogen on its own.
- There are a number of ways HRT can be administered, such as tablets, patches, gels, vaginal creams or rings.
HRT is beneficial for people going through menopause as it can help relieve the associated symptoms, such as night sweats, vaginal dryness and can prevent osteoporosis (weakened bones).
If you’re thinking of starting HRT, speak to your GP who can help you decide on the best treatment plan and type of medication. You’ll usually begin with a low dose and have a review after three months.
For some people, HRT may not be an appropriate option. For example, if you have a history of ovarian, womb or breast cancer, blood clots or liver disease. Other people may simply have a preference to try other approaches, which we’ll explore here.
Alternatives to HRT
Regular exercise is a great way to alleviate the symptoms of menopause. Exercising has physical effects – using weights helps to keep bones strong, for example – but it can also be useful in boosting mood and decreasing anxiety.
Exercise doesn’t have to be intense. Yoga is a gentle way to strengthen your body, working with the chakras to remove any blockages in your energy as well as helping to focus on your breathing. Similarly, pilates is a low-impact way to improve flexibility and posture.
Consuming a balanced diet is one of the best ways you can support your body through menopause. What we consume has a huge effect on our overall health and well-being. During menopause, your body will require more specific nutrients. Some things in particular that can help your body at this time include:
- Carbohydrates – These provide the fuel that your body needs and can be found in wholegrain cereals, wholemeal pasta and starchy vegetables.
- Omega-3 – Healthy fats can be found in nuts and seeds and avocados. They’re useful for relieving vaginal dryness and hot flushes.
- Vitamin D – This is an essential nutrient for supporting bone health and preventing osteoporosis as your bones can become weaker after going through menopause.
- Phytoestrogen – This is a chemical that has a similar structure to oestrogen, so it tricks the brain into thinking the body has more oestrogen than it actually does. It can be found in soya, lentils, flaxseeds and some herbs and spices.
Taking a step back, reconnecting with the food you eat and being mindful of negative life habits is essential during the menopause.
For more information on what to consume during menopause, visit our dedicated page on Nutritionist Resource.
Menopause doesn’t just affect your body physically, but psychologically, too. You may experience low mood, depression and/or anxiety. The way you perceive your body may change; you may lose your sex drive which can put a strain on your relationships, or you may have lowered self-esteem. However you experience menopause, counselling or therapy provides a safe, non-judgmental space to explore this sense of loss of who you were and rebuild the relationship you have with yourself and others.
Complementary therapies are a collection of natural approaches that can help to manage the symptoms associated with menopause. They can be used alongside those recommended by a healthcare professional.
Ayurveda is a type of healing system that involves using a combination of techniques to ease symptoms of menopause. This can include medication, herbal medicine, breathwork and massage, to name a few. What works best for you will be figured out with the help of an ayurvedic practitioner. Not only can this help relieve symptoms, but it can also change the way you think about menopause.
Menopause can be liberating – a hugely nourishing transition into graceful empowerment and living the life we dream of living.
Herbalism is the oldest form of medicine that we know of. It uses the medicinal properties of plants and flowers. Whilst this offers another option, herbal medicine should be treated the same way as traditional medicine as it can harm the body if used incorrectly.
Although plant-based medicines may be labelled as ‘natural’, this doesn’t always mean they’re safe. Be sure to let your doctor know if you’re taking herbal medicines and make sure they’re safe to use in instances such as if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, you have liver or kidney disease and/or you’re taking other medication.
Herbal medicine such as St John’s wort and black cohosh have been thought to aid against hot flushes and rebalance hormones. However, these are not backed by scientific evidence. If your doctor has approved your use of herbal remedies, we recommend working with a qualified professional to ensure you use them safely.
Though there’s little evidence to support the use of massage in relieving menopause symptoms, massage therapy encourages your body to enter a deep state of relaxation. This in itself is likely to help you sleep better and improve your overall mood and well-being which can be affected during menopause.
Like other complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs), aromatherapy can be used alongside other interventions for helping to manage specific issues such as sleeping problems and reducing hot flushes – up to as much as 50%, according to a study by the National Library of Medicine.
It works either by absorbing essential oils through the skin in the form of lotions or via inhalation using smell. This has become a popular therapy in recent years and has been known to help ease insomnia, muscle tension, stress and anxiety.
Reflexology is a widely-used therapy designed to stimulate our body’s energy flow and target areas of tension. Some people have used it to help with hormone-related issues during perimenopause and menopause.
Whilst there lacks scientific evidence to suggest that these therapies can be used as a standalone treatment for menopause symptoms, there is information that shows they can be effective when used alongside traditional methods.
If you’re struggling with the symptoms of menopause, know that you are not alone. If you have spoken to your GP and feel ready to give complementary therapy a try, you can read more about the individual therapy types and find a qualified practitioner on Therapy Directory.