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The Best Supplements for Menopause Management
Menopause brings a big bag of tricks that can make your life pretty miserable, and it can be difficult to manage the symptoms without turning to invasive therapies. Understandably, many women would rather make use of more natural therapies than artificial hormones, but are vitamins and supplements effective in the face of your disruptive and pervasive menopause symptoms?
The short answer: maybe. Herbs, plants, and naturally-derived compounds could be helpful, but they’re not all created equal. To complicate things further, some that have been hailed as cure-alls turn out to be duds in medical studies. Before you hit the pharmacy shelves, get to know what supplements may be your best bet for more relief.
Soybeans — as well as their milk and curd — have estrogen-like effects in the body, which can help to counteract the natural decline in estrogen once you enter menopause. Some women find supplementing with soy is most helpful to ease hot flashes and night sweats.
Although studies have returned conflicting results on the benefit of soy, experts do agree on one fact: food forms like edamame and tofu are better than refined powders or tablets. Moreover, consuming soy in its whole, natural form usually won’t pose a health risk, even if it doesn’t cure your menopause discomforts.
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A soy derivative, this compound has shown promising results in the treatment of weak bones — an important consideration, bearing in mind your osteoporosis risk skyrockets during menopause. Ipriflavone is thought to prevent the loss of bone strength and improve the effects of estrogen, which means it could even allow you to decrease your estrogen therapy (if you’re on hormone replacement therapy).
The benefit of taking Ipriflavone largely depends on how much calcium you take along with it. Taking 500mg of calcium a day may not do much, but studies suggest that 1,000mg of calcium can increase the effect of Ipriflavone. Although this supplement is likely safe for most women during menopause, it could bring some side effects like stomach pain, dizziness or diarrhea.
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Hailed as an herb to cool hot flashes, black cohosh is one of the most popular natural remedies for menopause on the market. This humble root has been studied quite extensively, and while some studies have seen positive results, others haven’t found any benefit.
Although it does show promise (according to at least a few studies), black cohosh isn’t without its side effects. There is a potential for liver damage when taking this herb, so anyone already at risk for liver problems should proceed with extreme caution.
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Your adrenal glands naturally produce DHEA, but once you enter your 30s, the level of this hormone begins to drop. As it drops, it also pulls down your libido and could set the stage for more severe menopause discomforts.
Like so many other supplements, DHEA pills have returned mixed results. Some studies suggest that it does little help menopausal women regain their sex drive and vaginal comfort, while others show a measurable improvement in arousal and quality of sexual experience, not to mention more tolerable hot flashes. However, long-term use of DHEA can be risky, so you should discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.
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This is a natural vitamin everybody needs and get through their diet, and nuts, vegetable oils and leafy greens have it in abundance. Not only can it help to protect against eye disorders and boost healthy skin, but it might also be able to fight off hot flashes: one clinical trial showed that women who supplemented with vitamin E experienced one less hot flash a day than those who didn’t take it.
Most people get enough vitamin E through their diet, but some could benefit from taking it in pill form. However, vitamin E can raise your risk of stroke or heart failure over the long-term, so consider your overall health and any other comorbid disorders (especially if they require blood thinners) before adding a vitamin E supplement to your plan.
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Calcium and Vitamin D
Your two best allies in the fight against osteoporosis, calcium and vitamin D should be near the top of your supplement list as you enter menopause. While calcium feeds and sustains bone mass, your body needs enough vitamin D to absorb and use that calcium.
Experts suggest most adults get 600 IU of vitamin D each day, although your needs will go up with age. The sun can give you a good dose of this vitamin, but beware the risk of skin damage: it’s often best to take a high-quality vitamin D supplement rather than rely on sunshine alone.
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Ginseng is a traditional mood booster, and it’s been used in eastern medicine for centuries. It has shown some benefit for mood and sex drive during menopause, and there’s some evidence to suggest that it could also help with sleep. However, there’s little proof that either American or Korean ginseng can eradicate physical menopausal symptoms like hot flashes.
While ginseng can be part of a healthy lifestyle for many people, it can potentially bring some nasty side effects. Most importantly, ginseng could exacerbate heart problems in some women, so you’ll need to get your doctor’s OK before you proceed.
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St. John’s Wort
It’s long been used to treat mild depression, but is St John’s wort any match for the emotional rollercoaster of menopause? Experts are cautiously optimistic, since studies have shown that the herb may temper mood swings and help improve sleep quality.
St. John’s wort is sometimes combined with black cohosh for a stronger impact, however, be very careful about combining it with just anything. The herb contains compounds that can have serious interactions with other medications, especially antidepressants and blood thinners.
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Vitamin B12 and B6 are important for your overall health, and everyone should focus on getting a good amount of each. These vitamins are especially vital for balanced mood and good metabolism — two issues that come to the fore as you enter menopause.
If you find your memory slipping, your concentration waning, and your confusion climbing, a vitamin B6 deficiency could be part of the problem. Low levels of B12 can result in dizziness, vertigo and heart palpitations. Luckily, many people can get all the B vitamins they need by improving their diet, but short-term supplementation can get your base level up to a healthy point if you’ve been deficient for a while.
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Like soy, red clover has plant estrogens that may be able to counter hormonal changes during perimenopause and beyond. However, studies have returned mixed results: only one trial has shown any measurable improvement in hot flashes. On the other hand, a 2009 study does suggest that red clover might help to lower cholesterol, which could be useful.
Although research on red clover is limited, side effects seem to be few and mild. Always check with your doctor before adding a supplement, but as long as you have no other health conditions that could interfere, red clover is likely safe for most women to try (in appropriate doses).
Helpful herbs may have a place in your menopause management plan, but don’t rely on any quick-fixes. Menopause is a complex event, and you’ll need a multi-faceted approach to take control over your symptoms. A wholesome, balanced diet and plenty of exercise is the perfect foundation; use other treatments and therapies to complement your routine, not as replacements.
Despite what you've probably heard about menopause and weight gain, it is possible to avoid weight gain and maintain a healthy weight.