As a woman, you are unique in so many ways—and that includes whether or not you choose to treat your menopause symptoms and what options you select if you do, be they natural remedies, medications or a combination of the two. It’s common to want a black-and-white answer as to what to do to manage the hot flashes, mood swings, joint pain, sleep disruptions and other symptoms that can occur as your production of estrogen and progesterone decreases. But, “how you treat menopause depends on how significant your symptoms are…and what makes the most sense for you,” says Cindy Geyer, M.D., Medical Director at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass.
If you’re unsure if you want to explore prescription therapies, these natural remedies for menopause symptoms may be a good place for you to start. And remember: “If you make a choice one way or the other, it’s not carved in stone. You can always revisit and rethink it,” says Geyer.
Breathe Deeply During a Hot Flash
Up to 80 percent of menopausal women experience hot flashes—with classic symptoms like flushed skin, sweating and increased heart rate—which can last anywhere from a few seconds to 10 minutes. Scientists don’t know exactly what causes these episodes, but they suspect that your internal thermostat loses its precision as your hormone levels drop. Deep breathing can provide a potential two-fold benefit: The relaxed state it delivers may make hot flash symptoms easier to ride out, and the reduction in heart rate can calm your body’s response and actually minimize the severity of those symptoms. Research has shown that taking slow, deep, full breaths (six to eight per minute) for 15 minutes every day can reduce the frequency of hot flashes by up to 50 percent—a technique called paced respiration.
Stabilize Your Blood Sugar
Hormone fluctuations during menopause can trigger blood sugar dips and surges, contributing to sometimes unpredictable mood swings. Eating small, frequent meals instead of three squares can help keep blood sugar levels in balance.
Eat Some Soy
Foods like tofu, miso and soy milk contain estrogen-like compounds called phytoestrogens, which mimic some of estrogen’s effects. When you eat soy, bacteria in your digestive tract may convert daidzein, a phytoestrogen in soy, into another estrogen-like compound called S-equol. And Japanese studies have found that women who produce S-equol after eating soy have fewer and milder menopausal symptoms, like less vaginal dryness and less intense hot flashes. S-equol also shows promise in reducing muscle and joint pain and helping maintain bone density.
Keep Your Cool
Sipping on warm beverages like coffee or hot tea can trigger hot flashes, so put them on ice. Also, use a fan, air conditioner or open window to maintain a cool ambient temperature in your office and at home. Finally, consider skipping spicy foods and alcohol: Both can trigger vasodilation, the widening of blood cells that contributes to hot flashes.
Research shows that acupuncture is a promising way to treat menopause symptoms. For example, a study published in the journal Menopause found that women who had 10 acupuncture sessions experienced fewer hot flashes than those who received sham sessions. The women getting the acupuncture reported sleeping more soundly and experiencing less pain than their counterparts. Scientists aren’t sure exactly how acupuncture helps some women, but it may be that that the needles stimulate the release of feel-good hormones like serotonin and endorphins.
Yoga isn’t just good for your body and mindset—research also suggests it may help menopause symptoms. In one small study of women who experienced at least four hot flashes daily, doing 90 minutes of yoga each week for eight weeks led to a 30 percent drop in the number of hot flashes, and it also reduced their intensity. The researchers suspect that yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls unconscious body responses, like sweating.
Moderate to intense aerobic exercise and strength training are also proven to help. In a study of 793 menopausal women, only five percent of the highly physically active women experienced severe hot flashes compared with 15 percent of the women who had little or no weekly exercise. Scientists suspect regular exercise activates neurotransmitters that regulate body temperature.
If these natural remedies for menopause symptoms aren’t helping enough, and you’re not already on a prescription therapy, you may want to discuss the pros and cons of hormone replacement or other medications with your doctor.