Bye bye hot flashes! Let’s talk about natural methods against perimenopause symptoms
The perimenopause… Well, it’s not always pleasant. Fortunately, you are not the only one who struggles with hot flashes or sleepless nights. An estimated 1.5 million women in the Netherlands are currently dealing with this, 28 percent of whom have serious symptoms. Cycle decided to create a listicle with all of the natural solutions you can use.
Comedienne Maike Meijer calls the perimenopause "a staircase to the abyss," in her book “Wen er maar aan.” In her book, she hilariously describes her physical decline ("my body is not a temple, but an after-hours Febo") or sex during vaginal dryness ("as if a city bus has to go through a bicycle tunnel"). Fun is different indeed, but although the title of the book suggests that we should just resign ourselves helplessly to our fate, there really is something to be done when your hormones are taking the upperhand.
By the way, not all women are negative about menopause. About 20% walk through this period without any major problems.
First, let's get the facts straight, because what do you have to deal with during perimenopause? Everyone knows about the hot flashes, but there are many more possible symptoms, such as terrible sleep quality, vaginal dryness, gloominess, night sweats, joint and muscle pain, tendonitis, aggressiveness, forgetfulness or just a general miserable feeling. What’s tricky about this is that the medical profession often does not recognize the symptoms of perimenopause. Menopause has long been a neglected issue in the Dutch health care system, says gynecologist Dorenda van Dijken. To change that, the Dutch Society for Obstetrics and Gynecology (NVOG), the scientific professional association for gynecologists, pays more attention to the perimenopause and menopause. Van Dijken advocates for healthcare professionals to become more knowledgeable and for Dutch women to learn to better advocate for themselves and to make menopause discussable. After all, options to relieve or even remedy symptoms, such as hormone therapy, are available, but are used less often in the Netherlands than abroad.
Want to know more about hormone therapy? Read the interview with Anita Witzier here.
We can also do our own work to make the perimenopause a more pleasant experience. For example, there are more and more - scientifically proven - natural solutions that can reduce certain perimenopause symptoms. There are also some "grandma knows what" remedies that are not proven, but they do seem to help some people. Cycle lists them for you.
1. Acupuncture for hot flashes
Traditional acupuncture can reduce hot flashes during the day (not at night). This is scientifically proven. Even though the strength of evidence is not that high, we hear many say that it does have a positive effect. Acupuncture is part of a treatment method in Traditional Chinese Medicine in which needles are inserted into the body at so-called acupuncture points. According to this method of medicine, symptoms are caused by an imbalance in energy. Through acupuncture, the balance can be restored. Acupuncture has been around for centuries and it is increasingly substantiated by contemporary science. For example, it is now known that the acupuncture effect can be explained by neurological and hormonal reactions and reactions at the cellular level or a combination thereof. It is smart to do some research into the acupuncturist you got to, since anyone in the Netherlands can call themselves an acupuncturist. Preferably look for acupuncturists who are affiliated with the NAAV, the NVA or the Zhong. The NAAV is the association of doctors who offer acupuncture. The NVA is an organization whose members are primarily physical therapists and physicians. The Zhong has requirements for the educational level and prior medical training of members.
2. Soy, flaxseed and red clover
In soy, flaxseed and the herb red clover there are phytoestrogens. These give a slight improvement in the amount of hot flashes and a slight beneficial effect on vaginal dryness. Phytoestrogens resemble estrogen in structure and thus can mimic the effects of estrogen. Keep in mind that you should take a maximum of 2 grams of soy per day. And don't just eat it but use standardized registered products.
3. Chinese herbs and plants
Frequently, someone writes about how plants such as black cohosh or Chinese herbs such as dong quai (angelica) and ginseng would help with perimenopause symptoms. Although there are some studies that do show a slight decrease in hot flashes when taking dietary supplements containing black cohosh, it can generally be said that there is insufficient evidence for the use of herbs and plants. Also, black cohosh is toxic to your liver. Therefore, do proper research on the recommended amount of herbs/supplements and really get some expert advice! Experimenting with these yourself is not a good idea.
4. Healthy diet
Even during the perimenopause it is wise to pay attention to this (isn’t it always?). Many notice that they gain weight during the perimenopause, while losing weight is more difficult. This is because your metabolism slows down, so you burn less and need fewer calories. Therefore, it is important to adjust your diet. With the perimenopause, your muscle mass also decreases, so you need to exercise more to maintain your weight. Gynecologist Van Dijken says that transitional symptoms are influenced by diet and lifestyle. "Alcohol, coffee, tea, spicy foods and citrus fruits are triggers for hot flashes," she says. It might help to drink tea instead of coffee, avoid sugar as much as possible and, above all, do consume plenty of omega 3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish, nuts and flaxseed oil, for example). Do you like to drink ginger tea? Then pay attention. Ginger has a warming effect and can cause hot flashes. So, test it out!
Smoking is obviously disastrous for those who want to feel as good as possible. Smokers generally have worse perimenopause symptoms and enter the perimenopause earlier.
5. Exercise more
Although there are some people who actually feel very good, it can also be quite a shock when your body suddenly lets you down after years of loyal service. Poor sleep, gloominess and stress can turn you from a happy person into someone you don't even recognize. You don't have to settle for that. Sufficient exercise has been shown to increase feelings of happiness, but before you put on the running shoes like crazy four times a week or climb on a spin bike, it's smart to look at what your body is telling you. If you're already low on energy, for example, you might be better off doing yoga or pilates than intense cardio. A 2019 study suggested that relaxing activities such as meditation and tai chi can help reduce stress and improve sleep quality. This has not been conclusively proven, but of course that doesn't take away from the fact that you can experiment with it. Additionally, 30 minutes of active exercise daily is proven to be good for heart, bone and brain health.
6. Cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness
Finally, cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness can reduce the burden people experience from perimenopause symptoms. Researcher Catheleine van Driel of UMCG's department of gynecology and epidemiology analyzed 12 studies in 2018 on the effectiveness of psychological therapies for reducing perimenopause symptoms. Although symptoms did not diminish, women did experience less discomfort from their hot flashes and other perimenopause symptoms. Learning to cope with the symptoms can also reduce their impact on your life.
Did you know that mindfulness can also be effective in reducing symptoms of depression? Read our article here.
Finally, it is important to learn more about menopause and the symptoms that can accompany it. You can also better prepare for this transition by making lifestyle changes starting at age 40. Do you want to know more about this? Cardiologist Janneke Wittekoek and gynecologist Dorenda van Dijken wrote a book called "Hart & Hormonen" that is full of tips. Curious? Click here for more information.