Menopause: It’s every woman’s favorite M-word. Most women rarely think about this period of life (pun not intended). They have enough worries with their current monthly M-word. But when menopause finally hits, it can be all-consuming.
Menopause is a natural phase of life, but it comes with many side effects: hot flashes, night sweats, lowered libido, and mood swings, just to name a few fun ones. These effects are the result of lower estrogen production by the ovaries, and they’re rarely connected to anything serious.
Still, they’re a pain.
Thankfully, there are a few things women can do to alleviate the symptoms. Exercise, rest, and good nutrition help tremendously. In addition, when women take just the right supplements, they can ease some of the suffering so commonly associated with this phase of life.
1. Maca Root
There are two classes of menopausal supplements: estrogenic and non-estrogenic. The maca root is non-estrogenic, meaning it does not mimic estrogen in the body.
The maca root is known for raising libido in both men and women. Considering the high stress levels of menopausal women, that benefit alone makes the root worth considering.
2. Vitex Agnus-Castus
Vitex agnus-castus is most widely used for the management of PMS symptoms. However, it is becoming increasingly popular as a menopausal supplement. Thanks to marketing, it’s less popular than maca root, but there are actually more studies to support its claims.
While estrogen therapy is controversial, maca root and Vitex agnus-castus are good, non-estrogenic supplements with few health risks.
3. Soy Isoflavones
Estrogen deficiency causes many of the side effects of menopause, so reducing this deficit normalizes some of the more frustrating issues.
Supplements that do this are called phytoestrogens, and the most popular are soy isoflavones. They protect both the heart and the bones. Soy isoflavones also reduce those pesky hot flashes associated with menopause. However, because soy isoflavones are comparatively weaker estrogens, the magnitude of their benefit is small.
Kudzu root and Bu Gu Zhi are also phytoestrogens, though they are less popular and have fewer studies to support their use. Still, preliminary research indicates they may be stronger than soy isoflavones.
4. Bone Health Supplements
In addition to these menopause-specific supplements, there are a few others geared more generally to bone health. People of all ages are encouraged to take these, but they are particularly beneficial during menopause.
Vitamin D, paired with calcium and magnesium, improves bone structure. Vitamin K2 and a derivative, known as MK7, each help with bone metabolism and combine well with vitamin D. With the increased risk for osteoporosis during menopause, bones can use all the assistance they can get.
A Few to Leave Off
Estrogen, in excess (possibly due to taking too many highly potent phytoestrogens), is associated with a higher risk of cancer. Estrogen replacement therapy is itself controversial because, while it helps bone health, it also increases cancer risk. Supplements should be taken with great caution and potent ones, like Pueraria mirifica, should be consumed with the supervision of a doctor you trust.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is often recommended because this natural steroid decreases over time. There are several studies that point to it being an effective supplement for menopause — but they are unreliable. There may be no harm, but it could carry greater risks than the supplements I’ve already mentioned.
Wild yam’s active ingredient is structured similarly to DHEA. But there is no DHEA in wild yam, and, in at least one study, wild yam had a negative effect on the kidneys of rats. Because of these effects, it’s best to avoid wild yam.
The last supplement to avoid is black cohosh. Studies have shown some relief of menopausal symptoms, but these were barely more than the placebo. The more studies that are done, the less exciting black cohosh appears.
Menopause is hard on a woman’s body, as she goes from a reproductive to non-reproductive system. This stress on the body causes many unpleasant side effects. While there are many supplements that claim to help the symptoms, the ones that withstand the hype are maca root, Vitex agnus castus, soy isoflavones, and common bone health supplements.
Taking the recommended supplements — and staying away from the ones with little or no benefit — can ease the body through this stressful transition.