Some women are able to take in stride the many changes that come with menopause. After all, it’s a natural part of aging. Menopause happens around age 50, when women stop menstruating, but the effects of the declining hormone levels, particularly estrogen, that accompanies this change can cause symptoms for years—both before and after the actual loss of the monthly period. All their lives, women are warned about menopause, and while some are psychologically and physically prepared for the changes, many women struggle with the symptoms that come along with reduced estrogen production.
Bothersome physical symptoms that can accompany menopause include (among others):
- Mood Swings
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Stress and anxiety
- Vaginal dryness
- Urinary tract infections
- Increased blood pressure
- Breast tenderness
- Dry skin
Menopausal Mood Swings
A hormonal imbalance due to menopause can cause mood swings, which can be disconcerting for women who have gone through life unfazed by the challenges of being a mother, career woman, or partner. Depression, anxiety, and forgetfulness can be incredibly overwhelming for women who have felt in control of their lives until menopause set in. Mood swings, irritability, anxiety, depression, and sadness can affect relationships with family and friends and with your own mind and body. Add in hot flashes, and it can definitely get overwhelming, especially when you realize that many of these conditions exacerbate and feed off of one another.
Feelings of anxiety and panic attacks are characterized by intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. For many women, anxiety can be overwhelming to the point that it becomes an obstacle, limiting their interactions with other people and contributing to physical conditions such as a racing heart, rapid breathing, nervousness, and tightened muscles.
Depression and irritability can be common conditions related to menopause. Diet, exercise, and talking to a professional therapist can help reduce the effects of depression and irritability. Antidepressants and antianxiety drugs can also help. These, however, should not be the first line of treatment.
Forgetfulness and a lack of concentration can be quite upsetting for women who have never experienced being absent-minded. One of the conditions that can result from menopause is an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, which can affect memory. A simple blood test can determine if your thyroid is not producing enough hormones. Thyroid replacement therapy is one of the most common treatments for hypothyroidism.
Osteoporosis, which is marked by the thinning of the bone tissue, is also a major concern for menopausal and postmenopausal women. Reducing consumption of processed meats, excess alcohol, sodium, and caffeine can help prevent osteoporosis, while tobacco products should be eliminated altogether.
What Can You Do to Alleviate the Symptoms of Menopause?
It really can’t be emphasized enough that hormonal imbalances in and of themselves aren’t the only source of mood swings; rather, the build-up of all of the other menopausal symptoms can also contribute to dramatic fluctuations in mood. After all, how great could your mood possibly be when you are constantly struggling with symptoms and conditions that make the daily grind that much more difficult?
Diet likely plays a large role in how severe menopause symptoms can be. A high-fat, low-fiber diet, which is common in the United States, can cause an increase in estrogen levels. When estrogen levels decline, it can be a shock to the body, especially for women whose bodies have been producing excess estrogen. To minimize the symptoms that come with menopause, such as hot flashes, many physicians recommend that women eat a diet that is low in animal products and fat and high in plant products and fiber, before and during menopause. A plant-based diet is often one of the most effective ways to alleviate the symptoms of menopause.
The benefits of regular aerobic exercise cannot be overstated. Exercising on a regular basis for all humans, not just women experiencing menopause, can help improve sleep quality, alleviate insomnia, and reduce anxiety and combat depression.
Eating foods high in calcium and vitamin D can help fight the effects of osteoporosis. Good sources of calcium include greens and beans while the best source of vitamin D is the sun. Sunlight is converted by the skin into vitamin D, which aids in the digestive absorption of calcium from food. However, even though the sun is the best source of vitamin D, it can be difficult to obtain enough vitamin D through sun exposure, especially when taking care to protect the skin from harmful rays, and therefore, food sources and supplementation can be an important way to get enough D.
In short, exercising regularly and focusing on plant-based nutrition can help women alleviate symptoms like hot flashes, stabilize their mood swings, and even lose weight. But what if more is needed?
Treating Menopausal Mood Swings with Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy
During perimenopause and menopause, progesterone and estrogen levels begin to decline and can contribute to menopausal mood swings, which can drastically change a woman’s quality of life—and not for the better. Progesterone and estrogen are critical to the proper functioning of neurotransmitters, which regulate mood. When production of the two hormones drops, it can be difficult for many women to be happy and to recover from bouts of sadness, anxiety, and irritability.
While the role estrogen and progesterone play in regulating mood are well-known, mood swings may also be present due to other hormones that are imbalanced because of age or illness. Decreased testosterone production can affect energy levels, increase weight, and diminish sex drive. And high levels of cortisol, which is a hormone that is responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response, can also cause weight gain, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Fortunately, treating menopausal mood swings is a well-understood science. The healthcare professionals within the BodyLogicMD network, who are trained in regenerative and anti-aging medicine and hormone replacement therapy, will review your lab testing with you, evaluate your symptoms, and discuss your medical history. They will help you tailor a plan that is unique to your symptoms and your needs. That treatment plan might include nutritional guidance, an exercise regimen, stress-reduction techniques, and supplements.
What Are the Best Supplements for Menopausal Mood Swings and other Symptoms of Menopause?
Supplements can be helpful in alleviating and even eliminating the symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes, but it’s important that any supplementation be done under the careful guidance of a healthcare professional. Because supplements are not regulated to the same extent as prescription drugs, the dose, quality, safety, and purity may vary between brands or even between batches of the same brand of poor-quality supplements.
The supplements available through BodyLogicMD, however, are high-quality, pharmaceutical-grade supplements and are guaranteed to be more effective than over-the-counter supplements of uncertain origin. These supplements are useful in the relief of a wide range of symptoms and conditions, including mood swings and the various symptoms that can contribute to mood swings.
Herbs that can be used to reduce hot flashes include black cohosh, a member of the buttercup family. Red clover has also been shown to help some women experiencing hot flashes, as has dong quai, which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than a millennium.
Another traditional medicine that has proven effective to help treat some menopausal symptoms is ginseng. It has been shown to ameliorate mood swings and sleeplessness and improve general wellbeing.
Kava, an extract that is made from Piper methysticum, a plant native to the western Pacific islands, may help decrease anxiety, though there is no evidence it can be used to treat hot flashes.
Evening primrose oil has been shown to work in limited clinical trials as well.
Flaxseed and flaxseed oil, which contain phytoestrogens, have been shown to help balance female hormones and help some women experiencing the symptoms of menopause.
Wild yams have received some attention recently as an alternative to hormone therapy, as some of the compounds in yams appear similar to estrogen and progesterone. Wild yams contain a chemical that can be converted into estrogen, not through the body, but in a laboratory. Further studies are needed, because thus far, it has not found that they ease menopause symptoms.
St. John’s wort has proven to be effective in helping to treat mood disorders, especially those linked to menopause.
Though more study is needed, DHEA supplements have been shown to ease menopause symptoms such as low libido and hot flashes in some women. However, the evidence is mixed—some studies have shown little to no benefit and others have raised concerns about the long-term use and high doses of DHEA being linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
The root of valerian is used for the treatment of dizziness, neural pains, headaches, and anxiety. Because it contains phytoestrogens, it is also used to treat menopause symptoms, sleeplessness, and mental disorders.
Soy phytoestrogens such as genistein and daidzein also show potential in the treatment of the symptoms of menopause, especially hot flashes.
Maca, a root vegetable that comes from the Andes, has been shown to reduce the feelings of discomfort associated with menopause.
A recent study has shown that some menopausal women could benefit from the sleep hormone melatonin in order to alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause.
Vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, vitamin D, and vitamin E can also be part of any plan to help treat the symptoms of menopause.
It’s very important to understand that supplements and vitamins, such as black cohosh, be taken under the guidance of a healthcare professional well-versed in the side effects and interactions of medications, herbs, vitamins, and other supplements. Some supplements, when taken in excess, can cause serious damage to the liver and other organs.
The healthcare professionals in the BodyLogicMD network understand how a hormone imbalance can be treated through diet, exercise, supplementation, and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. But they also understand there is a delicate balance that includes your medical history, your particular situation, and the interaction between medications, supplements, and hormones. Working together, you and your practitioner can design a treatment plan that will get the results you need in a safe, effective manner.
Dr. Jennifer Landa is Chief Medical Officer of BodyLogicMD and the owner and operator of BodyLogicMD of Orlando. Dr. Landa dedicates her practice to bioidentical hormone therapy, customized nutrition and fitness programs to help women and men resolve menopausal and andropausal symptoms, including weight gain, sexual dysfunction, declining energy levels and stress. As a former gynaecologist, Dr. Landa has always desired to help patients achieve wellness through hormone balance and preventive medicine.