Alternatives to Hormone Replacement Therapy

As females reach the 45 plus age group, most women experience a significant decline in their body’s ability to manufacture estrogen. This can trigger a wide spectrum of physical, psychological and age related signs and symptoms which can significantly affect the quality of life and life span of postmenopausal women. While some women escape the most significant side effects of menopause, females should be aware of the most serious health concerns they may face in there postmenopausal years which include: heart disease, osteoporosis and breast cancer.

In the past, most medical doctors prescribed estrogen replacement therapy (often combined with the hormone progesterone) to combat the signs and symptoms of menopause. However, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer, stroke, pulmonary embolism, and cardiovascular heart disease. Recently, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) “Women’s Health Initiative” study showed that for each year that a woman is on hormone replacement therapy, she has a 2.5% increased risk of developing breast cancer as compared to an agematched woman not on hormone replacement. This effect is cumulative over time and therefore, after ten years of HRT she has a 25% increased risk of developing breast cancer and a 50% greater chance of developing breast cancer after 20 years of HRT.

While, most health care professionals agree that hormone replacement therapy is still necessary for women who show moderate to severe bone loss and/or significant risk for cardiovascular disease, if a women is otherwise free of these problems a more natural approach can be quite effective in managing menopausal symptoms and preventing more serious complications.

Black cohosh (cimifuga racemosa) is the most extensively used and widely researched natural supplement used to manage menopausal symptoms. It has been used in Europe since the 1950’s as an effective alternative to HRT without the life threatening side effects. Soy Isoflavones have been shown to increase the bone mineral density in postmenopausal women, as well as lowering blood cholesterol, and having a cardioprotective effect. Many women commonly consume less than the recommended daily intake of vitamin D. Adequate intake of Vitamin D is extremely important for bone health and supplementation has been shown to decrease the risk of osteoporotic hip fractures in postmenopausal women.

Other recommendations for postmenopausal women include: getting regular weight bearing exercise; maintaining a low stress level; substituting garlic or onion powder for salt when cooking (this prevents the urinary excretion of calcium associated with salt consumption); avoiding excessive alcohol, caffeine, and sugar intake; avoiding the consumption of spicy foods, hot soups and drinks as they can trigger hot flashes; and meeting adequate calcium intake (1500mg per day).

Women live over one-third of their lives in their postmenopausal years. It is important to consider all options available for dealing with the signs and symptoms associated with menopause in order to maximize one’s quality of life and lifespan. For more information on alternatives to HRT-contact your health care provider.

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