Menopause Symptoms: Synthetic Hormone Replacement Therapy is Not the Only Answer

Menopause Symptoms: Synthetic Hormone Replacement Therapy is Not the Only Answer

Phytoestrogens (plant based estrogens) are paving the way towards a more holistic approach to treating the undesirable symptoms associated with menopause. Menopause is not a disease. Rather it is a natural process of aging. A woman is considered menopausal once she has gone for 12 months without a menstrual period, marking the end of her regular menstrual cycle. While there is a great deal of variation, typically, menopause begins around age 50 and lasts about four years. It may also be triggered by surgery (hysterectomy) or chemical treatment (e.g., chemotherapy). Common symptoms include mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats and incontinence. More serious and long-term consequences of menopause include increased risk of coronary heart disease and osteoporosis, resulting from decreased bone density.

Women's experience varies widely among individuals and across cultural groups. Some may experience a whole host of symptoms and discomfort while others may not. Nowadays, women are living well past menopause, signaling a demand for greater information on living with menopause and post menopause safely, intelligently, and more comfortably.

In the effort to prevent osteoporosis and coronary artery disease as well as many other side effects resulting from menopause, conventional medicine has dictated a protocol of female hormone (estrogen and progesterone) replacement therapy (HRT). The most commonly prescribed medications for menopausal women have been conjugated equine estrogens (CEE) (derived from the urine of pregnant horses) and medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA). These synthetic drugs are chemically and functionally different from the natural hormones produced and used by the female body.

Wary of the potential side effects of synthetic hormone—such as increased risk of endometrial (uterine lining) and breast cancers, more and more women are requesting "natural" hormones. In response, a growing body of research is establishing the efficacy of phytoestrogens in alleviating typical symptoms of menopause (e.g. hot flashes, anxiety, vaginal dryness, fatigue, and depression) as well as associated risks of osteoporosis and heart disease.

Generally speaking, phytoestrogens are plant-based estrogens or plants with estrogenic effects. The pomegranate, for example, is recognized as a phytoestrogen.

Phytoestrogens are weak estrogens, but in adequate doses they can stimulate biological activity comparable to endogenous (occurring naturally in the body) estrogens. Five to 100 mg of isoflavones as supplements or consumed in soy products can significantly relieve menopausal symptoms, especially frequency and severity of hot flashes. Some food products that contain phytoestrogens include soy and legumes (lentils, beans, peas) and flaxseed.

Women who do not respond to integrated therapies, including phytoestrogens, may wish to consider HRT. Fortunately, most of the newer products are botanically based and chemically resemble human estrogens (primarily 17 estradiol) and progesterone. In choosing a regimen of hormone replacement therapy, you should expect your healthcare provider to consider many factors such as severity of symptoms, current health status and lifestyle as well as your belief patterns. Simply substituting a phytoestrogen will not address the array of issues an individual woman must face as she goes through menopause.

As you approach menopause, you can work with your doctor to explore the many options for treating undesirable symptoms without compromising your bodily integrity.


Wetzel W. Which path for Menopause: Hormone Replacement Therapy or Hormone Substitution Therapy? Integrative Medicine Nursing Consult. October 2000.

Review Date: November 2000
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

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