For many women, entering menopause means dealing with two big symptoms: hot flashes and weight gain.
And until recently, the most common treatment has been hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, which prescribes the use of hormones. Unfortunately, many studies now suggest that HRT can pose serious health problems, including an increased risk for breast cancer and heart disease.
The good news is that many alternative solutions do exist. As a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, here are my favorite all-natural solutions for managing the symptoms of menopause:
1. Add helpful foods to your diet.
One new food alone probably won't stop the hot flashes and night sweats entirely. But used together, I’ve found that increasing intake of these foods can create noticeable changes for many women:
- Soy is rich in phytoestrogens, a plant-derived compound that acts like estrogen in the body. Some studies show that women who took a soy supplement experienced fewer hot flashes compared to a control group. I recommend eating unprocessed soy from non-gmo organic beans. The best versions are fermented or sprouted tofu, tempeh, miso and soy yogurt.
- Cooling foods, which include cabbage, cauliflower, celery, carrots and romaine lettuce, are often used for reducing heat in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). But they also need to be balanced with warm foods. In TCM, it’s believed that too much cold food impedes the stomach function and can create diarrhea. One solution: Drink a cup of hot water with a small piece of ginger after these cold foods to balance the energy of the stomach.
- Bitter foods help to disperse heat, according to TCM. Aim to add foods to your diet that are bitter in nature, such as asparagus, kale, celery, pumpkin, adzuki beans and turnips.
2. Try acupuncture.
If you haven’t considered acupuncture yet, menopause might be the time to check it out. A 2011 study found that postmenopausal women who received 10 weeks of acupuncture experienced reduced menopausal symptoms, including fewer and less severe hot flashes.
Why? In TCM, the energy of the kidneys controls growth, fertility and tissue regeneration. This energy decreases with age, leading to kidney Yin deficiency and symptoms such as hot flashes, dryness and night sweats. Acupuncture balances energy, nourishes Yin and regulates hormones.
3. Consider Chinese herbal formulas.
Many Western women are now starting to find success with Chinese herbal formulas, which have been used in China for hundreds of years. These formulas are plant-based, have few side effects and have been shown to help reduce hot flashes in some studies.
An example of a classic herbal formula often used is “Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan." According to TCM, this formula of herbs clears empty heat, cools the blood and nourishes Yin deficiency.
To explore herbal formulas, look for an acupuncturist who is licensed in herbology and TCM.
4. Drink warm lemon water.
You’ve probably been hearing a lot lately about the benefits of lemon water in the morning. When your digestive system has been asleep for eight hours, it can help to flush it with warm water and the juice of half a lemon.
So why do I also recommend it to help with weight loss during menopause? In TCM, it's also believed that warm water boosts the energetic function of the spleen and stomach. And mainstream research backs up the idea that water can help with weight loss: One 2004 study found that after participants drank about 17 ounces of water, their metabolic rates increased.
5. Eat a protein-packed breakfast.
To help manage weight during menopause, I suggest starting the day with eggs and a meaty protein such as chicken sausage or pork loin. For vegetarians, low-fat plain Greek yogurt also works. According to research out of the University of Missouri, people who eat protein for breakfast have increased feelings of fullness and a reduced desire to eat throughout the day.
In TCM, the reason this works is because it creates balance. A healthy breakfast full of protien provides the nutrients the brain need to feel satisfied and the body needs to function.
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