Should you take HRT for hormonal balance?
8 June 2016 | Editor
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NATURAL HORMONE BALANCE - Should you take HRT or the Alternative Route?
Natural hormone health means health for the whole woman – glowing health that gives you the energy you need to get the best out of every day, whatever the time of the month, whatever the time of your life. When your hormones are in balance, you will have access to all the strength, power and productivity that is a woman’s birthright. At every stage of your life – from growing girl through motherhood to old age – you will be able to enjoy getting the best out of yourself.
Research shows that most women suffer from hormone imbalance at some time in their lives, but few people understand how it occurs and what they can do about it.
There has been much press recently about the increased risk of breast cancer, heart attack and stroke attached to Hormone Replacement Therapy – HRT. A recent major research study was abandoned when the scientists decided that the health risks far outweighed the benefits. The study discovered a 26% higher risk of breast cancer, 29% increase in heart attacks, 41% increase in stroke and 22% rise in cardiovascular disease. There was also double the risk of blood clots for those taking HRT compared with women taking a ‘dummy pill’, according to a report released by the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The good news is that hormone imbalances, whether it’s PMS, infertility, difficult menopause or osteoporosis, can be corrected by entirely natural and beneficial means.
This text concentrates mainly on hormonal balance around menopause, although the nutritional supplements shown below also gives suggestions for other hormonal imbalances, such as pre-menstrual syndrome.
For those of you in a hurry:
A synopsis of diet and nutritional supplements is shown immediately below. Following that is a more detailed explanation of menopause – what the signs and symptoms are, why we get them, and some thoughts on HRT – which you may wish to print out and read later.
The best food is rarely the cheapest. You may have to prioritize and spend a higher proportion of your income on food. Cheap food is an illusion: you pay with your health and we all pay with our taxes into the ‘free’ National Health Service (UK).
Over recent years we have been sold increasingly shoddy "foods”; now, more and more people are rejecting junk and looking for food that tastes as good as it did 40 years ago, and offers better nutrition than of late.
Whatever your age, similar basic nutrition principles will apply:
- Eat a varied diet
- Eat good quality protein every day:
- plenty of oily and cold water fish (e.g. mackerel, salmon, herring, sardine, cod, haddock)
- organic free-range chicken
- eggs high in omega 3 fatty acids (e.g. Columbus)
- tofu, soya milk and miso. (avoid monosodium glutamate – MSG - in soy sauce)
- Eat a variety and plenty of fresh (or frozen) vegetables, especially broccoli and greens. Vegetables are necessary for fibre, minerals, antioxidants and also help alkalinize the body (an acid body causes calcium loss from bones).
- Avoid excessive starchy vegetables, such as potatoes. Excess starch upsets the sugar balance and contributes to low blood sugar and syndrome X.
- Don’t be frightened of fat. There are certain kinds of fat (essential fatty acids, often called omega 3 and omega 6, which are pivotal to good hormone health. Make sure that every day you have either fish or flaxseed oil. Use olive oil for cooking, and flaxseed oil for salad dressings or just pouring over vegetables or brown rice.
- Avoid saturated fats, however (such as the fat on meat and cheese) and especially avoid hydrogenated vegetable oils (e.g. refined cooking oils, and anything fried or baked with it).
- Eat one or two portions of fruit every day (unless you suffer from low blood sugar. Fresh or frozen berries are particularly good.
- Small quantities of nuts and seeds (a small handful of almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds) make good snacks, as do vegetable sticks or oat cakes with almond or hazelnut butters.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates, such as white rice, white flour, and sugar of any kind. Avoid large quantities of starchy carbohydrates of any kind (e.g. pasta, rice, potatoes, etc. – eat more non-starchy vegetables instead.) Watch out for hidden sugars, and names such maltose, glucose, sucrose, anything-ose, corn syrup, malt syrup, honey, etc.
- Avoid dairy produce and spicy foods which can cause hot flushes. (You will get your calcium from nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables and your multivitamin and mineral supplement.)
- Avoid caffeine (coffee, excessive tea, cola drinks, chocolate, some painkillers).
- Avoid excessive alcohol (more than 1 unit per day).
- Drink at least 1½ litres of clean water per day
Often, a combination of supplements may help in alleviating the symptoms of conditions but please read the comments below.
It’s usually a good idea to have as a basis a good multivitamin and mineral. Nutrients don’t work in isolation.
- Multivitamin and mineral
- Extra vitamin C
- Perhaps extra Vitamin E
- Herbs: Agnus castus, yarrow, wild yam, sage.
- Multivitamin and mineral
- Perhaps extra Vitamin B Complex
- Perhaps extra Chromium for stable blood sugar
- Essential Fatty Acids
- Essential Fatty Acids
- Vitamin E capsule broken and mixed with a little yoghurt, or aloe vera gel or slippery elm powder, and inserted into the vagina at night.
- Calendula cream
- Drink at least 1½ litres of clean water each day
- Multivitamin and mineral at breakfast time
- Extra calcium and magnesium during the evening with food or snack and Magnesium
- Multivitamin and mineral
- Multivitamin and mineral
- Extra B Complex if needed
- Extra Calcium and Magnesium if needed)
- Evening Primrose Oil (51mg GLA)
- Flaxseed Oil (to balance with Evening Primrose Oil)
More on the menopause:
The average age for menopause is 52, although it can begin ten years earlier. If it begins before the age of 40 it is generally called ‘premature menopause’.
Our feelings around menopause are closely related to social attitudes in our community – whether or not older women are considered valuable and wise members of the community, or old and past our best.
Menopause is not an illness; it’s simply a new phase of a woman’s life. It’s more than the cessation of menstruation, which most women are happy to lose by that age anyway. Menopause is certainly not a ‘deficiency state’.
For those who so negatively see menopause as a ‘deficiency state’, it is inevitable that the response would be to interfere with nature by putting back ‘deficient’ hormones. But that is missing the point of nature’s intention. Menopause can give women many more valuable years – an Indian summer of stability and uncluttered energy – if we work with nature, and not against it.
This transition, however, is not always easy in our Western culture. After forty years of cyclical fluctuations of our bodies and in our social lives, shedding the old pattern can cause stress. If those forty years have also involved neglecting and abusing our bodies and our health, we’ll also be feeling the effects of the damage that has caused. Menopause can be the time when our past catches up with us and the future looks grim; a time of foreboding and loss.
Moreover, the West has a youth culture, particularly for women. Men are deemed to look ‘rugged’ with experience, whereas women who have developed the lines of age are just seen as old. No wonder Western women dread the menopause. Research has shown that women in very child-centered cultures suffer the most depression when they can no longer conceive. In America, Jewish women suffer the highest incidence of menopausal depression, other white women an intermediate rate, and black women the least. According to Clara Thompson, writing in On Women in 1971, "By far the greatest hazards of menopause are psychogenical or culturally induced … A psychiatrist working in China reported to me that she had never seen a menopausal psychosis in a Chinese woman. This she attributed to the fact that in China the older woman has a secure and coveted position.”
Of course, menopausal symptoms can be excacerbated when we react to ‘the change’ with fear. Stress, fear, anger, inadequate diet and lack of exercise all contribute to not ‘sailing through’ menopause.
Even women who look forward to menopause, believing it will bring an end to problems they have had with hormone imbalance throughout their fertile years, will often find that they have the most difficult transition, and their previous problems are magnified if they fail to act positively to change matters. Menstrual problems are strong predictors of menopausal symptoms. But just as it’s possible to free oneself of menstrual problems, so appropriate action to balance the same hormone systems will help with menopause.
So what are these symptoms of menopause?
- For about one woman in ten, there are no symptoms other than cessation of menstruation.
- Three out of four women experience hot flushes, which often last two or three years. They feel like a wave of heat spreading through the body, sometimes starting with tingling and accompanied by rapidly-spreading redness and sweating. They may be extreme, or quite mild, and last from a few seconds up to a couple of minutes. Afterwards the woman can feel quite chilled.
- Nervousness, temper tantrums, irritability, excitability and depression are all fairly common menopausal symptoms.
- Dizziness, faintness, headaches and insomnia can be a problem.
- Weight gain, bloating and vaginal itching are common problems.
- Less common symptoms include joint pain, backache, muscle pain, hair loss or gain.
- The most serious of the long term problems that can affect post-menopausal women is osteoporosis, of weakening of the bones.
The answer to hormone-related problems is to take control of all the aspects of lifestyle that affect your hormone systems. This means becoming the mistress of your own life, not a victim of it.
In practical terms, this involves taking responsibility for yourself and shedding some responsibility for others if this interferes with your own needs. This may mean being a little more selfish so that you get the rest, exercise, and good food that you need. But in the longer term, you will be doing the best thing, not only for yourself, but for all the other people in your life. (Most mothers and wives may need to read this twice!)
The benefits you gain will be worth the extra care and attention you need to give yourself. When your hormones are balanced, you will be:
- Eliminating menopausal symptoms which can last ten miserable years
- Avoiding depression and fatigue
- Avoiding weight gain
- Reducing risk of cancer and heart disease
- Strengthening your bones and your whole body
For those who have not yet reached the menopause years, you will be:
- Protecting yourself from PMS and period pains
- Enhancing fertility and the ability to produce healthy happy babies
Is HRT the answer?
The body’s hormone system is a highly complex and sophisticated one, but it has been treated by modern medicine as if it were much simpler than it actually is. Doctors and scientists have discovered major sex hormones which occur in relatively large quantities – particularly oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone – and they have tried to solve our problems by tinkering with these in isolation.
Fashion plays a part. One hormone may be the cure-all in one decade, another in the next. First it was oestrogen used in isolation; then the increased breast cancer risk was discovered and oestrogen plus progesterone became the combination of choice. Over the past few years progesterone on its own has become fashionable.
Any hormone supplement treatment that involves using one or two hormones is inevitably an unbalanced approach to a complex problem. Other sex hormones also play a part, and ignoring the delicate and complicated interplay is bound to throw the body’s regulatory systems out of balance.
This may take a long time to detect. An example here is steroid hormones, once widely used for allergies and arthritis, where the effects can be damaging and irreversible.
Long-term damage has also been demonstrated with some of the hormones used in early versions of the contraceptive pill. In some women, suppression of natural hormone production leads to lasting infertility. No-one can yet be sure of all the effects of long-term treatment with any hormone.
Ultimately, the decision to use hormone replacement therapy is up to each individual. If you are considering HRT, it is important you analyse your medical history while weighing the benefits against the risks. It is inadvisable to take oestrogen if you have a personal or family history of breast cancer, uterine cancer, or fibroid tumours, or if you suffer from liver disease.