Natural Estrogen Replacement: Is It the Best Option for Me?
- Estrogen replacement therapy carries certain risks that not all women are willing to take, but there are natural alternatives to relieve menopausal symptoms.
- Some healthcare professionals consider bioidentical hormones as a safer, “natural” option, while others believe bioidentical hormone replacement therapy carries the same risks as HRT that uses synthetic hormones.
- Women experiencing menopausal symptoms can make diet and lifestyle changes to better manage hormone imbalances.
- Traditional natural hormone replacement therapy includes using supplements and alternative medicines, such as St. John’s wort, red clover, and evening primrose oil to treat the symptoms associated with menopause.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been a controversial topic for many years because of its link to breast and endometrial cancer.
According to a recent survey, over 70% of older women in the U.S. are not treating their menopausal symptoms with HRT and most of them admitted they would not consider this type of therapy.
While menopause does not typically require medical treatment, it can last between seven and 14 years — this is a long time to live with symptoms like hot flashes, headaches, and sleep disturbances.
If you’re experiencing difficulties during menopause but synthetic hormone replacement therapy isn’t the right route for you, natural estrogen replacement might be an option worth exploring.
In this article, we’ll cover all you need to know about natural hormone replacement, its benefits, the risks involved, and why you should consider it.
What is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)?
Women going through menopause may experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms; hormone replacement therapy can help.
Estrogen and progesterone, two of the main hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle, decrease when menopause begins. By replacing these hormones, you can restore your body’s natural balance.
The two main types of HRTs are synthetic hormone replacement therapy and natural hormone replacement therapy (which is also known as bioidentical hormone replacement therapy).
Why Should I Consider Estrogen Replacement Therapy?
Estrogen is a hormone that affects bone health and a decrease in estrogen can result in a high rate of bone resorption (or bone loss) — which can lead to osteoporosis.
HRT has been proven to protect women against bone loss and prevent fractures related to osteoporosis.
Statistics from the Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation (BHOF) show that 80% of the estimated 10 million Americans who have osteoporosis are women, and that one in every two women will fracture a bone due to the condition.
Women who experience early menopause or are at risk of osteoporosis may want to consider estrogen replacement therapy.
To learn more, read our article to find out which signs may be an indication that you need hormone replacement therapy.
What Are the Risks of Estrogen Replacement Therapy?
Like with any other treatment, estrogen replacement therapy has its risks.
While the American Cancer Society acknowledges the benefits of taking estrogen to manage the symptoms of menopause, they also warn that estrogen therapy can increase the chances of developing endometrial cancer (a cancer affecting the uterus).
Only women who have had a total abdominal hysterectomy (TAH) can safely start estrogen replacement therapy.
What Are Some Alternative Options for Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Due to the risks associated with synthetic hormone replacement therapy, many people may not want to use it to alleviate menopausal symptoms. There are alternatives you could try.
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT)
We’ve included bioidentical hormone therapy in the list because it is often regarded as “natural” hormone replacement therapy. This is because bioidentical hormones are made from plant sources and they are identical to the hormones produced by our own bodies.
However, because these hormones are modified in a laboratory, they can’t be seen as “natural” and there’s debate over whether they’re any better than synthetic hormones.
Key Point: Are Bioidentical Hormones Safer?
Certain doctors — especially anti-aging clinicians — believe that BHRT is safer than synthetic hormone replacement therapy.
However, the FDA has declared that there’s not enough evidence to prove that bioidentical hormone therapy is safer or more effective than other hormone therapies.
Traditional natural hormone replacement
Certain plants and supplements may bring relief from menopausal symptoms.
Although more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of alternative medicines for hormone replacement, research has shown promising results for the plants known as black cohosh and St. John’s wort.
Other traditional hormone replacements that can help with estrogen deficiency include:
- Red clover: While red clover is effective for treating menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, further research is required.
- Calcium: To avoid the bone loss that accompanies menopause and reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, get enough calcium. Supplements can be taken, but it’s best to try and get your calcium from food sources.
- Flax seeds: Because flax seeds are high in phytoestrogens — which are compounds that can raise the estrogen levels in the body — they can reduce the unpleasant symptoms of menopause.
- Evening primrose oil: This treatment is typically taken in capsule form and is said to improve menopausal symptoms. One study found that evening primrose oil was effective for treating night sweats, but not hot flashes.
- Chasteberry: Also known as monk’s pepper, chasteberry extract has been shown to significantly reduce the symptoms of menopause, although further research is required to determine the dosage and to learn more about how it works.
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Natural ways to boost estrogen
If conventional estrogen replacement therapy is not an option and you don’t want to try traditional hormone replacement options like those mentioned above, making adjustments to your diet and lifestyle can help you manage menopausal symptoms.
By doing one or more of the following, you can increase your estrogen levels and reap additional health benefits, too.
Make positive lifestyle changes
Here are some steps you can take in your daily life to help manage menopausal symptoms:
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing to manage hot flashes.
- Ensure that your space is well-ventilated or air-conditioned.
- Stick to a routine and get plenty of good quality sleep.
- Limit alcohol or refrain from it completely.
- Quit smoking.
- Use vaginal moisturizers and lubricants.
- Do more relaxing activities to decrease stress levels.
- Join support groups online or speak to people who are experiencing the same symptoms.
Improve your diet
By making dietary adjustments, you can help give your body the nutrients it needs to cope with menopause.
Protein from plants, nuts, legumes, and fish is great, but limit red meat and processed meat.
Consuming more foods that are high in phytoestrogens can also replenish estrogen in the body. These foods include sesame seeds, beans, tofu, and soy.
Include low-fat dairy products in your healthy diet, as well as fats from plant sources, such as nuts and seeds.
Be sure to limit salt and refined sugars — this includes sugars from sweetened beverages.
Key Point: What Are Some Foods That Can Trigger Hot Flashes?
Sometimes hot flashes appear without warning. However, there are certain foods that can trigger menopause symptoms.
Here are some trigger foods you should avoid or limit when going through menopause:
- Spicy food
- Junk food
- Animal fats (especially fatty meats)
- Processed foods that are high in salt and sugar
Manage your weight
It’s not just what you eat, but also how much you eat and how active you are that matter when it comes to menopause. The higher your body mass index (BMI), the greater your chances may be of experiencing severe menopausal symptoms.
Studies have shown that women who are obese are more likely to experience symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
Be sure to drink enough water and try not to skip any meals, as this can make it difficult to reduce or maintain your weight.
Regular exercise is recommended for everyone — not just women going through menopause.
To preserve bone mineral density (BMD) and avoid developing conditions like osteoporosis, exercise — especially strength training — can be really beneficial.
Try to create a combined exercise program that includes both aerobics and resistance training.
There aren’t any studies that prove menopause supplements actually work, but if you’re not getting sufficient nutrients in your diet, you can speak to your doctor about vitamin supplements.
It’s almost always better to get the nutrients you need from real foods, as they offer additional benefits that supplements do not. No multivitamin can replace whole foods.
Lower your stress levels
High levels of stress can make it difficult to sleep and your body needs rest when it’s going through menopause.
There seems to be a link between stress and fatigue in menopausal women.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stress can cause many issues, including:
- Concentration difficulties
- Aches, pains, and skin rashes
- Increased risk of drug abuse
- Increased risk of chronic conditions and mental health issues
Explore alternative therapies
There are other therapies and practices you could explore to help rebalance your hormones during menopause, or to treat the negative symptoms you’re experiencing.
Some of these alternatives include:
- Tai chi
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
It’s a good idea to speak to your doctor and have your hormone levels tested before starting any alternative therapy to manage your symptoms.
How Safe is Natural Hormone Replacement?
No therapy is without its risks. Menopause can be a challenging time, but only you can decide how you want to navigate it. Questions about hormone replacement therapy are tricky to answer. Take bioidentical hormones, for example. Some doctors believe that they’re safer than other types of hormones, while other medical professionals believe they carry the same risks.
Everyone’s body is different and everyone has their own concerns about starting certain treatments and medications.
Women with a family history of breast cancer or endometrial cancer will need to carefully weigh up the risks of hormone therapy. They may be better off following a healthy diet to help deal with hormonal imbalances during menopause.
Women’s health is a complex subject and the best way to find answers is to speak directly to your doctor.
Where Can I Learn More about Estrogen Replacement Therapy?
If you want to learn more about ways to manage menopause systems — and are curious about estrogen replacement therapy — head over to LifeMD to make a telehealth appointment with a board-certified doctor or nurse practitioner.
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