Desperately Seeking Alternatives… Advice on Herbal Supplements and Soy Products

Toni Hurst Health Guide
  • You know what I love about women our age? They have an open mind and an open heart. Because of both, many of us are seeking alternative treatments to menopausal symptoms that cause us grief, like hot flashes. Maybe our "situation" forces us to be open-minded about trying new things. Heaven knows that during a terribly inconvenient hot flash or night sweat, I'll try just about anything.

     

    ON HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY

     

    As most of you know, hormone replacement therapy is controversial. It has been linked to breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. As for side effects, you can't get much worse than those "big three." However, it may be an acceptable course of action for some women going through menopause, and only you and your health care practitioner can decide for sure. I suggest doing a LOT of homework on the internet before you decide.

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    There are alternative treatments that seem to provide relief for many women. They include dietary and herbal supplements, biofeedback, acupuncture, a new dietary regimen, homeopathy and chiropractic care, as well as lifestyle changes (meaning things like eating better, exercising regularly, stopping smoking, things like that).

    Over the next few weeks, I'd like to explore these alternatives and do some of the homework for you, helping you make a decision that is right for you.

     

    HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS FOR MENOPAUSE SYMPTOM RELIEF

     

    I'll start with herbal supplements and foods. Let me say right off the bat that whatever you do, don't go to the supplement aisle in the grocery store or the health food store and buy up everything that purports to help with menopausal symptoms and then take them all. You'll be wasting your money. Tempting as it is when you're suffering, it is not the right way to go. You must take one supplement at a time and see how it affects your body and your symptoms.

     

    Read about these supplements so you'll be knowledgeable when you talk to your health care practitioner about them (and you really need to do that before you take them). If he or she pooh-poohs your ideas and makes you feel silly for even asking, find another doctor. Choose a supplement, a name-brand one, and take it for a month before you add something else to it or switch it out for another one.

     

    There is some trial-and-error here; we are all different, and our bodies respond to different things in different ways. One herb might work for you but not for me. Note that if you take a supplement and you feel worse or feel that something isn't right (like your heart feels like it is racing or fluttery), stop taking the herb at once and talk to your health care practitioner again. When I was in perimenopause and my periods had stopped, I took an herbal supplement for hot flashes and almost immediately my periods started again. No thanks.

     

    One of the most popular "treatments" for hot flashes is phytoestrogens, which are weak estrogens that show up in plants such as soyfoods. Some scientists say that plant estrogens are so different from the estrogens in the human body that they can't possibly work, or that there just isn't enough estrogen to make a difference, but you be the judge.

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    MY FAVORITE WAYS TO EAT SOY

     

    If you haven't tried soyfoods, you're in for a treat. My favorite ways to get soy are edamame, or cooked soybeans, miso soup and dry roasted soybeans. You can try edamame (pronounced ED-ah-mommy) at just about any Japanese restaurant or sushi place, or you can buy them in the frozen veggies section of the grocery. You microwave or steam then, add a touch of salt, and eat them from the pod. Don't eat the pod. You put the whole pod in your mouth and squeeze out the beans; usually there are three beans to a pod. Kinda fun actually.

     

    They are often served as an appetizer and are really good for you. I have them at least once or twice a week. Miso soup is fabulous, though I haven't made it at home yet. Every time I go to a restaurant that offers it, I order it. I get dry roasted soy nuts at the grocery store to eat as a snack. I haven't switched to soymilk yet though I should, but soy yogurt is very good. I can handle tofu in smoothies but I don't eat much of it. Many people swear by it.

     

    Soyfoods have isoflavones which seem to have numerous health-protecting advantages, but here again, the science goes both ways. All I can tell you is that some women report that soy helps reduce the number and/or intensity of hot flashes, and from my research, in moderation, it doesn't appear soy can hurt you. Note that some people are allergic to it, so any allergic symptoms (hives or itching) should make you stop eating it.

     

    Whole-food soy, such as soybeans and tofu, are more effective than soy supplements bought in a bottle, and provide you with health benefits that something from a jar just can't do.

     

    Go on-try something new. You might like it.  Let me know how it works for you.

Published On: June 16, 2008