Ugh, if you’re anything like, oh, just about every other woman forging through perimenopause and menopause, you’re thinking, This isn’t what hot and bothered is supposed to feel like. Hot flashes, poor sleep, wild mood swings, depression, headaches. Enough already!
Take heart, not every menopause symptom warrants a trip to the doctor for a script. There are a number of kinder, gentler ways to ease your suffering. No Rx required.
1. GO OLD SCHOOL
Chances are you’ve tried acupuncture—the traditional Chinese medicine technique where a practitioner inserts thin needles through your skin to stimulate specific body points—for help relieving nagging back pain. Turns out those same tiny needles might douse the night sweats and hot flashes you’ve been experiencing. In one study published in the journal Menopause, the frequency of hot flashes dropped by more than a third in women who received acupuncture for six months. (Participants had 20 treatments during the period.) Even more impressive, the benefits lingered for another six months after the treatments stopped.
2. INDULGE YOUR SENSES
The science around aromatherapy is light, but for mild symptoms, essential oils may be a good alternative to standard menopause therapies. And if your concerns are more problematic, aromatherapy can be a nice complement to doctor-prescribed treatments. (In case it’s not clear, yes, we’re telling you to book that aromatherapy massage.) Try:
- Chasteberry for mood swings
- Clary sage for hot flashes
- Lavender for insomnia or perineal discomfort (add one drop of diluted oil to a cold compress and apply it to the area up to 30 minutes)
- Citrus to boost sex drive
- Geranium for stress relief
Good to know: If you’re new to aromatherapy, keep in mind that it’s not safe to apply essential oils directly to your skin. Dilute them first using a carrier oil, like olive, jojoba, or coconut oil. A general recipe is to add 1 ounce of the carrier oil for every 12 drops of the essential oil. Always test the diluted oil on a small spot on the inside of your arm and wait 24 hours to see if you have any kind of adverse reaction. You can also add a couple of drops to a tissue and slowly inhale the oils. Some essential oils may interfere with certain medications, so keep your doctor in the loop.
3. GET AN OIL CHANGE
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil (and more recently CBD water) has been generating buzz (no pun intended) ever since Olivia Newton-John announced she’d added it to her breast cancer-treatment regimen in 2017. More recently, the actress Busy Philipps told reporters she uses CBD to manage her anxiety. CBD is a non-psychoactive chemical compound found in the cannabis plant. It won’t get you high, but emerging science shows CBD oil significantly dulls pain signals and promotes an overall sense of calm. Researchers are even looking at CBD’s ability to help regulate body temperature. (CBD oil research on humans is limited; most of the current evidence is based on animal studies and/or small, short-term human trials. Many medical experts believe CBD may offer real benefits for a number of conditions, but say larger, longer-term human studies are needed.)
Good to know: CBD is generally well-tolerated, but it can interfere with certain medications, including some beta blockers and sulfonylureas for type 2 diabetes, so check with your doctor or pharmacist if you take any medication regularly. Many times, you can continue taking both safely, but the dosing may need to be adjusted. Also, while you can find CBD oil online and at mainstream retailers (even Wal-Mart), the legality of cannabidiol varies from state to state. Finally, CBD products are not regulated by the FDA, which means it’s tough to know if you can trust what you’re buying. (The exception is an FDA-approved CBD medication to treat epilepsy.) Look for products manufactured in states that regulate CBD production and test items for purity, content, and strength. Also look for makers that are open with their lab test results.
4. TAKE FIVE
Menopause stress is real, and one simple way to put it in its place is to block out the daily noise crowding your thoughts and causing your heart rate to speed up. Meditation can do that for you—and it only takes a few minutes a day to work its magic. Stress lowers your progesterone levels (the so-called happy hormone), but there’s evidence that regular meditation gives progesterone a boost, helping you to feel more centered and chill. It might also help relieve your hot flashes. In a small study, women with moderate to severe hot flashes reported a 40 percent decrease in the severity and frequency of flushes after trying a mindfulness regimen that included meditation. And contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need to dim the lights or scurry away to a quiet room to meditate. Instead, drop everything, anywhere, for a few minutes and consciously focus on slowing your breathing and relaxing your muscles one at a time, from head to toe.
5. GIVE YOUR CORE SOME LOVE
Any form of exercise is going to release your body’s internal painkillers and improve your overall health and mood, but Pilates, in particular, can go to work on your most bothersome menopause symptoms. A 2016 study found that just 8-weeks of a three-times-a-week Pilates program brought significant relief of virtually every menopause symptom (it didn’t help with vaginal dryness or urinary woes). Researchers credit Pilates’ emphasis on the pelvic muscles and strong mind-body connection for the impressive showing. Bonus: Study participants also benefitted from increased flexibility and core strength after the trial wrapped up.
6. TRY A RUB
If hot flashes are your main concern, a two- percent natural progesterone skin cream may be worth a shot. The research isn’t consistent, but in one published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, about 85 percent of women reported the rub brought them significant relief, compared to a group using a placebo. Your doctor can prescribe one or check a natural foods store—look for progesterone USP on the label.
7. THINK COOL THOUGHTS
Whatever your beliefs about hypnosis, at least one group of women found the hot-flash relief they were after when they underwent five weekly clinical hypnosis sessions that involved focusing on images of snowy mountains and cool rain showers. They reported a 74 percent decrease in hot flashes and better sleep. Study authors say picturing chilly places helps the brain signal your body to actually feel cooler. You don’t need to track down a trained hypnotist to mimic the results. Visualization is a simple DIY trick you can do anytime, anywhere. When you start to feel flushed, picture walking along a snowy path or under a cool waterfall. Let these images become your new go-to happy place.
8. HIT THE SUPERMARKET
A variety of foods can help bring some stability to your changing hormone levels. Edamame, tofu, and other whole soy foods, for example, are brimming with isoflavones that have some estrogenic activity. The lignans in ground flaxseed help regulate how hormones are metabolized, and research shows that about 40 grams a day can improve mild menopause symptoms. Foods that are high in B12and other B vitamins (it’s in animal foods and some fortified bean and grain products) will help you keep your energy levels up. You’re also smart to load up on calcium-rich foods to protect your bones (after menopause you’re at an increased risk for bone loss) and on fruits and vegetables for their range of disease-fighting antioxidants.