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Menopause symptoms: Safe ways to control hormones

Focused on Health - October 2012

manage hormones and menopause symptomsby Laura Nathan-Garner

Using hormone therapy (HT) during menopause increases your risk of breast cancer and possibly ovarian cancer. So what’s a woman with hot flashes, irritability and other menopause symptoms to do?

I asked Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center, about safe HT alternatives for women going through menopause. Here’s what she had to say.

Can you suggest some safe alternatives to hormone replacement therapy?

Often, lifestyle changes really help curb menopause symptoms. Some of the best changes include making time to:

  • Exercise
  • Stop smoking
  • Curb stress
  • Stay away from coffee, tea and alcohol, which may trigger hot flashes
  • Sleep

Many women also benefit from adding soy and flax to their diet. But we don’t fully understand the risks and benefits of soy, which is a plant estrogen. Until we better understand how it works, limit your intake to one serving or less per day.

What about using bioidentical hormones? Is it safe to use them instead of HT?

Bioidentical hormones are identical in molecular structure to hormones that your body naturally produces, so the body can’t really tell the difference between these hormones and the ones it produces. 

So, many women think, “I’ll switch to bioidentical hormones from hormone therapy to be safe.” But there aren’t any studies that say they’re really safer. We still need to study bioidentical hormones to understand the benefits and risks of these drugs.

What about using herbal remedies like ginseng, St. John’s wort, Ginko biloba, or other complementary and alternative medicines to relieve menopausal symptoms? Is it beneficial to use herbal supplements?

manage menopause symptoms and hormonesHerbal supplements and other alternative medicine include plant estrogens, but that doesn’t always mean they’re good for you. 

Manufacturers can sell herbal supplements without getting them approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That means that they have not had to go through a rigorous clinical trial process to understand the benefits and risks of the supplement.  

And, some supplements can cause side-effects like headaches or cause problems with other medications you’re taking.

So it’s really important to talk to your health care provider before using any herb, supplement, vitamin or mineral. He or she can figure out whether you’d really benefit from using it and, if so, identify the best product for you.

Actually, that applies to any products you want to use to treat menopause symptoms. Talk to your doctor first so you can weigh all of the pros and cons and come up with strategies that work for you and your body.

Related links:
Menopause and cancer risk: Get answers (MD Anderson)

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