Menopause may accelerate the aging process, bringing a host of distressing symptoms, and present new health risks, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer, and dementia. And, yet, most women live more than a third of their lives postmenopause. It’s no wonder then that many women turn toward their health care practitioner for symptomatic relief from menopausal discomforts at this time. But many are also looking for prevention strategies to help them protect their quality of life and age gracefully, comfortably, and healthily.
In addition to hormone replacement therapy, a prominent tool in the menopause arsenal, nutritional supplementation can support the quest for a healthy, active life after menopause. While diet and exercise undoubtedly have a positive impact, adding nutritional supplements offers women the opportunity to tailor their intake of key nutrients. By pinpointing specific nutrients at therapeutic dosages, the best supplements for menopause symptoms may provide significant relief and help preserve long-term health—without a prescription.
The Best Supplements for Menopause Symptoms
A healthy diet and adequate exercise are critical to supporting good health in the postmenopause period. Researchers have found that inadequate nutrition and inactivity can contribute significantly to many of the serious conditions that endanger our bodies as we age. A well-balanced diet should include a balance of important macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and lipids—as well as key micronutrients. But even with a healthy and varied diet, ensuring adequate amounts of each may require supplementation. Additionally, there are ingredients known to help menopause symptoms that you are unlikely to encounter in food. Strategically using supplements to ease the physical and emotional effects of hormonal change can go a long way toward helping you feel like yourself again.
These are some of the best supplements for menopause symptoms and can help you feel your best for years to come:
Black cohosh is derived from a common woodland wildflower (scientific name Actaea racemosa L. or Cimicifuga racemosa) that grows in the eastern United States and Canada. It has historically been used by Native Americans to treat malaria, malaise, kidney problems, menstrual irregularities, and during childbirth, and it is similar to roots and rhizomes used in Chinese medicine to treat pain and inflammation. As a supplement, black cohosh root is usually ground and taken in capsules or prepared as an extract and measured with a dropper. Significantly, it contains phytoestrogens, which are chemically similar to the estrogen produced by the human body, and it is this property that makes it so attractive for treating menopause symptoms.
Black cohosh is purported to have a number of benefits for postmenopausal women, and it is an approved treatment in Germany for symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, dysmenorrhea (painful periods), and menopausal discomforts. While clinical evidence is mixed, there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to support the efficacy of black cohosh as an alternative or addition to hormone replacement therapy. Women report a positive effect on a variety of menopause symptoms, including:
- Hot flashes and the associated perspiration and rapid heartbeat
- Mood swings, irritability, nervousness, depression, and anxiety
- Dizziness and ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Sleep disturbances
Side effects of black cohosh are rare and typically limited to short-term gastrointestinal discomfort that resolves when the supplement is discontinued. More significantly, there have been concerns that the estrogenic nature of black cohosh root might prove dangerous for women with estrogen-dependent breast cancers. However, recent research suggests that this is not the case and that black cohosh may in fact have anti-tumor properties when used with chemotherapy. It should be noted that this supplement is not recommended for women who have liver disease and should not be taken during pregnancy.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D are essential for optimal bone growth. Throughout our lives, new bone is formed and old bone tissue is broken down and reabsorbed by our bodies. These processes remain in a healthy balance, thanks in part to estrogen. After menopause, however, estrogen levels drop and its protective effect decreases, as bone loss may exceed new bone formation over time. Calcium and vitamin D become particularly important during this stage, when women become more vulnerable to osteoporosis and are at greater risk of fractures.
According to a 2016 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, osteoporosis causes 1.5 million fractures each year with the majority of those occurring in postmenopausal women. For Caucasian women, the lifetime risk of a postmenopausal osteoporotic fracture is 40%. Though fracture risks are slightly lower for Hispanic and Asian women, and lower still for African-Americans, the serious consequences of fractures have prompted researchers to recommend osteoporosis prevention and treatment for all women regardless of race or ethnicity.
Besides ensuring that your bones are as strong as possible as you approach menopause, there are steps women can take to protect their bones for the long term. To take a proactive approach to bone density, postmenopausal women need:
- Calcium: Guidelines recommend 1200 milligrams (mg) of calcium from diet and/or supplementation. Dairy products and leafy greens, like kale and broccoli rabe, are good sources of dietary calcium. Nutritionists suggest limiting each individual serving to 500mg and taking calcium supplements along with dietary sources to maximize their absorption.
- Vitamin D: Daily intake of 800 to 1000 International Units (IU) of vitamin D is recommended. Skin exposure to sunlight provides Vitamin D, but UV light exposure also poses a cancer risk. Dietary sources include fatty fish, liver, egg yolks, and fortified dairy products. A supplement that provides a measured dose of Vitamin D3 is an effective way to ensure you are getting exactly what you need.
- Weight-bearing exercise: To keep bones and muscles strong, 30 minutes of daily weight-bearing exercise such as walking has a protective effect. Exercise contributes to bone strength, and stronger muscles and better balance help protect against falls.
Additional recommendations include smoking cessation and limiting alcohol consumption. Being proactive about bone strength is one of the greatest investments you can make in your future.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, the brain, and in the gonads of both men and women, and may be converted to either testosterone and estrogen. Since DHEA levels decrease significantly after age 30, it continues to be a research focus for its potential to prevent and treat a variety of disease states related to aging. For postmenopaual women, research suggests that DHEA may:
- Decrease abdominal fat deposition
- Help preserve bone and muscle mass
- Counteract the thinning of vaginal tissues
- Improve skin quality
- Treat depression
DHEA is available by capsule in a variety of dosages and can be part of a larger hormone replacement therapy strategy.
Magnesium is a key micronutrient involved in more than 600 different cellular processes in the human body. It is required for healthy bones and is involved in the effective operation of cardiac (heart), smooth (GI tract), and skeletal muscle. Because of its far-reaching influence, magnesium has the potential to address symptoms of menopause, including insomnia. It may also help prevent or improve a number of health conditions for which women are particularly vulnerable after menopause, such as osteoporosis, irregular heart rhythms, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, magnesium plays an important role in brain function and mood, with some researchers advocating its use in the treatment of depression.
The recommended daily dosage of magnesium for postmenopausal women is 320 mg. Dietary sources include dark, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, legumes, tofu, dark chocolate, and avocado. Magnesium is available as an over-the-counter supplement in a variety of magnesium salts and is generally well-tolerated. However, magnesium may have a laxative effect at higher doses. To minimize the risk of this effect, magnesium glycinate is recommended.
Diindolylmethane (DIM) is a metabolite of Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C), a compound found in cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, and others. DIM is known for its anti-inflammatory and cancer preventive properties, and its therapeutic potential is currently being studied in the treatment of breast, prostate, cervical, ovarian, and colorectal cancers. Thus far, clinical studies have demonstrated that DIM increased bone mass in mice, leading researchers to believe “DIM may be of value in the treatment and the possible prevention of bone diseases characterized by bone loss, such as postmenopausal osteoporosis.” Due to its role in estrogen metabolism, DIM may also promote estrogen balance. Besides the dietary sources in vegetables, DIM is readily available as a supplement.
Promoting Postmenopausal Quality of Life
With more women seeking to remain active and in control of their health during perimenopause and after menopause, it makes sense that they are embracing healthier lifestyles and thinking about prevention. Through research and the advice of trusted practitioners, they are learning that there is much they can do to influence their health and well-being. But health-related quality of life may be impacted at this time even in the absence of observable menopause symptoms. For this reason, women must be well-informed and well-connected with a qualified health care professional who can advise them and help to monitor their status.
The best supplements for menopause symptoms can have a useful and meaningful place in the postmenopausal toolbox. Before beginning new supplements, however, you should consult your health care provider. This consultation should include a discussion of all prescription and over-the-counter drugs you are currently taking to avoid dangerous interactions. Be sure to always look for supplements manufactured with strict purity and potency standards to ensure that products are safe. Above all, work closely with a practitioner who specializes in hormone health and is committed to making your postmenopausal years as vibrant and active as possible.
If you are suffering from menopause symptoms or concerned about preventing the health conditions that commonly come with aging, BodyLogicMD can help. BodyLogicMD-affiliated practitioners are experts in hormonal health and can design a customized treatment plan using cutting-edge therapies to help you stay healthy, mind and body. Contact a local practitioner, or take the BodyLogicMD Hormone Balance Quiz to learn more about how hormone therapy could be a powerful supplement to your overall mental health.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. All content on this website is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent diseases.
Charlotte is a patient care coordinator specializing in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. She is committed to helping patients who struggle with the symptoms of hormonal change and imbalance explore their treatment options and develop effective strategies to optimize wellness.