The dreaded hot flashes of menopause are often more than just a mere nuisance, they can disrupt your life day and night. I have been post-menopausal for 3 years and luckily have yet to experience a single hot flash or any symptom for that matter, but a few of my friends suffer terribly. Poor adrenal function will cause symptoms of menopause to flare so keep those adrenals in good shape. One of my friends has to carry a personal fan, and the other complains she feels like she’s on fire, and gets nightmares too. Menopause symptoms vary from woman to woman, and usually cause alterations in mood, additional weight gain and almost always some degree of insomnia. There are many other symptoms too.
The most popular supplements touted for menopause include black cohosh, flax seeds, soy-based supplements, alfalfa, and/or ginseng. Natural progesterone is often used too and this comes in an over-the-counter cream as well as several prescription types. We all kind of know about these already, they are not new. These may help to some extent but right now I’d like to share new research. Scientists have been looking at fluctuations and an overall reduction in serotonin hormone levels. We know serotonin as a neurotransmitter, or more specifically one of our ‘happy’ brain chemicals. The impact serotonin has on other hormone levels including estrogen can’t be underestimated.
When serotonin is low, the brain experiences dangerous oxidative damage and neurons die. This could precipitate hot flashes, insomnia, and mood swings catapulting you into a pro-inflammatory state with a disrupted sleep cycle and appetite like nobody’s business.
Based upon this new information, I can make some suggestions for you to ask your doctor about. You must ask your doctor because raising serotonin isn’t always the answer, and can sometimes backfire. I don’t know what’s right for each of you. That said, here are some considerations:
5-HTP- This essential amino acid is formed from “tryptophan” which is found naturally in turkey, cheese and nuts. It’s sold as a dietary supplement and it forms serotonin in your body. Remember, without adequate serotonin, hot flashes, irritability and insomnia are more likely to occur. Please don’t ever combine 5-HTP with any prescribed antidepressants or Serotonin Syndrome may result!
Melatonin- When serotonin breaks down in your body, it forms melatonin which is one of your natural sleep hormones. You make this, and it’s sold as a supplement. Melatonin is great if you want to sleep a little bit longer. It’s a strong antioxidant and helps reduce that oxidative stress (and resulting inflammation) that I mentioned earlier.
A Polish study published in Prz Menopauzalny (Menopausal Review) just evaluated melatonin in menopausal women. Women who received 5mg of melatonin each night for 24 weeks not only slept better but also lost a little weight. I have to say, 5mg is a rather hefty dose!
Resveratrol- This provides natural estrogen-like activity (phytoestrogen) because resveratrol has a similar structure to 17 beta estradiol (our natural estrogen). Restoring estrogen levels may relieve hot flashes and help you sleep. It’s usually taken at night for that reason.
Vitamin E- An antioxidant that helps to quench the oxidative stress caused by the disrupted sleep and because it’s fat-soluble, it supports brain health. Never take synthetic estrogen, read labels and get natural vitamin E (or don’t bother).
Glycine- This natural amino acid may help you fall asleep faster by inhibiting or calming down a chemically ‘overexcited’ nervous system. Glycine is so powerful at stabilizing brain cells that several of my doctor friends suggest it for people with seizures.
While the natural instinct is to reach for something that cools off the body from the outside, this research offers ways to cool off the body and brain from the inside out. Talk to your doctor and find out if a combination of these nutrients above could be used to take some of your disruptive symptoms. Also, consider adrenal support. The women with the healthiest adrenal glands tend not to have menopausal symptoms. That is the topic of a future column. For now, keep in mind that menopause is not a disease, and you are not alone.
Millions of ladies suffer, and today we have research to suggest that serotonin deficiencies may be behind some of the ‘power surges’ that disrupt your life. Drugs that alter serotonin levels are not the answer in my opinion, at least not for a long haul. These drugs may permanently harm your serotonin receptors, so supporting the production naturally is better in my opinion.