To complement the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Massage and Menopause: Touch Helps Ease Women through the Transition,” , in the September 2010 issue. Article summary: Women go through menopause at different times, and this can be attributed to a variety of factors, such as lifestyle, diet, genetics and general health. For many women, the change in their bodies comes at a crucial time, and with increased responsibility and related stress, many women find it difficult to take time to care for themselves and address the changes their bodies are experiencing. Their symptoms progress, and for some women it may seem unbearable. Enter massage therapy.
by Sarah M. Acosta, N.D.
It is estimated by the year 2015, 50 percent of women in the U.S. will be menopausal. Menopause is a normal phase in a woman’s life, lasting about three to eight years. The symptoms of this change vary in intensity, duration and type from woman to woman, and they may be exhibited as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood changes, sleep disturbance, difficulty with memory, weight changes and bone loss.
For many women, symptoms resolve with time, rendering treatment unnecessary. For those requiring support, however, basic lifestyle changes (in addition to massage therapy)—diet supplementation, stress management and exercise—can help ease symptoms.
Research has shown that a whole-foods diet that minimizes saturated fats and emphasizes fruits, vegetables and vegetarian sources of protein can help reduce menopausal symptoms.
Also, vasomotor symptoms, like hot flashes, can often be reduced by avoiding trigger foods, such caffeine, spicy foods, alcohol and foods with high fat content.
Many nutrients can help improve symptoms and support other systems affected by menopause. Taking a 1,200-milligram daily dose of hesperidin (the predominant flavonoid in lemons and oranges) and vitamin C can help reduce hot flashes in menopausal women.
The nutrients vitamin D (1,000 to 2,000 I.U. daily) and calcium (1,500 milligrams daily) are essential for bone support throughout menopause, while vitamin B6 (50 to 200 milligrams daily) is helpful in reducing the mood and sleep symptoms of menopause.
Medicinal foods with phytoestrogen content, such as ground flaxseeds and soy products, have been shown to reduce menopausal symptoms. Phytoestrogens bind to estrogen receptors and have a mild estrogenic effect, helping to balance and stabilize estrogen levels.
Ground flaxseeds are also a great source of fiber and contain omega-3 fatty acids. Soy, eaten as a whole (unprocessed) food, is another good phytoestrogen source and has been correlated with a decrease in hot flashes and vaginal dryness, as well as a reduction in frequency and severity of menopausal symptoms.
Soy can also improve lipid levels and bone density, two conditions that often accompany menopause.
One of the best ways to minimize menopausal symptoms is to reduce stress. Research has shown that relaxation decreases hot-flash frequency. Stress management comes in many forms: massage, yoga, meditation, prayer and exercise being some of them.
It is most important to find what works for you and to make daily space for it in your schedule, even for 5 minutes between clients.
Exercise is a not only an essential component of a healthy lifestyle and a method for decreasing stress, it can also decrease the severity of vasomotor symptoms, improve bone and cardiovascular health, and enhance your mood.
Sarah M. Acosta, N.D., graduated from Bastyr University with her doctorate in naturopathic medicine and completed two years of residency at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health. She lives in Seattle, Washington, where she focuses on clinical education as an adjunct faculty member at Bastyr University. She also sees patients in her private practice.