I'm afraid to take HRT. Isn't there some vitamin/supplement/non-prescription remedy that will get rid of all of my symptoms instead?
We'd all like a magic rescue, performed by something we view as safe and benign...and prescriptions in general and HRTs specifically have been cast in the popular press as such boogeymen and shrouded in such mystery that many women simply can't face the terror of undertaking their use. We may want the comfort of something we're already familiar with or that we can use without having to deal with a doctor or other prescription gatekeeper who we might feel will take control of our bodies away from us.
While the internet health sales pages are bursting with vitamin combos that promise glowing results and discussion sites are full of women assuring everyone that this or that special product or vitamin relieved all their symptoms, it's not really either a mysterious or magical process. But it's also not specific to any single preparation.
That's right: there's no vitamin or herb or combination of them that will "fix" your menopausal symptoms. That's because your symptoms, if they are due to menopause, are directly caused by hormone levels lower than those you need to feel well, and no vitamin has the ability to boost hormone levels if we don't have ovaries. They simply won't fix what's "broken."
Huh? So are those women lying? Deluded? No, maybe not. Maybe they do feel better after taking their vitamins. But it's not so much that the vitamins "cure" their troubling symptoms, perhaps, as that in better meeting all of their metabolic needs, they're better able to cope with menopause and, yes, they do feel better.
It makes sense, when you think about it, that getting your body otherwise as healthy and stress-free as possible will maximize your own ability to deal with estrogen deficiency as gracefully as possible. But that's something entirely different from expecting a particular vitamin or combination of them to specifically alleviate your symptoms.
What goes on is that when women get wonderful results with some or another supplement, they're possibly doing two much more subtle things.
First, they may be filling in a real nutritional gap and providing the raw materials their bodies did need to function more healthily. For example, we can metabolize neither HRT nor our own hormones without the simultaneous presence of certain specific nutrients. Meeting our needs for vital raw materials that enable critical physical processes in turn directly lowers stress, lowers our adrenal workload and allows it to shift more of its output to making ovarian hormones as opposed to stress hormones.
And second, there's the placebo effect. Now, don't go all huffy and defensive—we're not telling you it's all in your head. Not at all. In fact, research study after study has demonstrated that the number one most effective remedy for hot flashes, no matter what preparation it's tested against, is placebo. Lots of doctors take this to mean oh those silly weak women, just pay them a little attention and they get over it. We don't really agree.
It seems to us that when we're taking something we believe will help, that in itself lowers our stress levels: we're doing something instead of helplessly spiraling downward caught in hormonal upheaval. And it's that lowering of stress and feelings of self-impowerment that, we suspect, can have a real physical effect, maybe through that same adrenal mechanism we mentioned above: by helping to shift us from a stress mode to enhanced ability to meet our own hormone needs more fully by adrenal output.
So if you believe that a vitamin or special preparation or accupressure or accupuncture or yoga or whatever tools most appeal to you hold some hope of helping to lower your stress and allow your body to better meet your menopausal needs, you could be exactly right. We don't think that's going to do the whole job in surgical menopause, most times, without HRT and we don't think that using vitamins or herbs will make up for a poor HRT fit, but it might at least help a bit.
Just remember to stay balanced: keep in mind that overdoses of herbals or vitamins can be toxic to various organs, especially our livers, or can challenge our hormone-deficient impaired immune system; and that women who cannot take hormones may experience that exact same risk from using phytoestrogens as they would with any prescription HRT.