Earlier this year, ten British women underwent a first-of-its-kind surgery purported to delay the menopause by up to 20 years. The procedure involved removing and cryogenically freezing a portion of a woman’s ovaries when she is still fertile, then re-implanting them just before the onset of menopause. This essentially ‘reverses the clock’ and replaces a woman’s natural, younger hormones.
Specialists behind the new procedure believe it could improve the lives of millions more women by delaying the onset of common symptoms of the menopause – namely low mood, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, hot flushes, night sweats and a reduced sex drive. The procedure, costing between £7,000 and £11,000, is being offered to women up to the age of 40 by Birmingham-based company ProFam, set up by IVF pioneer and president of the UK Care Fertility Group Simon Fishel, in collaboration with other specialists.
The menopause is experienced as a two-pronged condition. The end of a woman’s fertility is accompanied by significant physiological symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, low libido, night sweats and anxiety.
For those who don’t have £11,000 to spare for this experimental treatment, (or who simply don’t like the thought of an invasive procedure), there are various options – both natural and medical – that may delay or alleviate the symptoms of menopause. Current methods include HRT, bioidentical/compounded hormones, clonidine, supplements and dietary/lifestyle changes.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
HRT is the most common treatment used to relieve the physiological symptoms of menopause. It works by replacing the hormones that the female body stops producing after the final menstrual period. A combination of oestrogen and progesterone is usually administered in the form of tablets, gels, skin patches or vaginal creams.
Whilst a widely used treatment for menopause, HRT is not risk-free. According to the NHS, women who take hormones for more than 1 year have an increased risk of breast cancer, but the risks and benefits of treatment should be discussed with your GP.
Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) involves the use of synthetic or plant-based hormones that are chemically identical to human hormones. Practitioners promote these as a ‘natural’ alternative to traditional HRT, but BHRT is not recommended by the NHS, as these treatments are unregulated and their long-term effects are unknown.
Traditionally used as a non-hormonal prescription medication to treat ADHD, Clonidine is also approved to treat the vasomotor symptoms of menopause – namely hot flushes, night sweats, palpitations and headaches. While effective, this isn’t generally used as a first-line treatment option as it can have strong adverse side effects.
1. Black cohosh
A herb native to North America, black cohosh is a dietary supplement with properties that may reduce the side effects of menopause. When taken in small amounts, reported side effects are minimal.
2. St John’s Wort
Found to help reduce hot flushes and night sweats, St John’s Wort is a herbal remedy that is traditionally used to treat mental health problems such as depression. Available over the counter, it usually comes in an oil form and has been shown to help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as sleep disorders. As mood and sleep can become significantly affected during the menopause, St John’s Wort has been found to benefit women undergoing the change. It does, however, interact with many commonly prescribed medications, and should not be taken alongside any other antidepressants. Before trying any alternative medicines or supplements, always remember to speak with your GP first.
Various studies suggest that lifestyle and dietary factors may impact how a woman reacts to the menopause. Several studies have shown that diet might have the ability to directly affect when women experience menopause, and research conducted at The University of Leeds involving over 14,000 women found that a high intake of phytoestrogen-rich foods (plant-derived oestrogen) including oily fish, turmeric, legumes and whole grains can delay the onset of menopause – and in turn, delaying the onset of pesky menopause symptoms.
Whilst there are plenty of options when it comes to managing and possibly delaying the menopause, it is important to acknowledge that it is a natural phase of womanhood. Like many aspects of menstrual health, a mix of misinformation, inadequate education and embarrassment means that women are often ill-prepared for what can be an extremely challenging time, both mentally and physically. For more information on the menopause, visit Menopause Support or the Women’s Health Concern website.