Dr. Sheila Dunn-Merritt, N.D.

Natural HRT — a spectrum of choices (part 2)

Sound Consumer | September 2002

By Dr. Sheila Dunn-Merritt, N.D.

Millions of menopausal women are searching for alternatives to conventional hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Since the Women's Health Initiative (a nine-year study of HRT) revealed the long-term risks outweigh the benefits, women are calling to know more about non-synthetic hormonal alternatives.

Forty million American women are menopausal and by the year 2015, nearly one half of the women in the U.S. will be menopausal! Since the financial implications for the pharmaceutical and health care industry are enormous, I believe we'll see more and more products geared toward women of menopausal age. Beware, as menopausal women are significant consumer targets.

The controversy
There is controversy regarding the use of bio-identical hormones in place of Premarin (extract from pregnant mares' urine — which is how it gets its name: PREgnant MAres uRINe) and Provera (a synthetic version of progesterone whose action bears little resemblance to the natural hormones.

It is not surprising that using mismatched and artificial hormones has delivered less than optimal results. Patent laws in our country favor the creation of synthetic chemicals to the exclusion of anything natural.

Since anything that occurs in nature can't be patented (except agricultural seed in the U.S.), it will never be profitable and therefore not in the drug industry's interest to convince medical M.D.s and the public that the natural herbal remedies and bio-identical hormones are effective. Rather, the industry tells us that natural remedies are useless, extremely dangerous, or uncontrollable.

You do not have to resort to synthetic pharmaceutical prescriptions to take care of yourself during the menopausal years. But, the spectrum of choices for menopausal relief can seem overwhelming. I highly recommend working with a health care provider who is knowledgeable about the available choices and can design a program tailored to address your individual needs.

It's essential that each of us understand more about our unique biochemistries before we select our treatment programs. As mentioned in Part 1 of this article (click here to go to Part 1 in the August Sound Consumer), I recommend a comprehensive assessment to evaluate your health status. Here's a list of key tests to take:

  1. Complete hormonal status
  2. Bone density evaluation
  3. Adrenal profile

Once you gather this pertinent data, it is possible to design an appropriate combination of diet, exercise, and supplements to address your symptoms. While the symptoms of menopause — hot flashes, insomnia, headaches, depression and weight gain — are not life-threatening, they can effect the quality of life.

The naturopathic approach
As a naturopathic physician, I use an array of treatments for the symptoms of menopause that are effective, non-toxic, and have minimal side effects. Here's an overview of complementary therapies that really make a difference for women experiencing menopausal symptoms.

  1. Omega-3 oil found in certain fish, and vegetable sources found in flaxseed oil
  2. Calcium citrate specifically with vitamin D, magnesium, trace minerals and Ipriflavone is useful for increasing bone density
  3. Memory support includes: Phos. Serine and N-acetylcholine
  4. Adrenal botanicals for increasing vitality include licorice root, Siberian ginseng, B-vitamins
  5. Botanicals for hot flashes such as Black Cohosh and Dong Quai are used with vitamin E, a bioflavonoid called Hesperidin, and the soy isoflavones. Homeopathy and acupuncture can be quite helpful as well.
  6. A recommended diet consisting of:
    • Lean protein with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits (prefer organic)
    • Higher fiber from legumes and vegetables
    • Reduce refined grains such as pasta, white flour, sugars, alcohol, caffeine and hot spicy foods
    • Reduce saturated fats found in cheese, ice cream, fried foods and animal skin
  7. Green tea is considered beneficial for breast health
  8. Exercise is vital for physical, mental and emotional balance. A routine that consists of stretching, aerobic and strength training is ideal. Four times per week, 20 minutes per session (minimum) is essential for optimal health.
  9. Progesterone, bio-identical estrogens as needed

Please keep in mind, each of us is unique and our set of symptoms, genetics, and biochemistry ultimately will determine the type and duration of treatment. Just remember to update your health care plan at regular intervals since symptoms do change.

Dr. Sheila Dunn-Merritt is a naturopath, homeopath, educator and author and has lectured widely on women's health issues. One of the first graduates from Bastyr University, Sheila has been in practice 20 years. She enjoys working with patients as a primary-care physician in Bellevue. Her first book, "Treating Osteoporosis," is available at Primapub.com.

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