Phytoestrogens are compounds with mild oestrogen-like effects that have been shown to offer relief for hot flushes and vaginal dryness. Good food sources are tofu and flaxseed; herbal phytoestrogens include red clover and dong quai.
Take black cohosh, in tablet, capsule or tincture form. According to a study in the Journal of Agriculture & Food Chemistry, this herb helps to control hot flushes and nervousness or mild depression by acting on serotonin receptors in the hypothalamus — the part of your brain that produces hormones that affect body temperature, sleep, and mood. Black cohosh is also thought to lower blood levels of luteinising hormone, which is responsible for dilating blood vessels and creating heat.
Make a strong brew of sage tea — one cup of boiling water over two teaspoons fresh herb or one teaspoon dried, covered and steeped for 10 minutes — and drink it three times a day. Sage's botanical name, Salvia officinalis, comes from the Latin salvus, meaning "healthy", a clear reference to this plant's traditional healing powers. It has high levels of astringent tannins which help to reduce sweating.
According to legend, medieval friars took a tincture made from the berries of the chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) to help them adhere to their vows of chastity. Chasteberry has been shown to help boost the body's progesterone levels, which wane during menopause; it is also helpful for menstrual flooding and irregular periods, which some women have during perimenopause, the lead-up to menopause.
Speaking of monks, any woman who has vaginal dryness will know how easy it is to go right off sex as a result: it hurts. Conventional options include water-based lubricants, but these may contain petrochemical-derived ingredients, glycerin and preservatives, which you might want to keep out of your body. Try pure organic coconut oil, vitamin E oil or natural products such as Sylk, which is made from kiwifruit gel, Astroglide Natural, from corn-derived xylitol and aloe vera, or Firefly Organics, with silky-feeling shea and cocoa butter and natural beeswax.
Every bite of food you eat affects the hormone balance in your body. Alcohol, coffee, spicy foods and hot drinks are all possible hot flush triggers. Eat a balanced diet packed with whole fruits and vegetables, and ensure you get plenty of protein and calcium to help prevent bone loss; if your food choices are patchy, take a daily supplement of calcium, magnesium and vitamin D. Some women find taking extra vitamin E helps to relieve vaginal dryness; vitamin B6, in conjunction with magnesium, may help to decrease anxiety and cravings.
If symptoms persist, they may indicate other underlying hormone problems, like adrenal fatigue and inadequate testosterone or dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). A naturopath who specialises in hormone balance may be able to help you with a prescription for bioidentical hormones. These are custom-made for you from natural ingredients, such as wild yam, and come in gel, cream, patch, or lozenge form. They are only available from healthcare professionals. Visit www.naturaltherapypages.com.au to find a practitioner near you.