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Inside Out: I survived the menopause without HRT; INSIDE OUT As yet another scare arises over the possible side effects of Hormone Replacement Therapy, we focus on how one woman got through the menopause without HRT and look at the more natural alternatives.

Byline: Eileen Taylor

SHEILA Wood could be an HRT marketing man's dream - except that she has never taken HRT. Now in her fifties, this former Bluebell dancer has strong bones, wonderful skin and hair and, at 5ft 9in, has a size 12 figure that some girls of 20 might envy.

Much in demand as a model and as a walk-on actress in TV drama, she has the energy levels of someone much younger and an engagingly youthful attitude to life.

``Maybe I am lucky but I didn't have any severe symptoms. I remember going through a phase when I got a bit sweaty in bed at night but that was all. I certainly didn't go rushing to get HRT. I am always on the go and I do watch what I eat. I have always tried to eat healthily and that may have something to do with it - although I do allow myself some wine and the odd gin and tonic.

``I start the day drinking the juice of three oranges because I am a great believer in Vitamin C and I always have two slices of wholemeal bread.

``Sometimes I have marmite on it or poached egg and salad at lunchtime. For my evening meal I have chicken, red meat or fish with lots of green vegetables, including spinach. I also drink lots and lots of water and never eat cakes, biscuits or sweets.''

Sheila fought back from serious illness two years ago when she nearly died from a throat abcess. She believes her healthy diet and lifestyle helped her to survive - and to cope with the menopause without HRT.

``I have always been against HRT and have never felt the need to take it. I hate any sort of pills - just the thought of pumping chemicals into my body. All these firms are making money out of it and a lot of women think it is going to keep them young. My grandmother was a strong woman and lived to her nineties. She drank a bottle of Guinness every day. I think she would say `what is this ridiculous HRT?' But I do have an actress friend of 63 who swears by it and thinks it is marvellous.''

Actress Kate O'Mara is another great fan of HRT but TV personality Angela Rippon is one woman who has now shunned HRT for more natural remedies.

Qualified plant therapist Roz Wilkie, of the Abaca Therapy Centre in Woolton, Liverpool, believes women are right to be wary of HRT. She says that nature has a lot to offer women as alternatives, many of which have been used by women down the ages but of which modern women are ignorant. But she also supports Sheila Wood's view that healthy food - organic where possible - can help prevent some menopause symptoms.

``All good health is down to food. Because ready-made food is so available people don't put enough effort into going out and seeking good food. They just take what is to hand. The reason women suffer so much more now is because they are not eating as much fresh food, fruit and vegetables as our mothers and grandmothers did. This has a knock-on effect on our general health which can exacerbate menopause symptoms. But we always have women coming here looking for alternatives to HRT because it gives them such unpleasant side-effects.''

Roz says that the phtyo-estreogens (which are present in soya, brown rice, oats, chickpeas and lentils among others) can be a real alternative to HRT and can help to reduce symptoms because they have a balancing effect on the hormones. The flavinoids present in soya have been shown to increase oestrogen levels when they are too low and reduce them when they are too high which is why they help to reduce hot flushes which are thought to be due to a lack of oestrogen. They have also been shown to have similar protective properties to the drug Tamoxifen, which is used to prevent a recurrence of breast cancer.

Black Cohosh, available in liquid or tablet form, is excellent for hot flushes at night while wild yam, menocan and sage can all help to relieve the absent mindedness and depression that can come with the menopause, says Roz.

But Roz says the best across-the-board menopause herb is Dong Quai, used by Chinese women for thousands of years and widely available in natural health shops.

``But you need to have qualified advice, especially if you are already taking other drugs. For example, you cannot take Dong Quai if you are on warfarin or heparin and that goes for a lot of natural remedies. People tend to have a casual attitude to plant medicine but it can be potent. We actually have a computer which can tell us if plant remedies will react with a person's other medication.''

SOME women find that homeopathic remedies such as Nat-Mur, Sepia, Sulphur and Lachesis help them cope. As far as Merseyside homeopath Phil Hughes is concerned, ``cope'' is the key word.

``If you stop the menopause symptoms, you are stopping the body from doing what it wants to do. The body is going through massive changes and knows what it wants to do so you should let it do it. There will be a reason for it and it only becomes a problem when a woman over-reacts. What homeopathy can do is not stop the symptoms - because they are natural - but bring them down to a more manageable level so you can cope.''

As Phil points out, the menopause is different in every woman, an individual thing which is why homeopathy, with its emphasis on treating every person differently, can be helpful.

``Some women have flushes at night, others have them all day. Some women have no sweats others drip with sweat. Some have emotional problems, some don't. But HRT treats everyone the same.''

He abhors the way the menopause, a completely natural process, has now been made into a ``disease''. ``Women have been programmed so that they are waiting for it to happen.''

He believes HRT may actually be responsible for prolonging menopause symptoms.

``Once upon a time it used to last for a few years, now it goes on for years and years.''

Qualified aromatherapist and reflexologist Margaret Johannsen of Formby also believes that women should be more accepting of the menopause.

``It is a natural occurrence in life and we should say to ourselves `this is a change and I'll accept it'.''

She says aromatherapy can help but women should always seek the health of a qualified practitioner.

``It is all about getting the balance right. Geranium is an excellent balancing oil for mind, body and spirit. The Bach Flower remedy walnut is excellent for any sort of change and certain oils such as clary sage can have an oestrogen effect.

``Rose is an expensive oil but that helps to regulate the hormones. It is also the most feminine of oils. If women are beginning to feel a little bit unfeminine because the reproductive organs are not working any more, rose can rekindle a feeling of femininity.

``The main thing is that each woman is an individual and should be treated holistically. One woman's menopause will be different from another's. Aromatherapy and reflexology can help to rebalance the system and eliminate stagnation.

``One of the most important things a woman can do is to stop smoking because that depletes the efficiency of the ovaries and to drink lots of water so that cells can work better.''


Some complementary therapies that are said to help with menopause symptoms:

ACUPUNCTURE - this is said to alleviate symptoms by rebalancing the hormone system. This may help headaches and migraines, hot flushes, heavy flooding periods, back pain and sagging skin tone. It can also help with poor memory.

NUTRITIONAL THERAPY - studies show that Vitamin E supplements often help with symptoms. A nutritional therapist will also seek to increase the efficiency of the pituitary and adrenal glands which make some oestrogen even after the menopause starts which can be enough to keep a woman feeling healthy. Thus such a therapist may also prescribe the herb Agnus castus which is good for the pituitary gland.

YOGA - this can help with the stress and anxiety of the menopause.

REFLEXOLOGY - this again may be aimed at the pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands, the solar plexus and reproduction organ reflexes.

WESTERN HERBALISM - remedies include sage which can affect oestrogen levels, St John's Wort and other nerve tonics for mild depression and life root for vein irritability leading to hot flushes.AGNUS CASTUS - a potent remedy for hot flushes because it balances hormonal production. Valerian may help you to sleep.

ART THERAPY - said to help a woman who is having difficulty adjusting emotionally to the menopause.

HOMEOPATHY - Lachesis for poor memory and anxiety and depression.

PULSATILLA - for weepiness and changeable moods.GRAPHITES - for irritability and over-excitability.

But it is best to consult a qualified homeopath for individual treatment.

CHINESE HERBAL TREATMENT will involve taking hormone, kidney and blood tonics and be aimed at strengthening the body's yin which is its cooling, calming and moistening function.


THE NATURAL WAY: Sheila Wood opted not to take HRT while going through menopause, choosing natural remedies; instead and found that they really did work for her; Yoga can help women cope with stress and anxiety
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 16, 2002
Previous Article:Inside Out: The natural way to harmonise your hormones.
Next Article:Inside Out: Eat well and exercise well to live well.

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