What's A Woman Quitting HRT To Do?

If you're concerned about Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), you're not alone. The release of a recent Women's Health Initiative study showing that a popular brand of estrogen and progestin, Prempro, can have potentially life-threatening side effects has many middle-aged women preparing to flush their pills in favor of natural alternatives.

Before quitting HRT, however, talk to your health care practitioner. "If the decision is made to discontinue HRT, it is important to gradually reduce the dosages, as an abrupt cessation can lead to a rebound of symptoms," says Deborah Moskowitz, ND, director of the Women's Institute in Portland, Oregon.

Once you're ready, you can turn to several natural options, according to Susan Lark, MD, one of the foremost authorities on women's health care. Women have used vitamin E since the 1930s, for example, to treat hot flashes, headaches, and muscle aches. Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) solid extract also relieves hot flashes, as well as mood swings, fatigue, irritability, sleeping problems, and vaginal dryness. Aside from black cohosh, women can take one to two tablespoons of flaxseed oil each day to decrease vaginal dryness.

Soy isoflavones are another boon for women in their middle years because of their ability to help stabilize irregular periods and heavy bleeding. Lark usually suggests that her patients take soy supplements with 50 to 100 mg of isoflavones. "You can do it with food," she says, "but you have to eat a lot of it." One cup of soy milk, for example, has only 20 to 40 mg of isoflavones; one-half cup of tofu has 35 mg. For similar help without taking soy, Moskowitz suggests red clover (Trifolium pratense), which provides a weak estrogenic effect in the body due to unique isoflavones. Red clover eases tension from bloating and relieves hot flashes.

"Women should also be aware that they do things that may make their symptoms worse," Lark says. Caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods all trigger hot flashes, as does stress. For a holistic approach to reducing your troublesome symptoms, Lark recommends augmenting your natural supplement and food program with "meditation, deep breathing, or really anything that reduces stress."

—Brie Doyle