Menopause, in a nutshell
Menopause is defined as the absence of menstrual periods for one year. For most women, menopause usually happens somewhere between the ages of 40 and 58. The period leading up to this is called perimenopause, which may be accompanied by symptoms such as the following due to changes in hormone levels, as the ovaries begin to produce less estrogen and progesterone:
Mood changes, including irritability, mood swings, depression, and anxiety
Hot flashes and night sweats (vasomotor symptoms)
Abnormal perceptions/sensations (like heavy/numb limbs or insects crawling on the skin)
Memory, concentration, and sleep problems
Urinary incontinence or urgency
Making the change easier
Pycnogenol is a mixture of flavonoids with potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Its effects appear to include relaxing blood vessels, thinning blood, relieving pain, and strengthening connective tissue.
In a previous study, high dosages (200 mg per day) of pycnogenol relieved several perimenopausal symptoms in women who took the supplement for six months. The current study aimed to identify which symptoms might respond to a lower dose of pycnogenol.
For three months, 156 perimenopausal women took 60 mg of pycnogenol per day (standardized to contain about 70% procyanidins) or placebo. At baseline and at 4 and 12 weeks, their blood pressure, blood fats, and hormone levels were measured. Weekly telephone calls recorded the women's symptoms, including vasomotor symptoms, numbness, insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, dizziness, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, abnormal sensations, sexual problems, headache, memory and concentration, menstrual problems, and urinary problems.
After 4 and 12 weeks of treatment, women in the pycnogenol group had significant improvements in all symptoms except numbness and abnormal sensations compared with baseline values. Pycnogenol significantly reduced vasomotor symptoms and insomnia compared with placebo.
Hormone levels, blood pressure, and blood fats remained similar between the two groups and no adverse effects were noted in either group.
"Pycnogenol may arguably represent a daily dietary supplement for menopausal women due to its extended range of health benefits," the researchers said. "Menopausal women are at elevated risk for cardiovascular disease, and the [benefits of] pycnogenol may prove helpful for women at this stage in life."
Staying healthy during menopause
Menopause doesn't have to be riddled with complications. In fact, there are lots of things you can do to help make the transition easier.
Give these tips a try:
- Quit smoking. Women who smoke are more likely to go through menopause earlier and to have hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.
- Go phyto: Foods that are rich in phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogen-like compounds) like soy and flaxseeds may help relieve menopausal symptoms in many women. If you've had a hormone-sensitive cancer, ask your doctor if these foods are right for you.
- Get active: Aerobic exercise may decrease the likelihood of hot flashes. Plus it's good for your heart, which is especially important as estrogen's protective effects diminish during menopause.
- Give acupuncture a try: This time-tested therapy may help relieve hot flashes and improve memory and mood.
(J Reprod Med 2013;58:39-46)