Illustration by Weronika Siwiec
Introducing Madame Ovary: A Supplement Regimen for Your 40s and Beyond
Menopause is a vicissitude of having a body with ovaries. And while there’s no fail-safe way to make hot flashes and mood swings disappear (boo), maybe the key is simply to prepare—to ask about what might be in store and arm ourselves with the best tools available.
Dr. Dominique Fradin-Read, MD, MPH, has spent the better part of her career focusing on preventive and anti-aging medicine, helping women through the hormonal changes and symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. We worked with her to formulate a vitamin and supplement pack for women who want these hormonal changes to be as smooth as possible—i.e., every woman we know in her forties, fifties, sixties, and beyond.
A Q&A with Dominique Fradin-Read, MD, MPH
These supplements are designed to benefit women in many stages of hormonal change, starting with those in the early to mid-forties and going up long after their periods stop. I helped put together this formula after in-depth brainstorming with herbalist Lyra Heller. I made my recommendations based upon my experience as a physician—I’ve treated many women with symptoms of perimenopause or full menopause—and as a woman.
The early signs of perimenopause usually include: new onset of occasional sleep disturbances (difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or both), general decrease in energy and stamina, emotional fragility, and mood swings. Symptoms may vary over time or from one woman to another.
Most women become extremely sensitive to stress, and they often describe that unpleasant feeling of constantly running around and being emotionally overwhelmed. Some start expressing feelings of depression and uncertainty about the future. Some of my patients suddenly do not recognize themselves; they cry easily, they become very impatient and occasionally anxious, and their sex drive is often significantly diminished.
Natural hormonal changes during menopause can also contribute to uncomfortable challenges with weight gain (especially in the midsection), hair thinning, and skin dryness. Supporting the thyroid becomes especially important during this time.
Some women develop mild hot flashes or have the impression that their heart is beating very fast or even skipping beats—these are what we call the “vasomotor symptoms” of perimenopause.
When we started thinking about the best regimen of supplements to address the various complaints of perimenopausal women, I, as a physician board-certified in preventive medicine, of course thought about prevention. Why not try to prevent some of these unpleasant symptoms before they kick in? What could we recommend to women reaching the typical age of perimenopause that might keep them from suffering through it?
My recommendation would be to start taking the supplements in your mid-forties, or even earlier if signs of hormonal changes are present. And there’s no recommended age limit for this regimen. It should continue addressing postmenopausal symptoms while providing women the support of multivitamins and phytonutrients.
We wanted to include nutrients that are not always sufficiently consumed in the diet. Even though we may try to eat as healthy as possible and buy organic, in reality, life is busy. At the end of the day, some women may come up short on essential nutrients from the tendency to skip meals or from the lack of time to cook or go grocery shopping or whatever else. That is why adding a blend of essential vitamins and phytonutrients to the formula was important, and it came with a plus: These phytonutrients have antioxidant activity that helps maintain optimal cellular health.
Omega-3s are another important part of our packs. There is a long list of studies on the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. We could not omit them from our regimen. Our main goal was to find the best source.
Keeping in mind menopause symptoms linked to stress, it was important to include some natural vitamins or herbs that could support stress management or that have calming, relaxing properties. Several ingredients were added in that sense:
- Rhodiola rosea is a well-studied adaptogen that has proven to reduce the effects of stress on both the body and mind.
- Lemon balm and motherwort are included as supportive herbs.
- Black cohosh is another interesting herb that has modulatory effects on mood, and it has been recommended for years for symptoms associated with menopause.
Finally, we added specific nutrients that support healthy thyroid function, including iodine, selenium, zinc, and copper—all required in good amounts for the proper synthesis or function of thyroid hormones.
These packs should be taken with food, but the time of the day does not matter for this specific regimen.
Our hope is that women who take the packs will be able to ease, to a certain extent, some of the symptoms linked to perimenopause and menopause. It is our goal not to replace other necessary treatment approaches but to give additional support to women who are looking for a supplement regimen adapted to their current health needs. It’s a good multivitamin and mineral formula with some ingredients that scientific literature suggests are helpful during this stage of life.
Around the age of perimenopause, most women will feel that they cannot eat or drink the way they used to even just a few years before. Their metabolism is changing. Even though some authors have claimed that there is a “hormonal diet” for perimenopausal women, I personally do not believe in a one-size-fits-all diet. In my practice, I typically do an in-depth evaluation of a patient’s metabolic function, test her genetic background, and look at her lifestyle before I recommend a personalized weight-loss or weight-maintenance plan.
However, there are a few rules that suit most women who want to stay at their optimal health and weight:
- Avoid sugars and sweets as much as possible.
- Respect regular mealtimes rather than grazing.
- Be careful with portion sizes, especially with takeout or at restaurants.
- Avoid processed foods.
- Have some greens at each meal, including breakfast—and not the powdered greens, real ones!
- Make sure you get enough protein per day to preserve muscle mass and keep your hair and skin looking good: one gram of protein per kilogram body weight—do the math.
- Try to eat blueberries daily and wild salmon or other sustainable, wild seafood at least three times a week. (For those who are vegetarian or unable to eat fish, I recommend spinach, kale, walnuts, and hummus.)
- Hydrate yourself well throughout the day.
- Limit alcohol to five glasses a week—and if you drink your sugar, then do not eat your sugar. That means no dessert if you choose a glass of wine! (Sorry.)
Lifestyle habits immensely influence the way women will go through menopause. There’s a large body of research on physical activity for premenopausal and menopausal women. Regular exercise helps ameliorate somatic and mood symptoms, such as stiffness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, poor sleep, and irritability. It does not have to be strenuous; yoga, Pilates, or even just walking at a good pace are effective for women who are not accustomed to more intense workouts.
While there are equivocal results for exercise’s efficacy in preventing hot flashes and vasomotor symptoms, its benefits for reducing stress are obvious (and evidence-based), and it certainly can have a positive impact on women’s general quality of life during menopause.
I could talk for hours about the detrimental health effects of stress and lack of sleep during perimenopause, as well as their direct action on longevity. I’ll keep it short: Women should try to practice relaxation methods, acupuncture, or other natural ways to reduce their stress and improve their sleep. These are major components of optimal health.
Dominique Fradin-Read, MD, MPH, is board-certified in preventive medicine. After receiving her medical degree from Université Libre de Bruxelles she completed various fellowships in Europe and moved to the US in 1999. Read completed an internship in internal medicine through UC San Francisco and a residency in preventive medicine at Loma Linda University, where she also earned her master of public health degree. She previously worked closely as a physician with dermatologist Dr. Howard Murad at his medical group. She opened her own practice, VitaLife-MD, in Los Angeles, specializing in wellness and preventative anti-aging programs.
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