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Worried about HRT patches side effects, or supply shortages – what’s the alternative?

by Laura Palmer

According to the ONS, there are currently 5.87 million women of menopausal or peri-menopausal age in the UK. Some of these women find their menopause symptoms so disruptive they have to take long-term leave from work (with the average being 32 weeks). And in a survey conducted by the ONS, over a million menopausal women said they had considered leaving their jobs due to the impact of menopause – highlighting just how crucial it is to have options to manage menopause symptoms. For lots of women, HRT, or hormone replacement therapy, is the first port of call. But what about HRT patches side effects? And the current acute shortage of some HRT medications in the UK?

If you can’t get hold of the drugs that are making you feel human again, or HRT patches aren’t proving effective for you, the good news is there ARE alternatives you can try. You can take them alongside HRT, to give you more control over your symptoms, or alone if that’s what works for you.

Here’s the skinny on how HRT works, why there’s currently a shortage of some products, and the natural therapies that could help you feel your best during menopause.

What symptoms does HRT help to manage?

As you approach menopause, your ovaries start making less oestrogen and progesterone. These changes in hormonal balance can have a huge impact on your body and trigger all kinds of life-disrupting symptoms.

Your mental health can take a hit, and you might find you have increased anxiety or feel low. You could struggle with poor memory and difficulty concentrating. There are physical symptoms to deal with too; like hot flushes, breast tenderness and vaginal dryness. A good night’s sleep could feel like a distant memory, leaving you exhausted, wiped out, and lethargic. The list goes on and on…

Not every woman experiences all these symptoms, but even one or two can significantly reduce your quality of life. Which is when you might turn to HRT. Invented in the 1940’s, HRT works by replacing the hormones you’re losing. If your hormones are more balanced, your symptoms should subside. You can take HRT in pill, patch or cream form.

What HRT patches side effects are most common?

Like any medication, HRT affects every woman differently and can come with side effects you don’t want. Some of the most common ones are breast tenderness, bloating, mood changes, and vaginal bleeding. The main HRT patches side effects are localised irritation on the skin, which often clears up within a few weeks. Less often, HRT is associated with more serious issues, like an increased risk of breast cancer and blood clots.

If you take HRT transdermally, through the skin, in a gel, cream, or patch, there is less chance of getting a blood clot. This is because the ingredients bypass the liver, where the clotting factors in the blood are made. Careful monitoring of your hormone levels can help reduce the likelihood of the HRT increasing your cancer risk, but you often have to pay for this privately.

Why is there currently a shortage of some HRT medications?

Pharmacies first started reporting HRT shortages way back when in May 2020, at the peak of the pandemic. And since then, things have only got worse. This year, around 30 menopause medications had a limited supply. In particular, Oestrogel – a popular hormone therapy, lots of women use, because like HRT patches side effects are limited, it’s easy to use, and considered safer than some other products.

Drug manufacturers have put these shortages down to a spike in demand for HRT that they can’t keep up with. Prescriptions for HRT in England have increased by more than 50% since 2017. In 2021 there were 538,000 prescriptions for HRT, compared to 238,000 in January 2017.

The drug companies plan to increase their manufacturing capabilities. But in the meantime, current shortages mean some women can’t access the drugs they’ve been prescribed. Or have to wait up to 3 months for them. It’s not surprising a shady HRT black market has sprung up, and many women have been sharing or swapping the drugs they can get with friends. Once you’ve found a way to manage your menopause, no one wants to give that up!

If I’m worried about drug shortages, or HRT patches side effects, which alternative therapies can help?

Can’t get your hands on the medication you swear by, or find HRT patches side effects too debilitating? There are loads of other options for you to try. First up, you should think about phyto-oestrogens aka plant-based oestrogens. Like HRT, they work by replacing the hormones you’re losing, helping you restore hormonal balance and reduce your menopause symptoms.

Herbal helpers:

One of the most effective phyto-oestrogens is Black Cohosh. A flowering plant, clinically proven to relieve night sweats, vaginal dryness, palpitations, sleep issues, and irritability. You should also check out Dong Quai, a Chinese medicine staple, used for over 2000 years to help with women’s health problems like menopause and PMS.

Liquorice root is another herb to try. It contains compounds that activate oestrogen receptors in the body and help balance your hormones. Studies have shown it’s particularly effective at decreasing the severity and frequency of hot flashes. So, if this is a big issue for you, liquorice root could be the answer.

And make sure you’re eating plenty of legumes (like kidney beans, chickpeas, and lentils) and coumestans (sprouting seeds like alfalfa); because they are excellent sources of dietary oestrogen. No HRT patches side effects and you can cook up something delicious while balancing your hormones at the same time.

Bedtime saviours:

Would you give anything or a decent night’s shut-eye? Try taking valerian root, hops flower, and red clover. All-natural, established, sleep aids that studies have shown are particularly effective in helping menopausal women fall asleep more quickly and improving the quality and amount of sleep.

It’s also worth taking magnesium, a mineral your body needs to make the hormones responsible for sleep. It can also help stabilise your mood and reduce anxiety, banishing those late night worries.

Other must-haves are curcumin, a powerful natural anti-inflammatory, which boosts neurotransmitters like serotonin. And selenium, proven to ease brain fog. Let them do their thing overnight and you’ll wake up feeling far less irritable and more clear headed. Result!

And don’t forget menopause supporting vitamins and minerals:

Vitamin D and calcium are a must in your 40’s and 50’s. This is because women can lose up to 20% of their bone density in the 5 years following menopause. Top yours up to help maintain bone strength and combat osteoporosis. Some light weight training will also help, for more lifestyle ideas on managing your menopause, our blog is here.

Help balance your hormones without HRT patches side effects:

All the natural ingredients discussed here can be found in the Menopause Day and Menopause Night patches, alongside many other nutrients specifically chosen for their proven abilities to support women during menopause.

Both patches were formulated to gently target menopause symptoms around the clock, with minimal side effects. And there’s no issue with stock either! Give them a try and you can get back to the important business of living your best life again. You’ve got this.