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Menopause Relief Through Functional Medicine: What to Expect

June 21, 2024

Menopause marks a significant transition in a woman’s life, characterized by well-known symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and hormonal imbalances, along with lesser-known symptoms like joint or muscle pain, weight gain, or heart palpitations. Traditional medicine tends to offer solutions that do not address the root cause (for example, sleeping pills and antidepressants). Functional Medicine, on the other hand, offers a more holistic approach, including hormone therapy and myriad complementary approaches to resolving root causes. Understanding the root causes of menopause symptoms through the lens of Functional Medicine can open a new path to mitigating discomfort and restoring balance. Functional Medicine–as practiced at Nourish House Calls–uses the most current, evidence-based strategies to not only manage symptoms now, but also reduce risk of disease and disability as you age.

In this article, we’ll explore the role of Functional Medicine in providing menopause relief, focusing on key areas such as diet and nutrition, herbal and natural treatments, and lifestyle modifications. You’ll learn how adjustments in your food intake can support hormonal balance, the potential of targeted nutrients and herbs in managing symptoms like fatigue and vaginal dryness, and the importance of evidence-based lifestyle changes to gain muscle, lose fat, and help your mood and concentration. Additionally, we’ll delve into the critical aspect of mental health during menopause, highlighting how Functional Medicine approaches mood swings and emotional well-being. By seeking help from a qualified Functional Medicine provider, you can expect personalized care that not only addresses menopause symptoms but also enhances your overall health and quality of life.


Understanding Menopause

Definition and Stages

Menopause is a natural biological process marked by the end of menstrual cycles, diagnosed after a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period. Typically occurring in the 40s or 50s, with the average age in the United States being 51, menopause involves three key stages: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause. During perimenopause, which can begin up to 10 years before menopause, the ovaries gradually produce less estrogen. This stage lasts until menopause, the point when the ovaries stop releasing eggs entirely. Postmenopause follows menopause and extends for the rest of a woman’s life, during which the symptoms of menopause can ease for some, while others may continue to experience them for a decade or longer. Post-menopausal women are at increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, bone fracture, and dementia because of the lack of hormones during that time. 

Common Symptoms

The transition into menopause can bring a variety of symptoms due to hormonal fluctuations. Common symptoms include irregular periods, hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, and vaginal dryness. Some women may experience sleep problems, weight gain, thinning hair, dry skin, and loss of breast fullness. Additionally, symptoms like urinary urgency, difficulty sleeping, and emotional changes such as irritability or mild depression are prevalent. Some other common, but less well-known symptoms include muscle and joint pain, and even frozen shoulder! The intensity and occurrence of these symptoms can vary widely among individuals.

Physiological Changes

As women approach menopause, significant physiological changes occur primarily due to decreasing levels of estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, and testosterone produced. This reduction in hormone levels leads to less frequent menstrual cycles that eventually stop altogether. In cases where the ovaries are removed surgically (oophorectomy), menopause occurs immediately, with more severe symptoms likely due to the abrupt hormonal change. Conversely, a hysterectomy without removal of the ovaries does not typically induce menopause, although menstrual periods cease, and symptoms common in perimenopause can still occur.

The decrease in estrogen also impacts various bodily functions, contributing to conditions such as osteoporosis and increased cardiovascular risk post-menopause. The genitourinary syndrome of menopause can cause vaginal dryness, discomfort during intercourse, and urinary symptoms. These changes are not only uncomfortable for a woman, but often mistreated with suggestions of using vaginal lubricants, which just don’t adequately address the problem. As you can see, there are myriad important reasons to properly and skillfully manage symptoms and maintain health during and after the menopausal transition.


What is Functional Medicine?

Functional Medicine represents an integrative, science-based healthcare approach. It focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of diseases and using treatments focused on the person as a whole, and considering the interactions between body systems instead of looking at each system as a separate unit. Unlike traditional medicine, which often concentrates on isolating and treating symptoms without looking at the complex interactions between various body systems, Functional Medicine takes a holistic view of the individual and their biochemical, environmental, and lifestyle factors to diagnose and treat the underlying causes of symptoms and illness.

Philosophy and Approach

The philosophy of Functional Medicine is centered on a partnership between the patient and the practitioner. This approach empowers you, the patient, by involving you actively in the management of your health, and making sure you understand the “why” behind the treatments and changes. It integrates traditional Western medical practices with what are sometimes considered “alternative” or “integrative” medicine, creating a focus on prevention through nutrition, stress management, and exercise. It uses sophisticated laboratory testing and other diagnostic techniques, and prescribes combinations of pharmaceuticals and/or botanical medicines, supplements, therapeutic diets, detoxification programs, or stress-management techniques.

Functional Medicine is particularly effective in the management of chronic diseases. The kinds of chronic health problems that benefit from this approach include hormonal imbalances, autoimmune diseases, digestive disorders, and heart disease. By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, Functional Medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms.

Differences from Conventional Medicine

One of the key differences between Functional Medicine and conventional medicine lies in the approach and treatment of chronic diseases. In conventional or allopathic medicine, there is typically a doctor for each different body system. For example, neurologists for the brain, gastroenterologists for the digestive system, and cardiologists for the heart. This specialization often leads to a segmented approach to treatment, which might treat immediate symptoms but not the underlying cause. We know that very often, one thing can cause problems in the digestive system, brain, and nervous system at the same time, so having this siloed approach to care does the patient a significant disservice. 

Functional Medicine, on the other hand, views the body as one integrated system, and while it still assesses the individual systems, connections are made by your Functional Medicine provider to connect the systems and determine the common threads, and therefore what treatments of changes would be most beneficial in your healing. A Functional Medicine practitioner looks at the body holistically and seeks to understand the origins of a disease. Treatments are tailored individually, based on factors like genetics, environmental exposures, and lifestyle choices. This approach helps in not just alleviating symptoms but also in removing the root cause of the illness.

By understanding how various body systems communicate and affect each other at a functional level, practitioners can treat imbalances that may contribute to various diseases. This holistic approach ensures that all potential contributing factors, including diet, lifestyle, sleep quality, stress levels, toxicity, and genetic predisposition, are considered in treatment plans. This helps in achieving a state of optimal health and well-being, rather than merely removing or masking symptoms.

The Role of Functional Medicine in Menopause

Functional Medicine offers a distinctive approach to managing menopause by focusing on hormonal balance and creating personalized treatment plans tailored to your unique physiological needs. This method stands out by not just addressing the symptoms but by aiming to restore the body’s natural balance and overall health.

Hormonal Balance

In Functional Medicine, the goal is to achieve hormonal balance through a thorough understanding of your body’s current hormone levels and how they interact with your overall health. This is crucial during menopause, a period marked by significant fluctuations in hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. These fluctuations can lead to many of the symptoms traditionally associated with menopause, such as hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings.

By using advanced diagnostic tools (the DUTCH test – Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones is one of my favorites), Functional Medicine practitioners can pinpoint specific hormonal imbalances and address these through a combination of dietary adjustments, supplements, wise use of hormone therapy, and lifestyle changes. For instance, increasing intake of phytoestrogens found in foods like flax seeds and organic soy can naturally help modulate estrogen levels, potentially alleviating some menopausal symptoms. The use of carefully prescribed hormones is often appropriate and beneficial in patients, not only to manage symptoms now, but also to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, dementia, and heart disease as they age.

Personalized Treatment Plans

Functional Medicine shines in its capacity to develop personalized treatment plans based on detailed assessments of your medical history, lifestyle, and genetic predispositions. This personalized approach not only targets the symptoms but also addresses the root causes of menopause-related discomforts.

Your treatment plan might include carefully-dosed hormones including estradiol, estriol, progesterone, DHEA, and testosterone. It will likely also include specific nutritional guidelines to support hormone production and detoxification, herbal supplements to improve symptom management, and exercise recommendations to enhance your overall vitality and mental health. Additionally, stress-reduction techniques such as vagal nerve stimulation, using the BrainTap device, just spending time in nature more often might be suggested to help manage the psychological effects of menopause.

The integration of these personalized strategies aims to empower you with the tools to manage menopause effectively, enhancing your quality of life during this transition phase. By focusing on individual needs and the underlying factors contributing to menopausal symptoms, Functional Medicine provides a comprehensive, supportive, and health-enhancing approach to navigating menopause.

Diet and Nutrition

In managing menopause symptoms through Functional Medicine, it’s crucial to focus on dietary adjustments that support hormonal balance and overall health. Here, we discuss nutrient-dense foods and supplements that can be particularly beneficial during menopause.

Nutrient-Dense Foods

A balanced diet rich in various nutrients, fiber, and protein can help alleviate some menopausal symptoms and support overall wellness. Here are key dietary considerations:

  1. Protein: Adequate protein intake is essential for preserving muscle mass, which tends to decrease with age. Considering muscle mass is the number one indicator of healthy aging, we want to make sure we focus on this! Include a variety of clean protein sources, such as pasture-raised eggs, and organic/wild caught/grass-fed meats in your diet. Generally, unless you are very conscious of your protein intake, you’re eating too little protein. The goal for most people who are trying to maintain muscle mass is at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, so if you weigh 150 pounds (we can use ideal weight here), you should be aiming for 150 grams of protein per day.  
  2. Produce: be sure to get a colorful array of vegetables and fruits. This will increase the chances that you are getting an appropriate mix of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber so that processes that are happening inside your cells – like methylation, neurotransmitter function, hormone function, and metabolism – are all working as they should be. Without these things, many processed in our bodies slow down or stop, leading to a variety of symptoms including those associated with menopause.  
  3. Fiber: Foods high in fiber, such as non-starchy vegetables, and fruits, aid in digestion, prevent weight gain (and help with weight loss!) and can help manage blood sugar levels. I often add fiber (specifically inulin) to my coffee in the morning to make sure I get more than the recommended 25 grams/day every day. Inulin is tasteless, odorless, textureless qualities make it undetectable.

Supplements to Consider

While a well-rounded diet is the best way to get necessary nutrients, some women may need supplements to meet their nutritional needs during menopause:

Methylated B Vitamins:

Methylation is a foundational cellular process that happens in all of our cells, all of the time. When methylation is impaired, there is really no end to the dysfunction that can happen. Hormone metabolism and function, neurotransmitter function, GI function, and more all need the proper mix of B vitamins and certain other nutrients to function. Methylated B vitamins are Bs that are already in their active form, ready for the body to absorb and use immediately without the need for conversions in the body before they are put to use. Examples of ingredients to look for would be folate (in the form of L-5-MTHF, but NOT folic acid), and methylcobalamin (NOT cyanocobalamin).  

Vitamin D3 and K2:

While I don’t recommend calcium supplementation anymore, vitamin D3 and calcium are still important for bone health. And let’s not forget about vitamin K2, which is an important cofactor involved in signaling calcium’s use for bone benefits and making sure calcium doesn’t get deposited on the coronary (heart) arteries.  Calcium from plant-based sources is more available for use in our bodies than dairy foods. My favorite plant-based calcium-rich foods are broccoli and almonds. Vitamin D, crucial for calcium absorption, can be sourced from sunlight exposure and fatty fish like wild-caught salmon, though in order to maintain optimal (not just “normal”) levels of Vitamin D, supplementation is typically necessary..


This mineral supports hundreds of enzyme reactions and is important for bone health, muscle and nerve function, and sleep regulation. It may also help manage stress and reduce menopausal symptoms like insomnia. My favorite, most general form of magnesium is “glycinate” which is best for general use including being great for sleep, stress, muscle tension, headaches, constipation, and blood glucose metabolism. 

Omega-3 and -6 Supplements:

If you’re not getting enough omega-3s and 6s from your diet, high-quality supplements can be a good alternative.

It’s crucial to discuss any supplement use with a knowledgeable healthcare provider to ensure they’re appropriate for your specific health needs and do not interact with other medications you may be taking. Testing periodically to ensure you’re getting the right nutrients is also essential to targeting your individual needs.

Hormones and Menopause Treatment

Why would our creator have made sex hormones that “drive” human life pro-carcinogenic? 

I really wish more women knew the truth about hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The misinterpretation of two large studies published in the early 2000s (Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), and the Nurses Health Study) did a huge disservice to menopause care for women. Even though the results and the erroneous interpretation (which vilified hormone therapy wrongly) have been retracted and proven wrong over and over, women are still being told by uniformed providers that there are too many risks of hormone therapy and they shouldn’t be on hormones.   

In healthy women, estrogen actually protects against breast cancer, and it protects women from dying if they do get breast cancer! 

Not only does appropriate hormone replacement therapy decrease risk of cancer, it also reduces the risk of developing heart disease, osteoporosis, and dementia. Plus, hormone therapy helps immediately with hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, sleep, anxiety, depression, heart palpitations, brain fog, muscle and joint pain,  weight gain, aging skin… I could go on. 

Not every woman is going to be an ideal candidate for HRT. However, many women who ARE appropriate candidates for HRT have been told that they are not. Their symptoms have been dismissed, they’ve been offered drugs that mask their symptoms (maybe) but don’t get at the root causes or prevent any diseases down the line like hormones would. It’s a massive tragedy the way perimenopausal and menopausal women are being mistreated and it’s time for a change. 

Lifestyle Changes for Menopause Relief

Adopting lifestyle changes can significantly improve your quality of life during menopause. This section explores effective strategies within exercise and physical activity, along with stress management and relaxation techniques, to help alleviate menopause symptoms.

Exercise and Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is crucial for managing menopause symptoms effectively. It not only maintains muscle mass and bone density but also enhances your overall mood and energy levels.

  1. Strength Training: Incorporate resistance exercises three times a week to improve muscle strength and bone density, not only reducing the risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia, but improving longevity. In fact, muscle mass is the number 1 indicator of healthy aging, so you want to be proactive in building it, because otherwise you will be losing it. 
  2. Yoga and Flexibility Exercises: Engage in yoga or Pilates to enhance flexibility, reduce stress, and improve mental well-being. Hatha Yoga, known for its slower pace, can be particularly beneficial in promoting relaxation and balance.
  3. Consistent Routine: Establish a regular exercise schedule to help stabilize mood swings and improve sleep patterns. Even simple activities like a daily walk can make a significant difference. An easy way to think about it is this; never go 4 days in a row without exercise. Not only will exercise continue to feel good to you, you’ll be in a godo routine that’s easy to continue. 

Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation Techniques

Menopause can often lead to increased stress and anxiety, making relaxation techniques a vital component of your lifestyle changes.

  1. Typical Stress-Reducing Techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and medication are wonderful. And you’ve read it before.They’re useful to some, but you’re reading this to learn new things, I’d imagine.
  2. Vagus Nerve Stimulation: whether you sing, gargle cold water, hum, deep breathe, or use a more sophisticated vagus nerve stimulator (the VeRelief and the TruVaga are two great options), vagus nerve stimulation has an important effect on just about every system in the body. This includes the sympathetic and parasympathetic arms of the autonomic nervous system, which are a major part of why women get hot flashes after menopause. Toning and strengthening your vagus nerve can help this!
  3. Engage Socially and in Community: being a part of a community, participating in activities you enjoy, with people you enjoy is a huge part of stress management. Just think about how you feel after coffee or a walk with a friend. Find your people and be with them. 
  4. Nature: there is energy in nature, There is energy inside our bodies. Connecting and balancing those energies by being outside, especially barefoot (in direct contact with the earth, sometimes called “earthing” or “grounding”) is highly healing and stress reducing. You can even buy grounding sheets for your bed which help to connect your body with the earth’s energy. 

By integrating these exercises and relaxation techniques into your daily routine, you can significantly alleviate menopause symptoms and enhance your overall well-being. Regular engagement in physical activity and mindful relaxation not only addresses the physical symptoms but also supports emotional health during this transitional phase.

Seeking Help from Functional Medicine Professionals

Finding a Practitioner

When you’re ready to explore Functional Medicine for menopause relief, finding the right practitioner is crucial. It’s important to find a licensed provider who is able to prescribe things like bioidentical hormones. This–along with lifestyle changes–is often the quickest and most effective path to symptom relief.

For people in west suburban Chicago, Nourish House Calls is an option for both in-person and virtual visits! Telemedicine through Nourish House Calls is available in Illinois, Florida, Arizona, Oregon, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Joya Van Der Laan, founder and lead practitioner at Nourish, is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner who has specialized in Functional Medicine for over a decade. She has a passion for helping women as they journey through perimenopause and menopause, and hundreds of women have thrived under her care.

Functional Medicine practitioners can also be located through online directories provided by organizations like the Institute for Functional Medicine. These directories allow you to find certified professionals who specialize in hormone imbalances and other menopause-related issues.

What to Expect

Your journey with a Functional Medicine practitioner begins with a comprehensive evaluation, which often starts with a detailed discussion of your medical history and symptoms. This initial consultation usually lasts 60-90 minutes, and is designed to establish a baseline of your health and understand the root causes of your symptoms, order testing, and get you on the right path with some lifestyle changes.

During this time, you might discuss various aspects of your lifestyle, from diet to exercise, and any previous treatments you’ve undergone. Functional Medicine is thorough in its approach, often incorporating advanced diagnostic tools like hormone analysis and nutritional evaluation, and even GI function through blood, urine, stool, and salivary testing. These tests help in crafting a personalized treatment plan that addresses your specific needs.

Expect to engage in an ongoing dialogue with your practitioner. Functional Medicine views health as a dynamic interplay of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors, so your treatment plan will evolve as your health improves or as new challenges arise. This collaborative relationship ensures that your care is tailored to your evolving health landscape, providing a pathway to not just manage symptoms but to thrive during menopause.


Throughout the exploration of menopause relief through Functional Medicine, we’ve uncovered the importance of an integrative patient-centered approach that prioritizes personalized care and considers the entire spectrum of an individual’s health. Emphasizing dietary adjustments, lifestyle modifications, and the power of individualized hormone therapy, this perspective caters to not just alleviating the physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms of menopause, but also prevents diseases and promotes longevity. The unique advantage of Functional Medicine lies in its commitment to understanding the root causes of symptoms, offering a path to not only manage menopause more effectively but also to improve overall quality of life during this transition.

The significance of seeking support from Functional Medicine providers cannot be overstressed, as they bring a comprehensive and tailored approach to health care. By integrating conventional medical practices with alternative strategies, and focusing on the interplay between genetics, environment, and lifestyle, Functional Medicine presents a promising avenue for those navigating the complexities of menopause. The journey towards achieving hormonal balance and enhanced well-being during menopause reveals a promising horizon for individuals looking for a more personalized and holistic path to health.


  1. Can Functional Medicine assist in managing menopause symptoms? Functional Medicine offers a comprehensive approach to managing menopause by emphasizing dietary adjustments, prescribing bioidentical hormones, and using targeted supplementation to achieve hormone balance.
  2. What is the expected timeframe for menopause treatments to show results? The effectiveness of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can be noticeable in just a few days for some individuals. However, it might take up to two weeks or more to experience the full benefits of the treatment.
  3. How long does the body take to adjust to menopause? The transition into menopause, known as perimenopause, often starts between the ages of 40 and 55 and can last approximately seven years, though in some cases it extends up to 14 years. This period is characterized by changes in menstrual cycles, occurrences of hot flashes, and other symptoms.
  4. Is undergoing menopause without Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) advisable? Recent reanalyses of trials have highlighted the benefits of HRT, which include a reduction in heart attacks, decreased fractures, lesser cognitive decline, and lower mortality rates, especially in women who are in the early stages of postmenopause.

Nourish House Calls provides Functional Medicine services to patients in Illinois, Florida, Arizona, Oregon, New Hampshire, and Vermont. In-person house calls are available in Hinsdale, Clarendon Hills, Westmont, Downers Grove, Oak Brook, Oakbrook Terrace, La Grange, Western Springs, Burr Ridge, and surrounding areas. Telemedicine is available both inside and outside of Illinois, including Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Portland.

If you would like to learn more about how Nourish House Calls can help resolve the root causes of your menopause symptoms, click here to schedule a free, 15-minute discovery call.

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