The menopause is when the body moves from having periods regularly to them stopping altogether. Whilst it is a totally natural phenomenon it doesn’t mean that it can’t be really tricky to navigate. The most typical symptoms include hot flushes, poor sleep, anxiety, low mood, headaches, dryness, poor memory & concentration and irregular or heavy periods.
Herbs have been used by women for centuries to ease them through the menopause by helping to control the symptoms while the body gets used to the altered hormone status- the new normal. Working with your body (and mind) to help it to adapt to its new hormone profile is a really positive approach to take.
If you’re looking for a natural, HRT free approach to the menopause then I believe the plant world has a huge amount to offer.
The Menopause & Perimenopause
You’re technically in the menopause if you haven’t had a period for 12 months. The phase before this is known as the perimenopause which for many women is when symptoms start. Before your periods stop, hormone levels fluctuate while your body attempts to stimulate ovulation. As a result, periods may become irregular and vary from heavy to light, PMS may appear or worsen and other common menopausal symptoms can begin.
Bespoke medicines to smooth the menopausal transition.
How can herbs help? Firstly, everyone is different so there is no set combination of herbs that is right for everyone. The art and science of a Herbalist is their ability to look at each person as an individual and work out which herbs will best support them.
Typically, we chose from:
Herbs with hormone-regulating properties: These typically are used with the aim of controlling hormone fluctuations during the perimenopause and to gently bring about a mild oestrogenic effect after the menopause when oestrogen levels are low. In this way, many women find that herbs help their bodies adapt to hormone changes. Herbs with different hormone regulating properties are used at different phases of the menopause and according to the pattern of symptoms each individual presents with. Typically, these herbs help with many of the menopausal symptoms, although I find that they work best in combination with herbs with other actions such as those below.
Adrenal adaptogens: Stress and sleep disturbance often make flushes, low mood, poor energy and anxiety worse. Women in this situation often describe themselves as ‘running on adrenaline’ and being unable to switch off. This is considered by Herbalists to be an inappropriate adrenal response due to a ‘locked-on’ stress response and adaptogenic herbs are prescribed to counter act this and minimise the effects of stress on the body.
Anti-hydrotic herbs: These are herbs that are used to help reduce the sweating associated with some hot flushes both during the day and at night.
Nerve tonics & anxiolytics (anti-anxiety): Where anxiety and mood changes are involved herbs from this category are chosen alongside the adaptogens to calm anxiety and improve mood. This group of herbs can also be used for sleep disturbance, both in the main medicine to prepare ahead for a good night’s sleep, and where necessary in a bespoke sleep mix taken at bedtime to encourage a better quality of sleep and to reduce night flushes and episodes of waking.
Liver support: Traditionally herbs to support the function of the liver have been included in prescriptions for many conditions as the liver is a major organ in our metabolism and excretion pathways. During the menopause it’s no different and they are often used to support the metabolism of hormones and help optimise digestive health.
Others: During a detailed consultation, all aspects of health are discussed and appropriate herbs included in the medicine for example, cardiovascular support, immune support, skin herbs, addressing recurrent UTI’s etc. If there is something specific that is bothering you alongside your menopausal symptoms, we can incorporate herbs for this as appropriate.
Diet, lifestyle and supplement advice is always given as part of a detailed treatment plan in order to work holistically and because good nutrition, exercise and stress management are the cornerstones of good health. I have put some self-help tips below to get you started:
Studies have shown that regular exercise is associated with fewer menopausal symptoms. Both aerobic exercise and low intensity exercise, such a yoga, were associated with improved quality of life, better sleep and fewer flushes, and regular exercise has also been shown to reduce the chances of depression.
A daily half a cup of soy nuts eaten throughout the day showed a significant reduction in hot flushes in a randomised cross-over study.
100g of tofu and 1 tablespoon of linseeds added to the diet everyday could reduce mild flushes and vaginal dryness suggested another study.
Coffee, excessively spicy foods and alcohol seem to aggravate flushes and should be minimised. Drinking or eating foods that are hot can also trigger a flush.
Light, loose fitting clothing made from natural fibres such as cotton are less likely to aggravate sweating.
A folded sheet or towel can be slept upon to be removed in the night once it becomes wet rather than changing the sheet (if this is happening, you really do need some herbs!)
Controlling your stress levels will reduce added pressure on your adrenals and can help to improve sleep, well-being, concentration, mood, reduce anxiety etc.
If you are struggling with menopausal symptoms call for a free confidential discussion about how herbal medicine could help you on 07736829755 or email me. I have helped many women through the menopause and would be delighted to help