Menopause & Menopause Transition
The menopause describes the change in a woman’s life and fertility after she has had no periods for 12 consecutive months. But arriving at this stage of life has been a process of several years of adjustment prior to the cessation of periods. This important phase is known as the peri-menopause or menopause transition. These years are often the most difficult for women. Changes usually start sometime in the forties. But surgery such as hysterectomy or cancer treatments may cause a woman to plunge abruptly into the menopause without the gradual changes experienced by the majority. Generally a woman will reach her menopause by the age of 50-51 and while some women have a wonderfully easy transition, for others it is a desperate time of debilitating mental, emotional and physical change. Managing this time using herbs and natural healing can offer a genuine alternative for women who do not choose or cannot use synthetic hormones. Because post-menopausal women lose the protective benefits of oestrogen there is also an increased risk of developing heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis. It makes sense to become proactive and prevent these conditions from developing. Read our advice on these conditions to gain further insight.
The ovaries have produced oestrogen and progesterone since puberty but now the regular supply is diminishing, often in an erratic manner. Receptor sites in the body's cells that are accustomed to “docking on” to a molecule of female hormones are now left empty. There are some concerns that environmental chemicals (such as those found in some plastics) have an oestrogen-mimicking effect. They may have the ability to lock on to the oestrogen receptor sites and start to wreak damage. This may increase the risk of some cancers such as breast cancer. In herbal medicine we use herbs that have a similar ability to lock on to the empty receptor sites and block them from more predatory chemicals that want to lock on. It is important to realise that during the menopause transition the ovaries shrink but it still possible to conceive. The adrenal glands will produce small amounts of hormones after menopause. Natural healing places great emphasis on adrenal support in order that this hormone function is maximised. Manage depression early in your change and be aware that your need for extra light may increase to prevent seasonal depression (SAD). Support your liver which is responsible for deactivating hormones that are wildly fluctuating.
Symptoms experienced during the menopause transition vary enormously but the most troubling ones include the following.
- Irregular cycle which can lead to a late unplanned pregnancy, flooding and breakthrough bleeding.
- Hot sweats and flushes (also known as hot flashes), often affecting mainly the head and upper body.
- Night sweats - these are severe hot flushes, which can leave a woman drenched in sweat.
- Sleep disruption, often severe.
- Short term memory changes.
- Bladder weakness.
- Vaginal dryness leading to painful sexual intercourse.
- Low libido or complete lack of sex drive or lowered capacity for arousal.
- Thinning skin and hair.
- Mood changes that can lead to an increased risk of depression.
- Energy swings resembling low blood sugar.
Foods & herbs for the home
- Stress and lowered adrenal function can cause symptoms that feel similar to drops in blood sugar level. Of course do get this checked because late onset diabetes is possible, but support the adrenals as well. Low energy can be supported by EnergiRevive Powder, especially if you have cut out caffeine and miss the artificial push it gives the adrenal glands; ask us for a sample.
- Caffeine produces a kick against the adrenals so become aware of your caffeine intake – especially that hidden in energy drinks. Limit your intake to1-2 caffeine-containing drinks a day (if you find it too difficult to eliminate altogether). If poor sleep is an issue take no caffeine after 1pm.
- Soy products have a mixed role to play in symptom management. Soy supplements and creams have been shown to help some groups of women but not others. We prefer to emphasis the benefits of whole organic natural foods that also support the work of the liver. Try fruit smoothies combined with organic soy yoghurt or organic soy milk blended with fruits of your choice and perhaps some almonds.
- Organic tofu or tempeh twice a week may be helpful; add to a stir fry.
- Cravings for chocolate can be satisfied by eating organic 80 percent chocolate which can boost your much-needed "happy hormones" and give a vital mental boost and comfort.
- Some herbs appear to be helpful in relieving hot flushes for some women and you should work with a skilled herbal practitioner to explore this route. Look for a herbalist in your area via the website of The Association of Master Herbalists.
- Vitamin B6, calcium and vitamin D are also able to relieve some symptoms in women. These can be found in Superfood Plus. This rich tonic food can help to stabilise blood sugars and is the ideal in-between-meals snack.
- Sprinkle some wild crafted Milk Thistle Seeds on your cereals, soups and salads and gently support the liver.
- Ask us for a sample of PolluTox Capsules for additional liver support. Lemon & Artichoke Concentrate is another delicious way to support the liver with food.
- Almost all herb teas can help the transition from energy-draining caffeine drinks to something less taxing. Look at our entire range and consider Hibiscus Herbal Tea for smoothing out blood sugar fluctuations. To assist relaxation and sleep take Evening Peace Herbal Tea in the evening.
- Take omega 3 6 & 9 capsules, e.g. hemp or flax seed as these can offer general hormone support.
- Work with a herbalist and develop a protocol that can minimise diminished libido; there are useful herbs that can be individually prescribed.
- To avoid loss of bladder tone, be proactive in the early stages and incorporate pelvic floor exercise; your GP will be able to help you and a herbalist can also support this. Too much caffeine can be a bladder irritant and may decrease bladder tone – another reason to avoid it.
- As natural healers we know that the mind, body, emotions and soul energies are deeply and intuitively connected in complex ways that scientists are now exploring, with fascinating results. Methods of deep relaxation such as mindfulness, breathing techniques and meditation have measurable positive benefits for managing life changes such as the menopause.
- Exercise is one really useful habit to develop. It helps with the management of depression and sleeplessness and is a great preventative against the diseases of ageing, including osteoporosis.
- Learning to set aside time for you in a hectic world is very important. Learn now to fill your own cup first. Relax and plan ahead for your post-menopausal life so that it can become the most rewarding, free and exciting period of your life.
- Pamper time in the bath may be all that you can manage some days, so make those times special and use feminine and relaxing essential oils such as Petitgrain and Lavender. Clary sage essential oil is particularly uplifting for lowered mood.
- Develop your own sleep protocol and do not permit insomnia to become a habit.
Additional help is available by phoning the free product advice line at Herbs Hands Healing between the hours of 9.00am to 1.00pm. Tel: 01379 608201.
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