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Menopause

General characteristics

General characteristics

The word menopause literally means 'menstruation stops/pauses' and refers to the time of life when the fertile, childbearing years are gradually brought to an end. It is a perfectly natural part of any woman's life and in many traditional cultures, even today, it signals the beginning of the so called 'crone' or wise years. A time when a woman can be dedicated to putting her accumulated lifelong wisdom and caring into action within the community at large (if she wants to). The whole process can take place over many years, usually beginning in the forties with slight changes in the monthly cycle and culminating in the fifties with the cessation of periods. Many other changes beside menstrual irregularities will gradually take place within the body, mind and spirit, such as softening and thinning of the skin, changes in hair colour and texture, joint pains, headaches, changes in hormone levels (very high and very low), changes in sexual appetite (increase or decrease), as well as changes in weight, energy levels, mood, sleep patterns, body temperature, bone density and vaginal fluids.

The menopause can be sectioned into three phases, peri-menopause (when subtle changes first begin), the menopause itself (the usual symptoms of hot flushes, mood changes, erratic bleeding etc.) and post-menopause (when menstruation stops completely), though in reality the stages very often overlap and seldom follow a defined timetable.

The menopause occurs in response to changes in hormonal levels and cycles within the body. In the peri-menopause, oestrogen and progesterone levels can be erratic, leading to irregular periods with heavier or lighter flow. During the menopause itself, oestrogen and progesterone levels begin to decline consistently, egg supply dwindles and periods become fewer. The post menopause is described as being the period when menstruation has been absent for 12 consecutive months and levels of reproductive hormones such as oestrogen fall significantly and stay generally low. Menopause can also be brought on through surgical removal of the ovaries, ovarian damage from chemotherapy and radiotherapy in the pelvic region (not always permanent) and some autoimmune disorders.

 

Below is a chart taken from Susun Weeds excellent book 'New menopausal Years:The Wise Woman way'. FSH is Follicle Stimulating Hormone and LH is Luteinizing Hormone. As you can see, all hormone levels are erratic during pre/peri-menopause and don't settle until well after the last period, when menopause is achieved.

 menopause4

 

 Oestrogens (there are several different types) have many jobs within the body besides creating our female sexual characteristics - they help maintain strong supple bones and joints, promote good moods and positive emotions, maintain skin elasticty and health, maintain good memory, keep the heart and blood vessels healthy, keepscholesterol in check and much more. Remember that hormone fluctuations during the menopause journey are normal and desirable. We might reel in horror at the withdrawal of such an important and useful group of hormones but fortunately phytoestrogenic foods and herbs can be used to balance excessive fluctuations, not only helping us to manage symptoms as they decline but also providing healrh promoting external sources of oestrogens when we need them most.

Healing objectives are to maintain good all-round health through good diet, herbal nutritional support and exercise and to ease any unpleasant symptoms with herbal remedies and natural healing techniques. Fluctuating hormone levels should ideally be gently encouraged into balance and not forced one way or the other. Menopause is a natural process and can be a fiercely positive change if we refuse to medicalise it and see it instead as a journey into deep wisdom and maturity.

 

Websites detailing menopausal facts and remedial actions as well as many aspects of female health written by expert herbalist and natural healer Susan Weed can be found here:

http://www.susunweed.com/Article_Menopausal_Years.htm

http://www.menopause-metamorphosis.com/

See also individual entries such as hot flushes, fatigue, insomnia etc for more specific advise and remedies.


Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

Throughout the entire period of peri through to post menopause, keep you intake of plant based minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium and iron high by eating wholefoods and avoiding processed and refined foods wherever possible. Menopause takes a big toll on mineral and vitamin reserves so eat good quality foods all day every day.

Avoid too much animal protein and opt for more plant protein to obtain plenty of both soluable and insoluable plant fibre.

Phytoestrogens are substances present in plants that can be utilised in the body to counteract the activities of other hormones, often reducing the symptoms of erratic hormone levels experienced in the menopause. Taken at normal levels as food they help to smooth the transition through the natural hormonal fluctuations and bodily changes. There are many sources of phytoestrogens in the plant world including foods such as beans/legumes, whole grains, flax seed and seeds generally, nuts, green leaves, fruits and berries such as pomegranate (whole including the seeds, not juice) and blackcurrants, root vegetables like carrots and turnips and also in the culinary seeds such as aniseed, coriander seed, cumin seed, caraway seed, poppy seed and fennel seeds. Eat foods containing phytoestrogens daily and use the medicinal herbs more sparingly according to your individual needs.

Soya beans definitely contain large amounts of phyto-oestrogens but many now believe that their fermented products (tempeh, miso, tamari) are best for these purposes and that tofu should be used in moderation whilst all other forms of soy such as powders, milks and extractions should be avoided, at least used sparingly.

Avoid fizzy/carbonated drinks, even fizzy water to some extent as the high levels of phosphates present in them causes minerals to be stripped from the bones.

Dried fruits such as dates, figs, apricots, raisins and prunes contain high levels of calcium, iron and other minerals so use as jam on crackers or as a snack.

Eat foods rich in essential fatty acids (EFA's) such as olives and olive oil, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, evening primrose oil, walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts, pecans, whole grains and oily fish if from a good source (such as wild river caught salmon or trout). EFA's help to regulate hormone balance and can ease some symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes and help keep the heart strong and healthy.

Eat a tablespoon of mixed sprouted seeds and/or beans daily for the phto-oestrogens, fibre, nutrients and energy boost they provide.

Foods rich in bioflavanoids such as berries, coloured vegetables and fruits and citrus peels have a hormone like effect which, if eaten regularly can give a good boost to post menopausal women and help prevent osteoporosis, wrinkles, heart disease, failing eyesight and many other conditions associated with ageing.

Add edible seaweeds to soups for their exceptionally high mineral, phytoestrogens and nutrient content, or a pinch to herbal teas.

Foods containing calcium will help to keep bone density high. Good sources include sesame seeds and tahini spread, carrots and fresh carrot juice, all edible green leaves, beans and legumes, broccoli, sweet potato, yams and squashes, organic dairy and animal protein (especially live full fat yoghurt), barley and other whole grains.

Fermented foods generally will help to enhance healthy bowel bacteria which in turn ensures full excretion of used hormones. Cider vinegar is a good all rounder for perking up digestion and encouraging healthy bowel bacterial populations. Kefir and unsweetened live yoghurt are execllent also.

Blackstrap molasses contains a wealth of nutrients including iron and calcium.

Stop smoking as it is linked to earlier menopause and more severe hot flushes.

Minimise alcohol intake to reduce the burden on the liver. Beer and wine conatin some phytoestrogens however!

Drink plenty of water and fluids such as herb teas to stay well hydrated, especailly important in phases of hot flushes and sweating episodes.

Avoid sugar, and limit stimulants like tea and coffee as they can act as adrenal triggers and lead to greater distress and an increase in unpleasant symptoms such as hot flushes.


Useful herbs

Useful herbs

You could try at least 1 cup daily (preferably 2) of my favourite every day tonic tea consisting of nettle, oatstraw and red raspberry leaf. Use equal parts and use a tablespoon per cup, standing for at least 10 minutes to get maximum strength and nutrient content in your tea. The mix contains calcium, iron and many other helpful nutrients to help maintain bone density, calm and soothe the nerves and emotions, ease joint pains and keep the entire reproductive area in good health from peri-menopause through to old age. Lady's mantle and red clover help to balance hormones and normalise menstruation too.
You could consider adding an equal amount of red clover flowers to the above mix to drink every few days to help prevent osteoporosis and promote strong healthy bones, prevent heart problems and keep the blood circulating freely, for joint disorders and aches and pains, to soothe the nerves and help with sleeping and of course provide plenty pf phytoestrogens.
Agnus castus tincture can help to balance hormone levels, reduce many symptoms of fluctuating hormones and ease the passage through the earlier stages of the menopause. Take 1 teaspoon (5ml) of tincture daily in a little water or added to a herb tea. Take for at least 3 months for noticeable benefits.
Crampbark can help with both painful cramping and flooding. Take 10-20 drops of tincture as and when needed.
 
Support the adrenal glands with Siberian ginseng (Eleuthrococcus) tincture. Well nourished adrenal glands will also help with hormone balance and reduce incidences of hot flushing. Nettle leaf and nettle seeds are also excellent for the adrenals.
 
Dandelion root and milk thistle seeds will help keep the liver cleansed and support it in its job of recycling and breaking down excess circulating hormones. These liver herbs can also help reduce hot flushes. Sage and oatstraw are also useful to the liver.
Phytoestrogenic herbs are remarkable in their ability to bring balance to the hormonal system. They contain a variety of substances (lignans, isoflavones such as  diosgenin & genistein, coumestans etc) which the body can use effectively to occupy the bodys hormone receptor sites and act as both pro or anti-oestrogens, depending on the hormonal profile of the individual.  Such herbs include fenugreek seeds, black cohosh, red clover, hops, dried citrus peel, green tea, nettle, alfalfa, dong quai, agnus castus, wild yam, sage, fennel seeds, blackcurrant buds, liquorice, rose petals buds and hips, saw palmetto, maca root (no phytoestrogens in maca but has similar effect on hormone balancing), shatavari and sarsaparilla root. Phytoestrogenic foods and herbs can be consumed at any stage of life but are particularly useful once menopause is achieved, they prop up falling oestrogen levels and help to control unwanted side effects such as loss of bone density, joint pains, bladder weakness, vaginal dryness etc.
 
Schisandra berries work to help keep hormones (adrenals, thyroid, pituitary) in balance and alleviate many symptoms such as hot flushes, tension, stress, insomnia etc.
 
Lemon balm tea can ease stress, tension, anxiety and depression. It is also cooling and aids sleep.
 
Motherwort is also excellent for calming anxiety and tension, easing palpitations and supporting the heart. Take a teaspoon of motherwort tincture when feeling anxious or tense or before bed to help sleep.
Skullcap makes an excellent addition to formulas aimed at feeding and soothing frayed nerves from stress and anxiety. It can also help to lessen hot flushes and sweating.
Damiana contains hormone precursors and can act as a hormone balancer, capable of reducing hot flushes and alleviating vaginal dryness and atrophy.
 
Tincture or tea of equal parts shepherds purse, yarrow and lady's mantle is excellent symptomatic relief from excessive, flooding blood flow. Take 5 ml several times daily during the worst flooding. Drink raspberry leaf tea also for its astringency and drying powder.

Natural healing

Natural healing

Eat organic foods wherever possible to avoid pesticides and other chemicals which can further disrupt hormone balance.

Avoid xeno-oestrogens in all forms where possible as they can act as aggressive oestrogens, worsen some symptoms and further aggrevate hormonal imbalance.

Daily exercise such as walking, swimming, gardening, dancing, yoga etc will help to keep bones strong, relieve stress and release happy hormones.

Maintain a little extra body fat, but not too much - oestrogens are stored in fat and a little extra fat is associated with better bone strength. Being underweight can seriously compromise bone density.

Wherever possible, maintain a positive state of mind. Positive emotions have positive effects on all aspects of health, even hormones.

 
 
 

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