What is Menopause? Strictly put, it is the time in a woman’s life where their natural menstrual cycles cease permanently and hormone levels once necessary for reproduction, gradually diminish. It is a normal physiological process that can occur typically between the ages of 45 – 55, the average age being 51. In order to be diagnosed, cycles have to have ceased for over a 12 month period. The symptoms of menopause and post-menopause however, can last well over 10 years after a woman’s last menstrual period. And it is these symptoms that usually bring people to seek medical solutions to either temper or eliminate them completely.
One of the conventional approaches to managing common menopausal signs and symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, memory loss, weight gain, sleep disturbances, and low libido is prescription hormone or bioidentical hormone therapy. Natural treatments for menopause work in a completely different manner than prescription drugs. Here are a few non-pharmaceutical options to deal with the stresses of menopause:
Herbal Medicine: A handful of herbs typically used for menopausal prescriptions are phytoestrogenic, – that is, substances that mimic estrogens. These herbs contain isoflavones – isoflavones being weak estrogen-like compounds that respond to the body’s hormonal needs. Botanical phytoestrogens include herbs such as Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), Wild Yam, Ashwaghanda,, Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), and Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis). Black Cohosh in particular is considered a menopause tonic for a number of reasons. It can improve mood and soothe anxiety. Also, herbal medical practitioners recommend it for taming hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. It’s commonly prescribed for women who – for medical reasons – don’t take conventional hormone replacement therapy. Tinctures, capsules and standardized extract are available for medicinal use. The specific dose of any herb for that matter will depend on your individual needs and health concerns. Always check with your Naturopathic Physician before using any herbal remedy however, as many may interfere with medications and other supplements.
Nutrition: In addition to hormonal changes that are occurring in the body as we age, there are certainly additional conditions that are important to be aware of that can come on the heels of menopause – Type II Diabetes, Cardiovascular disease and rising cholesterol, and Osteoporosis to name a few. Improving dietary choices is crucial to managing menopausal symptoms as some foods enhance inflammation. What you eat and drink, makes an impact on your menopausal journey. Herbal teas can provide a cooling effect especially in the case of hot flashes, whereas consuming foods such coffee, chocolate, hot and spicy foods can be aggravating and overstimulating. Flax seed, cruciferous vegetables, eating good healthy fats and protein can assist in metabolizing excess estrogens. Supportive nutrients such Magnesium, Vitamin B6, C, E, and Tyrosine can also support energy function and adrenal glands which are often equally under stress during the peri- and menopausal years.
Gemmotherapy: Plant Medicines which utilize only the extracts of fresh buds and young shoots from developing plants is actually an emerging medicine which is finding promise especially in the treatment of conditions such as menopause. I’ve often prescribed these wonderful phytotherapeutics such as Rubus ideaus, which can help women regulate hormone levels, temper menopausal symptoms, and age more gracefully.
Traditional Chinese Medicine: From the TCM perspective, menopause is seen as a natural decline in Kidney Essence or Jing and an imbalance of Yin and Yang – the cooling and heating mechanisms respectively. When Yin declines, as it does during this process, cooling ability decreases as well, leaving too much Yang or heat, hence symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia, anxiety, and mood instability. Treatments such as Acupuncture, and Chinese herbal medicines can assist the body to return to a balanced state by regulating and influencing hormones and neurotransmitters such as cortisol, dopamine, and serotonin, which have a profound effect on sleep, mood, and stress.
Stress Management: It is vital that one’s stressors be identified in order to be able to take appropriate steps to manage them effectively. Supporting patients in minimizing stress is paramount in my practice. Often, I will talk with my patients about tools to self-care such as yoga, meditation, forest bathing, deep breathing and even bodywork such as massage. Menopause is a time to essentially “pause”, put more attention on yourself and on top of the self-care list. In essence, this period of time in a woman’s life, can also become a focus of inner re-evaluation and deeper exploration of oneself.
To your Health,
Dr. Olena Gill is a Licensed Naturopathic Physician and Registered Acupuncturist (2003). She practices at Indigo Integrative Health/The Mind-Body Connection Centre in Parksville/Qualicum on Vancouver Island, and on Gabriola Island, BC.
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Disclaimer: No information given here or in any post or page on this site should be construed as medical evaluation and advice. Please see your Naturopathic Doctor for proper evaluation, diagnosis and treatment.