Tired of hot flushes, mood changes and insomnia?
Natural medicine might just be the answer
We hope to increase your understanding of this normal process that all women will encounter. Read on to increase your knowledge of:
- Understanding the transition from peri-menopause to menopause
- Why some women experience symptoms relating to these hormonal changes
- How herbal medicine and nutritional supplements can help this transition
- lifestyle habits that contribute to hormonal health
Menopause is a time of great change for most women and understanding what is happening internally can be a great help to coping with this change after decades of monthly cycles and all that came with that.
THE FEMALE HORMONAL SYSTEM
Our female hormonal system is controlled by the interaction of various endocrine glands within our body:
- The hypothalamus and the pituitary gland that sits just below the hypothalamus reside in the central area of our brain.
- The ovaries which are part of the pelvic reproductive tract.
Other organs involved in our wellbeing during menopause
- The liver has the important job of breaking hormones down when they have served their purpose. These degraded hormones are excreted via the kidneys.
- The adrenal glands and thyroid also play significant roles in ensuring a smooth transition and health maintenance once hormone levels change.
A woman’s periods will continue until 45-55 years. Towards the end of a woman’s reproductive life, anytime from 35 years, periods can become quite irregular because there are not enough eggs left to produce an “ovulatory” cycle every month. This time is referred to as the peri-menopausal phase. By 50 years of age women rarely have any eggs left in their ovaries. After 12 months without periods a woman is in menopause.
The early onset of menopause can be influenced by:
- Body weight, under or overweight.
- Medical drugs and surgical interventions that create a dramatic stress on the body with or without the removal of ovaries.
- Prolonged stress itself can bring on menopause.
Like all the hormones in our body, reproductive hormones are manufactured from cholesterol and are called steroid hormones. They are produced by the endocrine system and are recycled, degraded and excreted. The main reproductive hormones involved are;
- There are 3 types of oestrogen, the most potent is oestradiol and is secreted by the ovaries during the menstruating years.
- At menopause when periods cease, a weaker form of oestrogen called oestrone is produced by the adrenal glands.
- Can also be converted from androgens found in our fat, muscle and skin.
- Oestrogen defines our sexual characteristics, influencing the menstrual cycle.
- Oestrogen is excreted via the liver so it is important that your liver function is in good health and if not herbal medicine can restore optimal function.
- A lack of oestrogen affects muscle mass and strength, bone density, cardiovascular health general feeling of wellbeing.
- Progesterone prepares our bodies for pregnancy.
- Inhibits androgens and opposes oestrogen
- Progesterone decreases in the peri-menopause phase and eventually ceases in menopause causing androgen levels to increase.
- Common symptoms associated with low progesterone include brain fog, mood changes, facial hair, increase in fat deposits around the abdomen
- Excreted via the liver
- Convert into testosterone then oestrogen
- Gradually decline with age and adrenal glands produce 50% of circulation levels
- Associated with loss of libido, fatigue & lack of well-being
WHAT WE CAN DO TO MANAGE THE TRANSITION
Education is the most important tool for managing this huge transition. The second most important part is a will to want to eat, drink, sleep and enjoy moderate amount of exercise to reduce stress on the body and mind.
Most women are aware that the decline in reproductive hormones results in the changes our bodies will undergo. Hot flushes, insomnia, night sweats, weight gain, mood changes, joint pain, and headaches are common. As time passes vaginal secretions and pelvic tone of the soft tissues diminish and may result in difficulties with intercourse and UTI’s. So being willing to make lifestyle adjustments may make an enormous difference to your experience and future wellbeing.
By ensuring the health of the following organs we can greatly reduce symptoms and risks that are associated with aging.
- Once ovulation ceases the primary source of androstenedione which converts to oestrone by the adrenal glands.
- The adrenal glands sit on top of our kidneys and are the stress monitors of the body. Unmanaged stress affects adrenal and thyroid function thereby affecting the reproductive hormones. Hot flushes can be exacerbated when stressed, over-worked or sleep deprived.
- Healthy thyroid function plays a significant role in our metabolism, weight and the general function of our body including energy, mood and hormonal balance.
- By taking your basal body temp each morning you can monitor thyroid health regularly. This is particularly useful if your blood tests have come back normal yet your physical signs of dryness, fatigue, coldness, weight gain and low mood suggest otherwise.
LIVER / KIDNEY FUNCTION
- The liver is important in the breakdown and clearance of hormones in the body given its involvement in several gynaecological conditions such as fibroids, uterine and breast cancers.
- Apart from detoxification, the liver stores of fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, D & K), and sugar in the form of glycogen. It also plays a role in heat and energy production from breakdown of carbs, fats and protein.
- Kidneys are a part of the detoxification of the body systems and influence water retention and our general health.
HERBAL MEDICINE FOR MENOPAUSE
- Vitex (berries) provide a unique approach to helping to balance pituitary hormone levels and cyclic hormone fluctuations. It can help moderate prolactin levels and mood disturbances. Clinical studies have shown that it normalises the second half of the cycle, reduces symptoms associated with PMS and PMDD, reduces breast tenderness, fluid retention, menopausal flushes and night sweats.
- Black cohosh is well trialled for treating menopausal symptoms and supporting declining estrogen levels. There is evidence from clinical trials to show that it benefits flushing, night sweats, headaches, insomnia and depression. It can help with bone density and vaginal dryness and is safe for use in women who have had breast cancer and may give added protection against disease recurrence. Black cohosh is also useful for joint and muscle inflammation.
Digestive system – Bitter herbs stimulate digestion by promoting gastric, liver and pancreas function.
Dandelion root aids the breakdown and excretion of hormones.
Nervous system – Nervine herbs improve the tone, vigour and function of the nervous system and can relax and energise as tonics.
Nervines help with night sweats, mood and insomnia E.g. Withania, St Johns Wort, Lavendar Hops
Endocrine system – Adaptogenic herbs assist with our response to stress: Physical, environmental, emotional or biological stressors. E.g. Withania, Siberian Ginseng, Rhodiola and Schisandra
NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS TO CONSIDER
Supplements are just that. They do not replace a highly nutritious vegetable based diet. The Mediterranean diet is about as good as it gets for most people.
- Essential fatty acids are fats must be consumed and are not manufactured in the body. The most important fats for maintaining healthy hormonal balance are Omega-3 and gamma linolenic acid (GLA).
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids, EPA/DHA, support healthy production of hormones and anti-inflammatory processes in the body.
- Sources of Omega-3 – are found in dark oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies. Always buy fish oil that is guaranteed to be tested for pesticides, heavy metals and rancidity. Few companies will test for rancidity so beware of those cheap oils, and where possible are a long way from the best buy date. Oil should taste light and leave a pleasant taste in your mouth.
- Omega 3 from plants include flax seed, hemp seed and walnuts. Always by fresh nuts, if they are rancid, they will be inflammatory! The recommended daily intake is 1000-3000mg.
- Evening Primrose oil – is a source of GLA which has been shown to be very useful in reducing PMS symptoms particularly tender swollen breasts.
- Vitamin B complex including Vit B6 100mg – helps to reduce nervousness, lack of concentration, fluid retention associated with tender swollen breasts and bloating. Boost energy levels.
- Magnesium – up to 300mg a day is helpful in reducing spasmodic dysmenorrhea or painful periods. Magnesium calms and relaxes the nervous system reducing stress and tension. It is useful for insomnia particularly where there is difficulty in getting back to sleep after waking. Magnesium also regulates blood sugar levels, helpful for preventing sugar cravings. Magnesium Citrate is a well absorbed form. E
- Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. 99% is incorporated in bones and teeth. Rapidly declining oestrogen levels after menopause exert a stronger effect on bone density that can be remedied by increased calcium intake. Dosage of 500mg of calcium citrate 1-2 times daily. Combined with magnesium, your body will feel more relaxed and every function in the body will work better.
- Vitamin D is important in calcium regulation and helpful for vaginal atrophy, enhancing mood, weight management and preventative for chronic disease. Dosage; 1000-5000 IU daily. If you don’t see much daylight – take a supplement.
Diet has a direct influence on menopausal symptoms
The more fat we carry the more we are prone to health issues therefore maintain the right body weight ratio for you!
- Plenty of fresh vegetables (with every meal) and 2-3 pieces of fruit.
- Have a big salad a day including organic fresh dark leafy greens with spicy herbs from your garden (Dandelion, rocket, mizuna, mesclun, spinach, nasturtium) with raw grated beetroot, carrot, sprouts, celery, avocado, cucumber, nuts and seeds
- Liver supportive foods include broccoli sprouts, cruciferous vegetables, turmeric, fresh beetroot, fresh ginger, barley grass, chlorella and lemon juice. Effective liver detoxification and digestive clearance of down-graded hormones help keep hormone levels balanced.
- Phyto-oestrogens in plants such as the legume family (soy, alfalfa, peas) possess a structural similarity to the oestrogen molecule, which allows them to bind to oestrogen receptors. Compared with the hormone oestradiol, phytoestrogens have a very weak effect on our bodies that do not result in the same stimulation of breast and uterine tissue affected by oestrogen. They are considered beneficial because they block the effect of stronger oestrogenic substances and in countries where they are consumed at high levels like Japan, they may be responsible for the much lower incidence of reproductive cancers. Research shows phyto-oestrogens have a positive effect on hot flushes and vaginal dryness. Try adding 100g of tofu and 1 tbsp of ground linseed to your diet each day to get some of these phyto-oestrogens.
- Rice bran or oat bran, slippery elm, psyllium, as well as fruit and vegetables, provide soluble and insoluble fibre, all helpful for effective elimination of toxins from the bowel. Lignans in legumes also provide protein, carbohydrate and fibre. Probiotics, the good bacteria also help digestion, immunity and detoxification.
Foods to Avoid
The following foods put stress on the endocrine glands, liver and digestive system, causing nutrient deficiencies, swings of blood sugar and imbalances of reproductive hormones. Reduce:
- Caffeine such as coffee and black tea, energy drinks, chemical food additives such as colourings, flavourings, preservatives. Use organic teas and coffee and dandelion root coffee.
- Saturated and hydrogenated fats found in margarine, takeaways, fatty meats, dairy. Instead cook with ghee and coconut oil as they have a high burning point.
- Refined carbohydrates such as sugar, white flour found in cakes, biscuits, sweets. Fill up on lovely colourful vegetables and smaller amounts of fruits.
- Excessive amounts of fermented foods and probiotics.
Xeno-oestrogens are foreign chemicals from the environment that behave like oestrogen in our bodies. Xeno-oestrogens include:
- Pesticides that get into the environment and food chain
- Plasticisers like bisphenol A which used in plastic production are present not only in the environment and food chain but also some of the containers used to store and sell the foods. Examples include plastics trays, wraps and drinking containers or all sorts.
- Pharmaceutical drugs given to livestock to increase their productivity and which we subsequently eat and acquire in our own tissues. Chicken is full of anti-biotic residues in NZ.
- Beauty products and toiletries for women, men and children that contain synthetic ingredients.
HERBAL and NUTRITIONAL MEDICINE CAN TREAT ACUTE SYMPTOMS DURING THE PERI-MENOPAUSAL AND MENOPAUSAL PHASE.
Herbs have been used around the world and now there is some good research on herbal medicine. Here are some of areas where herbal medicine helps women.
- Hot flushes – improve general health status, reduce stress, improve work-life balance and take action to get enough sleep. Various herbs are wonderful to reduce high cortisol levels that result from stress and physical symptoms.
- Mood – anxiety and depression – helpful herbs include St John’s Wort & Black Cohosh
- Insomnia – nervine herbs such as valerian, californian poppy, lavendar, hops, motherwort, zizyphus and many others can relax the nervous system and have an effect on anxiety.
- Metabolic changes – get blood tests to check for thyroid function, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Once you have some good information a good naturopath and herbalist can work with herbs and supplements to get you back in balance.
- Menorrhagia / Fibroids – diagnosis with a scan is essential to rule out carcinogenic changes .Treatment can include:
- Inhibiting excessive bleeding using specific herbal medicines.
- Supplementation with DIM and bioflavonoids.
- Get tested for iron and treat any iron deficiency.
- Reducing ‘relative oestrogen excess’ through improved liver function using herbal medicine and increasing helpful phyto-oestrogenic foods.
- Containment and reduction in the size of fibroids with specific herbal medicine or conventional treatments as required.
- Vaginal Dryness becomes quiet a problem and can make sexual intimacy difficult. Using Thyme Heals Phyto-oestrogen cream can keep the delicate vulval and vaginal tissue to remain healthy. Lubrication with a natural gel like Yes may be the difference between Yes or No to you partner. An open discussion is very important so that you are never compromising yourself when in comes to sex.
BODYWISE LIFESTYLE ADVICE
Find exercise you enjoy. Exercise can strengthen, rejuvenate and relax your body.
Here are the benefits of exercise:
- breathing deeply oxygenates the whole body and promoting brain health
- muscles are strengthened and stretched which maintains flexibility and balance
- encourages a healthy heart, blood pressure, blood vessels and skin tone
- improves immune function, digestion and elimination
- enhances endurance and energy levels and burn fat deposits
- enhances a wide range of mental processes
- reduces tension and anxiety
- improves outlook and self-esteem
- improves sexual function
Managing stress through living with intention:
- Plan ahead for the immediate and longer term.
- Discard habits that you know do not serve you. A counsellor or hypnotherapist can be of use here.
- Delegate jobs at home. Get your family on board to share the responsibilities at home.
- Sort out relationship issues. The stress will aggravate all your symptoms.
- Avoid procrastination, it’s a stress creator. Check out this link about making decisions
- Find some quiet time if you are the sort who cannot rest until everything is done.
- Prioritise time each day for recreation and relaxation such as meditation, deep breathing, tai chi, yoga, gardening, hobbies, family & friends. Even 15 minutes each day can be all yours if you prioritise the time
View menopause as a time for positive change, if you can and take action for a healthy life in the years ahead. In a nutshell:
- Enjoy lots and lots of lovely fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season, lean meats, fish and dairy products, nuts and seeds and you can have tasty and yummy food intermittently throughout the day
- Ensure you keep active to maintain muscle mass and stimulate your metabolism
- Use quality herbs and specific nutrients to assist optimum body function
- Mix in a good dose of humor, positive attitude, sleep and gratitude to ensure the optimum conditions for staying body wise and living to your full potential
If we can be of help please visit us and talk our herbalist and naturopath
These notes are based on the Bodywise seminar from 2014 presented by Herbalist Carole Fisher and Naturopath Marcia Montgomery.
Thanks to you both.
Individual References are available at Bodywise.
for more info go to https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5783135/