Menopause - A Herbal Approach

by Dee Atkinson, Medical Herbalist, MNIMH

The term ‘Menopause’ literally means ‘stopping menstruation’. The word is made up of the Greek meno (monthly) and pauses (to stop) and, officially, a woman is considered to be menopausal one year after the date of her last period. For the majority of women, the Menopause happens between the ages of 45 and 55 and is considered premature if it occurs before 40. However, weight can influence the age a woman experiences the menopause with thinner women often having an earlier menopause than those who are overweight as fat calls help keep oestrogen levels high. Symptoms of the Menopause can include everything from hot flushes, sweating, insomnia, irritability and lack of concentration to joint pain, headaches, palpitations, mood swings and depression.

The term Peri-Menopause is often used to describe the period leading up to Menopause and is characterised by changes in the menstrual cycle and hormone levels changing. These changes start slowly - around 2 to 3 years before ovulation stops - and whilst some women are completely unaware of this stage, others find their cycle becomes erratic and symptoms such as sweating, breast tenderness and mood swings can appear or worsen.

Almost without exception the conventional medical treatment of menopausal symptoms is Hormone Replacement therapy (HRT) and many symptoms, particularly hot flushes, can respond to this treatment. As much as 60-90% of women with hot flushes who are treated with HRT find their symptoms improve dramatically. There is no question that it is a useful remedy, however recently there have been concerns over the long term safety of HRT which has led many women to seek alternatives.

Many women who are unable to take HRT or do not want to go down this route visit their Medical Herbalist looking for support during the years of Menopause. Every woman is different and the symptoms vary widely so the best possible approach is to have a consultation with a herbal practitioner. This allows any medicine to be customised for the individual and to deal with their specific issues. It is also an ideal time to give the body an MOT and to look at diet, exercise and life style in general. Weight gain, for example, is a big issue and this can be managed with dietary advice and focused support.

Sage is one of the first remedies to try for Menopausal hot flushes and night sweats. It has a cooling, drying action and contains plant oestrogens which not only reduce sweats but also help the body adapt to the hormonal changes involved. Other helpful herbs to try include Black Cohosh, which helps with hormone balance, Clivers for cooling and lymphatic support and Red Clover, again for its hormone balancing properties.

Bone health is a big consideration at this time and a Calcium, Magnesium and Boron supplement can help to keep bones healthy. As hormone levels fall after the menopause, bones can become less dense and brittle so supplementing with these minerals is especially recommended for women experiencing an early or premature menopause although large doses of calcium on its own should be avoided. Vitamin E and Selenium are also useful supplements to take at this time in life as they work well together to regulate body temperature and play an important role in cardiovascular health and prevention of heart disease.

Lastly, Hemp, Starflower and fish oils provide the essential fatty acids Omega 3, 6 and 9 and can be used to combat the dry skin often experienced when oestrogen levels fall. Hemp oil is also beneficial for any inflammation so can help women who are still suffering painful periods or breast tenderness.

?Medical Herbalists consider the Menopause to be a natural transition in a woman’s life cycle as opposed to an illness which needs to be cured. Of course, many people do suffer from debilitating symptoms and it can be very difficult to feel good about what is happening to you but a herbal approach is a gentle and supportive way of managing this time of life and looking forward, positively, to the future.