Menopause

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Finding a good herbalist

Menopause is a change, not a disease, and there are a number of ways to help navigate that change a lot more easily. Each woman has distinct differences but there is also a lot of common ground and it is particularly the herbs that have been seen to consistently help the most that are shared here.

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

Hormone Replacement Therapy

Hormone replacement therapy, HRT is undergoing a resurgence in popularity and there are many vocal advocates for it being safe to use for short periods in low doses.

There is a place for everything but a report that highlights the issues is linked here.

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The adrenal take-over

Women need oestrogen and progesterone throughout their lives so, rather remarkably, once the ovaries eventually shut down, the adrenal glands take over and continue to produce these essential hormones from that time on
.

The speed and ease of the changeover process, from the ovaries to the adrenals, has an enormous influence over how long and hard is the menopause.

As people know, our adrenal glands are pivotally involved in our responses to stress. For many women, it is an accumulation of adrenal strain and fatigue that can see a kind of stuck 'holding pattern' in the perimenopause.

Stress, and our responses to it, is a big subject in itself, but before anything else, there are two herbs that are of paramount value to supporting the adrenals take up their new role, they are Withania somnifera and Panax ginseng.

Withania

Withania is one of the most important herbs for navigating the change of the menopause because it

a) nourishes the adrenal glands
b) supports thyroid health
c) helps a person to relax and unwind without making them feel tired or sedated

Withania is one of the most important tonics in the ancient system of Ayurvedic medicine, read more about it here

Panax ginseng

Whilst just about anyone can take Withania, Panax ginseng does not suit everyone. The subject of different constitutions is introduced further at the end but if you are already a 'hotter' person who easily over-heated in the past, then this may not be the right remedy for you however, if you have always been a 'cooler' constitution then it may be one of the best of all herbs to help navigate the change, more here.


Panax ginseng

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Thyroid health

Along with the adrenals, the health status of the thyroid gland can strongly influence the ease or difficulty of the menopause. This area is widely underestimated because an underactive thyroid is so frequently missed in routine blood tests where a TSH level that should ideally be below 2 are ignored if they are above 4 or even 5.

It may be wise to do a few basal body temperature tests at home, even if just to rule the thyroid out as an issue. This process is described, along with what to do if it actually is a problem, here.

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Herbs for Menopause

Once we have some support in place for the adrenal glands, and possibly the thyroid, we can think about using one or more of the herbs that have historically helped many women through the change.

Sage

If the woman is being plagued by hot flushes and excess sweating then one of the first, and sometimes best remedies to try, is Sage. The following excerpt is copied from the page on Sage.

Sage can be a stand-out remedy for excessive sweating; from any cause, but be prepared to take it strong for it to really work! For a strong medicinal tea of Sage take up to 2 heaped tablespoons (dried or fresh are equally good) and place in a saucepan with about a litre of water. Bring to the boil then lower the heat right down and just simmer for a good 10 minutes. Then take off the heat and leave for another 15 minutes. Strain the tea and either drink when sufficiently cooled or refrigerate.

For some people with excess sweating this tea will be fine to drink at room temperature but for others it will be even better if it is chilled right down by being placed in the fridge. For some people a small and regular dose through the day will clearly work much better and for others it will make no difference to their results to have just one or two larger doses. Be guided by your own body and what makes you respond the best. It is okay to add some honey or maple syrup to taste.

Note that the above recipe is a way to make Sage about as strong as it gets. If this is more Sage than you need to get a good result then either simply decrease the amount you drink or decrease the amount of the starting materials.

In practice, Sage in often given in tincture form where we can easily adjust the dose up or down as needed. Some people respond to quite small doses e.g. just 2 or 3 mls in a day, whereas others might need 3 or 4 times that much to see an obvious reduction in their excess sweating. More is not at all always better. The right dose is the one that works, not less, but not more too. You must be prepared to experiment, both going up and down, to see what works best for you personally, more about Sage here.


Salvia officinalis (Sage)

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Skullcap

If one of the main challenges with the change are nervous system symptoms, such as irritability, insomnia or anxiety, then one of the best remedies for this time of life is the gentle but potent Skullcap.

It must be taken in sufficient doses to get the true action of the remedy but when taken correctly the effect on an agitated nervous system can be rapid and profound, more here.


Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap)

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Black Cohosh

Black Cohosh is a well-known 'menopause herb', especially popularised in the drug Remifemin.
Black Cohosh is a potent remedy that, for many women, will greatly help ease the symptoms of the change, however it will not suit everyone. Even when it does, it may be necessary to take a break from it after 3 months or so, or it may start to lose its beneficial effects, more here.


Cimicifuga racemosa (Black Cohosh)

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Wild Yam

Wild Yam has also been popularised for menopause, and it certainly may have a beneficial action when used internally, however there is zero scientific support for it having any effects on hormones when used externally within a cream.

Reasonably significant doses may be required to provide sufficient amounts of the hormonal precursors that are within the plant, smaller doses may be all that is needed to release a lot of physical tension in the body, something that Wild Yam is particularly good at helping with, more here.


Dioscorea villosa (Wild Yam)

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Chaste tree

Potentially, one of the best of all herbs for helping with the change is the enigmatic Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus). Vitex has been popularised as a herb for premenstrual syndrome but can be very much more than that. Whether it is the right herbal ally may require an open mind and a willingness to try and see, but one thing that can virtually be guaranteed is that it will have some effects! More here.


Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste tree)

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Freedom from the 'Wheel'

Menopause, tends to be somewhat dreaded in our Western culture, whereas it is celebrated in all the old cultures as a kind of graduation from the school of life. The woman who has survived to this age is understood to have now liberated from the ever-turning wheel of her cycle and is free to become a 'wise-woman' a village elder, a matriarch. Compare this attitude to our Western worship of youth and aversion to age and you will immediately see a large part of the reason why women in traditional cultures do not associate the menopause with suffering as we do in our modern world.

We often talk as if we like change but when people aren't well they would rather that change just left them alone! However, there may not be a choice about this when it comes to the menopause, it is not just a physical change that is happening but a profoundly internal one as well, and there may be no getting around the fact that if you resist a necessary change then it tends to persist all the more!

If you are struggling with the internal change that can and should happen with the menopause, then hopefully you already have or can find a trusted person to talk with through this process as, whatever else may be happening, you can be sure that getting it out in the open will be a hundred times better than keeping it in.

Further to that, in terms of not overly resisting but rather 'letting go' into the process of change, it may also be that some of the relaxation commentaries in the music page may help too, found here.

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Constitutional Health Note

Lastly, it may be of benefit to learn about your constitution to help better understand how to best navigate the change. Constitutional health is an old and fascinating way of understanding our differences and, to demonstrate a little of how it works it can be seen that the damper constitutions can do well with the herb Sage whilst the dryer constitutions can especially struggle with hot flushes if they are not able to easily sweat and release the heat. An 'Eagle' someone who is hotter & dryer, might respond particularly well to Skullcap whilst the EB, the cooler & dryer constitution, might find Black Cohosh the most helpful. Everyone can potentially benefit from the tonic herbs.

Of course, these are just generalisations, in practice you may simply have to try and see, but in any case, there is a brief introduction to this subject here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd