Menopause is defined as the time when a woman stops having a menstrual cycle for at least a year. As she ages into her late 40s and 50s, her menstrual cycle will stop due to hormonal changes. Though menopause itself is completely natural – a part of the reproductive cycle of all women – the associated symptoms are likened to a disease in Western culture.
This results in the “medicine” which is prescribed for menopausal women to be askew because it sees the condition as a pathology rather than a transitional imbalance.
When the seasons change, we don’t believe that there is something wrong with Mother Nature. We wear a coat when the weather gets colder, and put on a pair of shorts and a tank top when the season is warm again.
If we can view menopause from a similar viewpoint, it can help us to prepare for the coming season, lessen the negative effects, and transition from being a young woman to a wise woman more graciously.
What are Menopausal Symptoms?
The symptoms of menopause are almost 100% caused by hormonal changes. As women grow older, the hormone production from their ovaries starts to slow. The hormones estrogen and progesterone are the most affected.
Women may experience perimenopause, a stage that comes just before menopause where their hormones start to change, affecting their monthly cycle. This can be an indication that menopause is just around the corner. Perimenopause is usually marked by lower estrogen levels.
These hormonal changes eventually cause a woman’s menstrual cycle to stop, but first it may become irregular. Other symptoms of menopause can include:
- Hot flashes, followed by feeling extremely cold
- Mood Swings
- Heart palpitations
- Loss of weight
- Weight Gain
Certain triggers can also cause menopausal symptoms to be worse. These triggers are lifestyle related, and change the way our bodies balance themselves hormonally.
- Consuming alcohol or caffeine
- Eating spicy food
- Feeling stressed
- Not getting enough sleep
- Being in a climate or environment that is hot
- Being overweight
- Not getting enough exercise
Allopathic Cures for Menopause
Allopathic medicine offered one big “cure” for menopause, but it was recently yanked rather ceremoniously from federal funding due to new research suggesting that it was harmful to women’s health.
Drugs offered for menopause (perimenopause as well) include chemical birth control and other prescription drugs, but birth control alone, can increase a woman’s risk for several types of cancer, as well as lower her body’s ability to absorb important nutrients she needs as she ages, including vitamins B1, B2, B5, B6, B9 (folate), B12, vitamins C and E, copper, magnesium, selenium, and zinc.
Moreover, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (both linked to chronic gut inflammation) is more common among women who use oral contraceptives.
Perhaps the most commonly prescribed treatment, however, has turned out to be the most damaging.
The Problem with Hormone-Replacement Therapy (HRT)
There is a lot of controversy around the topic of hormone replacement therapy for women who are reaching the menopausal stage. Though the hormones have been available to women since the 1940s, recent research suggests that they can increase both cervical and breast cancers – even if bio-identical hormones are utilized.
Previously the increased risk was thought to be minimal, but the most recent studies show that the risk is much higher than doctors had assumed. The longer that HRT is used, the greater the risk becomes.
Natural Remedies for Menopause
Perhaps even more reason to stay away from HRT, birth control, and other therapies, is that there are completely natural ways to help soothe the symptoms that accompany menopause.
Herbal and Dietary Remedies for Menopause
Almost all menopausal symptoms can be cured by adjusting hormone levels with herbs and food. Try the following to help even out hormonal changes:
Dong Quai – This herbal remedy is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to maintain hormone levels naturally. It should not be taken if a women is experiencing heavy bleeding, and only when her menses have stopped.
Vitamin E – A daily dose of Vitamin E is full of tocopherols and tocotrienols which can help to lessen hot flashes and boost hormonal balance.
B Vitamins – Not only do B vitamins help with energy and reduce stress, but they have been shown to help women balance menopausal changes.
Flax Seed – There are anti-inflammatory Omega 3s in flax seed, but they also contain lignins which help to modulate a woman’s hormones. You can put a few teaspoons in a coffee grinder and then sprinkle them on salads and other dishes to make them a daily habit.
Black Cohosh – this herbal remedy has been used to help women with menopausal symptoms for hundreds of years. It helps with hot flashes and can maintain balanced hormone levels. It has no estrogenic activity and is safe for those with a history of breast cancer.
Evening Primrose – This herbal remedy is full of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid that helps to reduce inflammation, and can influence prostaglandin levels in the body.
Ginseng – Another great herb for menopausal symptoms is Ginseng. It is also used in ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic remedies to help with hot flashes, stress, mood swings, and hormonal balance.
Black Currant Oil – This oil is also full of GLAs, and has similar anti-inflammatory and hormone balancing effects.
Turmeric – This powerful herbal remedy has been used for centuries to help with more than 100 different conditions in the body. For those suffering from menopausal symptoms, it can help decrease inflammation, reduce hot flashes, lower stress, and even reduce pain.
Traditional Chinese Medicine for Menopause
TCM sees menopause as a general imbalance in the body, usually arising from stagnant kidney energy. TCM stresses that food is a big component in a woman’s fight against an uncomfortable menopausal transition.
Experts state that when a woman’s qi and food are supportive,
“the phytoestrogens that are bound to the body’s estrogen receptors release slowly and naturally into the blood stream, providing a continuing source of estrogen as the body’s naturally produced estrogen supply diminishes. When phytoestrogens are replenished by phytoestrogen-rich foods, a natural supply of estrogen will be present in the body, providing an alleviated process of menopause.”
Herbal remedies as well as acupuncture can help to restore balance in the body, and reduce menopausal symptoms in most women, but lifestyle has a big part in aiding this process.
Yoga for Menopause
Yoga has been proven to be a significant non-drug therapy for menopausal symptoms. The exact mechanism as to how Yoga helps in various disease states is not known. There could be neuro-hormonal pathways with a selective effect in each pathological situation.
We do know that yoga changes our brain chemistry, lowers stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, and may therefor help to balance estrogen and progesterone levels.
You can try these 3 easy yoga postures to help put your hormones back in balance:
- Rabbit Pose (Sasangasana) – This pose can help to stimulate the thyroid and parathyroid glands. Rabbit pose also helps to combat depression and may tame menopausal mood swings.
- Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) – This posture can help to massage the adrenal glands which are responsible for handling your fight-or-flight response and mitigating stress.
- Camel Pose (Ustrasana) – Along with stimulating the thyroid and parathyroid glands, this pose has an entire array of beneficial benefits on all your internal organs.
Meditation for Menopause
Meditation has been proven to be a clinically significant way of reducing hot flashes and night sweats. In plain English, it means that it studies measuring non-meditators with meditators, those who meditated had fewer menopausal symptoms. This is likely because activity in the hypothalamus is profoundly changed by meditation. The hypothalamus in the brain is directly connected to hormonal balance.
Lifestyle Changes for Menopause
- Deep, diaphragmatic breathing can reduce hot-flashes by 50-66%.
- Slowing down, and reducing stress can reduce hormonal spikes. This can, in turn, reduce depression, mood swings, and low self-image associated with menopause.
- The reduction of oxidative stress in the body by eating highly alkaline foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, etc. can help to balance hormones as they transition from one stage to another.
- Getting plenty of exercise is a proven way to lower menopausal symptoms. Aim for at least 30 – 60 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week.
Menopause is not a “disease” as it is treated so often in the Western world, but a natural evolution of a woman’s sexuality as she grows from an infant to a child, to a woman, to an older woman.
Just as we treat an infant child differently until they are grown, we need to honor this time in a woman’s life, and accept that it doesn’t need to be “treated” by pumping women full of chemical additives or lab-created hormones.
There are ample natural ways to ease this transitional time and make women comfortable as they move