Natural Remedies for Menopause Misery (originally published Innerself Magazine)

 Are you in the peri-menopausal years or in menopause suffering from flushing, sweating, sleeplessness, anxiety and a foggy brain or any combination of these symptoms?  Are you looking for a natural solution rather than taking synthetic hormone replacement or a more recent medical approach – taking anti-depressants for these symptoms?  If so I can tell you from my own personal experience as well as my professional clinical experience that there are natural remedies for menopause misery that do work!

 For some women it is a simple matter of estrogenic herbal medicines that provide enough phytoestrogens and or stimulate enough estrogen production to subdue the symptoms of estrogen deprivation.  These include well-known herbs such as Red Clover and less well known herbs such as Shatavari.  There are actually about a dozen herbs to choose from in this category and so herbs can be specifically selected for the individual’s constitution and symptomatology.  For many women this approach is helpful but not sufficient and symptoms persist.  In these cases looking more closely at contributing factors is warranted.I have found that a four pronged approach is most beneficial: treat the adrenal system, detox the gut and liver, provide ongoing liver/nervous system support and provide estrogen support herbs.

 The adrenals make our stress coping hormones and in peri-menopause and menopause adrenal fatigue is a common finding.  As the estrogen/progesterone levels waver and decline it seems the adrenals try to take up the slack and eventually become exhausted.  Adrenal exhaustion causes lethargy, fatigue, anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances – again common findings in and around menopause.  Supporting the adrenals is easy with herbal medicines called adaptogens.  These include more well- known herbs such as the ginsengs (one of which is also estrogenic) and less well- known herbs such as Withania and Rhodiola.  Adrenal recovery takes up to three months with these medicines and I generally prescribe them long term.

 The liver is intimately involved with hormone balance – it is the hormone detoxifying organ of the body.  I frequently find a “toxic” gut and liver is contributing to a certain extent to the bothersome symptoms of menopause.  Particularly waking at night and sweating – usually around 3 am which is the height of the liver detoxification cycle.  Headaches and migraines are also associated with a toxic liver.  Following a gut/liver detox and support program seems to help minimise menopausal misery symptoms.  Generally gut treatment entails a herbal detox formula and probiotics to balance the microflora of the gut and liver treatment requires a liver detox formula including high doses of St Mary’s Thistle and nutrition bases liver detoxification co-factors.  Following a diet which eliminates coffee, alcohol, sugar and wheat or gluten often helps as does the consumption of “green” veggie juices or “green powders” containing chlorella, spirulina and/or barley grass.  These “greens” help support the liver amongst other benefits.

 Ongoing nervous system support is also useful.  In particular I find the amino acid taurine helps particularly with flushing and sweating but do many herbal medicines including Zizyphus, Magnolia and Lavender.  These herbs and others are particularly useful to assist with sleep which in and of itself seems to help minimise other bothersome symptoms.  If memory is affected herbs or thinking is “foggy” traditional Indian herbs such as Ginkgo and Bacopa can help.

 Finally lifestyle issues cannot be ignored.  Regular exercise, regular sleep patterns and stress management approaches such as yoga and meditation do wonders for erratic hormones, burnt out adrenals and wobbly nervous systems!  Yoga in particular is very beneficial for balancing all the hormonal systems in the body including the sex hormones, adrenals and thyroid.  Do be selective with your yoga however, gentle, classical postures are probably more indicated in the peri-menopause and menopause than the more “athletic” Western styles of yoga. In addition as this is often a time of change in many areas of life it is important to seek support through counselling or other means if life issues are wearing you down!

 The peri-menopause and menopause years can be quite a challenge but these approaches including herbal medicines can truly help!   Natural remedies are rarely a quick fix but they are quite effective over time – no wonder women have used herbal medicines for thousands of years!!