As a woman in her mid-forties, I am very interested in what to expect as I approach menopause. I cannot ask my mother or grandmothers for advice or stories though. Only one of my grandmothers is still living and she had a hysterectomy. So did my mother. It is hard for me to know whether their menopausal experiences were as a result of their hysterectomies or other disorders that they both suffer from, including a genetic bleeding disorder, past endometriosis, and past cysts. I do not have any of these conditions, have not taken birth control pills, and do not plan on having a hysterectomy. What does healthy menopause look like for someone like me? I already know that I am not going to use synthetic hormones. What are some herbal remedies for menopause that can help me come safely through this time of my life?
One of my concerns is bone health. The main female hormone, estrogen, helps protect against bone loss and osteoporosis. As hormone levels decline, the risk of losing bone density and strength goes up. The Paleo diet and lifestyle that I have adopted offers great ways to retain the bone strength that I have. Moderate, weight bearing exercise (such as a daily brisk walk), eating lots of dark, leafy green vegetables and eating homemade bone broth are key ways to make sure that bones stay healthy. While I may not be able to add bone mass as I could twenty years ago, I can at least make sure my body uses the calcium from my diet, and not my bones, so that they stay strong. Thankfully, I am already doing these things.
Apparently, estrogen also has a protective effect on the heart. I have a special interest in heart health because I have “mitral valve prolapse”, which means I have a valve in my heart that doesn’t close properly. Most of the time, I don’t feel it, but I am a little worried that this problem might become worse after menopause. My research indicates that this issue, too, is impacted by diet and exercise, just like bone health. As long as I don’t suddenly start smoking, it looks like I’m good in this area.
All the Other stuff
The symptoms that most concern me are all those other symptoms that I hear about commonly occurring during those last few years before menses ends. These are the ones that I need herbal remedies to deal with. These symptoms are: hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, loss of libido, fatigue, hair loss, sleep disorders, difficulty concentrating and memory lapses, dizziness, weight gain, depression and anxiety, irritability, joint pain, and itchy skin. Some of these I have already begun to experience. The reason women suffer from these symptoms is because of hormone imbalances and the body’s attempts to find a new equilibrium. Other than a nutrient dense diet (such as that offered by the Paleo regimen) and other aspects of the Paleo lifestyle (including moderate exercise outdoors and adequate sleep), there are a few herbal remedies for menopause that I have been using (as part of a herbal formula that I’ve created) to help with issues when they occur.
Vitex/chasteberry (a small tree with purple flowers grown in the Mediterranean region): This herb is currently part of my formula because it balances hormones in all times of a woman’s life. It is effective for premenstrual symptoms and can also be used to rebalance hormones during menopause.
Black cohosh: This herb is widely used in Europe and the United States for a variety of menses related issues. It is included in my formula because it helps reduce menstrual pain and contains plant based estrogens. Studies have shown that it helps reduce night sweats, hot flashes and sleep disturbances in menopausal women.
Wild Yam: historically, this plant found in North America has been used to help with menopausal symptoms as well as a variety of ailments. It has been found to contain a precursor to estrogen. I have included it in my female formula because it helps with menstrual cramps.
Some folks recommend eating soy foods to help with menopausal symptoms because they also have plant based estrogens. However, I cannot eat soy because I am allergic. But I am interested in trying Ashwaganda (a common herb used in Ayurvedic medicine) because it has been used to successfully help with anxiety and depression, fight fatigue, support brain health, reduce inflammation, protect against cancer, and balance hormone production — all menopausal symptoms I mentioned above. It has a powerful effect on the adrenal and thyroid glands, the two organ systems most responsible for producing hormones (other than the ovaries). This is one of those herbal remedies for menopause that might go unnoticed because it isn’t used solely for menopausal women. Because its uses are so broad, I won’t be waiting another five years to try it. I will probably only wait five days.
I’d love to read your comments and experience with herbs for menopause. You can add them in the comments section below. And any question you may have is welcome too.