Life around menopause can be stressful. With internal and external stress factors in play, making changes to diet and lifestyle, adding exercise, adopting CBT strategies may all help, but so can herbs.
Medical herbalist and member Melinda McDougall shares the how’s and why’s of using herbs to manage symptoms of menopause, with particular reference to stress management.
MELINDA SEES MENOPAUSE AS A CROSSROADS IN OUR LIVES, A TIME TO REBOOT HEALTH AND RELATIONSHIPS. WITH SO MANY THINGS HAPPENING AS OUR COMPLEX WEB OF HORMONES CHANGE, WE'LL ALL BE AFFECTED IN DIFFERENT WAYS.
For some it can be a very big deal, making an individualised approach essential. Understanding how and why stress impacts on menopause, may help to recognise what we can do to get ahead of the game and protect ourselves from the effects of stress.
Herbal medicine is a deep, multi-faceted intervention - during a consultation Melinda considers the mental, physical & emotional, to get a clearer picture of what else is going on in a woman’s life, especially when she’s assessing the impact of stress on women in menopause.
SO, HOW DOES STRESS AFFECT THE BODY?
Faced with a stressful situation the brain responds by unleashing a cascade of hormones from the adrenal glands, sending us into state of high alert, releasing the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline. We’re now in a fight or flight mode – with increased pulse and heart rate, rapid breathing, a digestive system shutting down and increased sweating.
WHAT’S THE LINK BETWEEN STRESS & MENOPAUSE?
Although we may or may not be able to control outside stressors, in terms of hormones it’s outside of our control when oestrogen & progesterone the hormones that keep cortisol in check, fall! As a result of this fall cortisol surges - if its finely tuned levels are knocked out of whack then our entire health system can be compromised, herbal prescriptions can help to restore balance.
HOW DOES STRESS AFFECT SYMPTOMS OF MENOPAUSE?
When stress is constant it becomes chronic stress – damaging to anyone but particularly so for menopausal woman whose symptoms can be intensified. Women may have low energy, low libido, digestive problems, allergies, weight gain and more. Plus, being in this cortisol-induced fight or flight mode make hot flushes worse.
WHAT HERBS CAN HELP MANAGE STRESS IN MENOPAUSE?
An important class of herb for moderating menopause symptoms aggravated by stress, ‘adaptogens’, may help us adapt & respond to stress, restore balance and increase strength & stamina. Some herbs that may help deal with stress, with the caveat that it is essential to consult a registered herbal therapist or health care professional, especially if you have any underlying health conditions*.
- Rhodiola – gives you a boost, protects from stresses, as well as protecting hearts - *not for you if you have dry skin, hair or constipation.
- Ashwaganda –calming, helps with sleep - *not for those with an overactive thyroid.
- Liquorice – Used in small doses for promoting healthy cortisol levels and balancing hormones - *not for those with high blood pressure.
OTHER USEFUL HERBS TO HELP MANAGE MENOPAUSE SYMPTOMS:
- Motherwort: Palpitations, anxiety & hot flushes.
- Sage: Hot flushes & night sweats mimics effect of oestrogen in the body, where it works it can be very effective, but it doesn’t work for everyone.
- Valerian: Insomnia, anxiety & headaches
- Passionflower: Insomnia, anxiety, palpitations, headaches
WHY YOU NEED TO LOVE YOUR LIVER:
This major organ is the foundation of healthy menopausal health, carrying out over five hundred vital functions - you need to love your liver!
- Fifty per cent of oestrogen is metabolised by the liver, if you don’t have good liver function in perimenopause your hormone levels can be badly hit if your liver can’t get rid of this excess oestrogen, leading to heavy bleeding & erratic cycles.
- Moderate alcohol and caffeine intake
- Milk Thistle & Dandelion Root supports healthy liver function.