Menopause is a natural process of the human body. It occurs when the ovaries begin to change their function and structure. The follicles of the ovaries begin to dwindle, and we see a shift in the woman’s hormonal balance. Estrogen decreases, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) increase, which trigger progesterone to decrease (Kargozar, Aziz & Salari, 2017).
Some women experience symptoms tied to shifts in hormone levels. It is most pronounced in women with underlying liver congestion since the liver is unable to adequately metabolize hormones.
There are a variety of symptoms one may experience:
- Hot flashes and/or night sweats
- No longer experiencing menses
- Pain with sex
- Burning with urination (aka., urethritis ~ inflammation of the urethra)
- Heart Palpitations
- Mood shifts or trouble concentrating
Many women will often seek natural treatments to mitigate their symptoms before reverting to their last resort: hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT is loaded with concerning side effects such as increased risk of cancer and heart disease, and worsening liver congestion with long-term use.
Yoga and herbal therapy are great natural treatments which can effectively help one transition comfortably through menopause. In a 2014 randomized controlled trial, Reed and colleagues assessed the effectiveness of 3 “non-hormonal” treatments for 338 menopausal women experiencing hot flashes and/or night sweats over 12 weeks. The treatment interventions included:
- Weekly 90-min yoga class (with daily at home practice required)
- Individualized in-clinic aerobic training 3 times/week
- 0.615g omega-3 fatty acid supplement 3 times/day.
Although aerobic exercise and omega-3 intervention groups did not show a significant improvement in symptoms, the yoga intervention group saw a dramatic improvement in lessening menopausal symptoms. The researchers concluded that although daily yoga would be most helpful, any form of exercise a person enjoys would suffice (especially if one does not want to do yoga, fast walking or gardening are fine). Any movement is better than being trapped in sedentary behaviors.
In a review of the literature on menopause and herbs, Kargozar and colleagues (2017) summarized some of the more effective herbal medicines used to lessen the symptoms of menopause. They include:
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis): Sedative-like herb that treats hot flashes
- Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa): Binds to estrogen receptors; suppresses secretion of luteinizing hormone; treats hot flashes
- Sage (Salvia officinalis): Estrogenic-like herb that treats hot flashes and night sweats; binds to GABA receptors so it can calm, sedate, and improve memory
- Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis): Stimulates nerve function and supports sleep
- St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): Well known for treating depression and anxiety; increases libido; eases vaginal dryness and urinary tract problems associated with menopause
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa) Well known for its cardioprotective effects and ability to improve bone mineral density (Akazawa et al., 2013; Riva et al., 2017)
- Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba): improves memory
- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): Since it’s anti-androgenic, it’s used to; treat hot flashes and vaginal atrophy
- Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis): Reduces hot flashes
- Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum): Treats hot flashes
- Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Treats hot flashes
- Anise (Pimpinella anisum): Treats hot flashes
- Alfalfa (Medicago sativa): Treats hot flashes
- Black Caraway (Nigella sativa): Seed powder, at 1 g daily for two months, significantly improves cholesterol, blood glucose, and blood pressure in menopausal women (Ibrahim et al., 2014)
- Asian Ginseng (Panax Ginseng): improve energy, concentration, and balances mood
- Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus): increases progesterone levels
The authors of the review note that further research needs to be done since research money is rarely spent in herbal medicine since it is not financially lucrative as in the pharmaceutical industry.
Medicinal herbs definitely have a wonderful and safe place aiding women with the transition from perimenopause to menopause. I would opt towards treating the discomfort first, and refrain from increasing estrogen or progesterone to the levels of a 26 year-old woman (who uses her hormones for child bearing). Women in their 50s, 60s, and 70s do not need an excess of hormones circulating because they will no longer be bearing children and such high hormone levels will cause their body harm.
Remember, menopause is a natural process. Medicinal herbs and yoga therapy have been successfully used for centuries to help ease menopausal symptoms. With modern conventional western medicine, it’s easy to overlook the natural remedies and revert only to synthetic chemicals loaded with side effects.
Yoga can be done almost anywhere, any time. Just 40 minutes of morning yoga 5 days a week has been found to improve menstrual health in reproductive-aged women (Rani et al., 2013).
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Akazawa, N., Choi, Y., Miyaki, A., Tanabe, Y., Sugawara, J., Ajisaka, R., & Maeda, S. (2013). Effects of curcumin intake and aerobic exercise training on arterial compliance in postmenopausal women. Artery Research, 7(1), 67-72. doi:10.1016/j.artres.2012.09.003.
Ibrahim, R. M., Hamdan, N. S., Mahmud, R., Imam, M. U., Saini, S. M., Rashid, S. N. A., . . . Ismail, M. (2014). A randomised controlled trial on hypolipidemic effects of nigella sativa seeds powder in menopausal women. Journal of Translational Medicine, 12, 82-82.
Kargozar, R., Azizi, H., & Salari, R. (2017). A review of effective herbal medicines in controlling menopausal symptoms. Electronic Physician, 9(11), pp. 5826-5833.
Rani, M., Singh, U., Agrawal, G. G., Natu, S. M., Kala, S., Ghildiyal, A., & Srivastava, N. (2013). Impact of Yoga Nidra on menstrual abnormalities in females of reproductive age. Journal Of Alternative And Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.), 19(12), 925-929.
Reed, S. D., Guthrie, K. A., Newton, K. M., Anderson, G. L., Booth-LaForce, C., Caan, B., ... & Freeman, E. W. (2014). Menopausal quality of life: RCT of yoga, exercise, and omega-3 supplements. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 210(3), 244-e1.
Riva, A., Togni, S., Giacomelli, L., Franceschi, F., Eggenhoffner, R., Feragalli, B., . . . Dugall, M. (2017). Effects of a curcumin-based supplementation in asymptomatic subjects with low bone density: A preliminary 24-week supplement study. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, 21(7), 1684-1689.