Menopause is a transitional time that every woman must go through in her lifetime, often riddled with varying levels of discomfort and imbalance. Yep, I said it! Uncomfortable, mostly because it has been downplayed due to societal views of women. Historically, women were perceived as “hysterical” while suffering from misunderstood menopausal symptoms like anxiety, depression, moodiness, hot flashes, fluid retention, insomnia, and even increased sexual desire. That is straight out of Wikipedia. These conditions were related to what was considered hysteria, the female reproductive organs thought to be the cause. A hysterectomy, the removal of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries, was considered a medical means to correct those conditions, keeping women acting in a way society deemed appropriate. These societal norms for women run deep and prevail in modern medical treatment, leaving many women feeling lost when their bodies begin to change.
Considering that approximately 50% of the world’s population will go through menopause at some point in life, it is a worthy topic and one not openly discussed. We all know the common complaints, fatigue, hot flashes, night sweats, interrupted sleep patterns, moodiness, difficulty concentrating, weight gain and the list can go on and on. Natural medicine that includes nutrition and herbal support offers a variety of approaches to caring for our bodies as we navigate these foreign waters, allowing us to honor our bodies as they make this normal transition away from reproductive capacity.
Using whole food helps the body maintain balance by improving detoxification and blood sugar control. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and kale support the liver in removing old hormones like estrogen. A variety of vegetables and fruits support digestion, ensuring the proper breakdown of food and absorption of nutrients. High-quality protein from fish, eggs, beans, nuts, and meat provides amino acids that are a vital part of balancing mood and alleviating depression and anxiety. Healthy fat from nuts, fish, eggs, avocados, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, and coconut oil provide cellular support and hormone balance. Healthy fat and protein will also increase feelings of fullness, eliminating the need for unhealthy snacks. A whole foods diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables will also reduce inflammation in the body in turn supporting cardiovascular health.
It is not uncommon for women to skip meals during a busy day or undereat due to dieting. This sets the stage for a slower metabolism and sugar imbalances. When the body experiences a drop in blood sugar it releases cortisol to pull glucose from tissues and raise blood sugar back to normal. The problem with this cycle, especially when paired with chronic stress, is that it is a driver for anxiety and hot flashes. By eating whole foods throughout the day, a woman can reduce her anxiety and hot flashes naturally.
For some women, a whole foods diet may not be enough to curb uncomfortable menopausal symptoms, however, many herbs can help. Maca is a wonder in reducing symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, heart palpitations, and hot flashes. Maca is an adaptogen herb that nourishes and supports the adrenal system, where stress hormones are produced. Most women, especially in westernized culture experience a high level of stress when they begin transitioning into menopause. It is a time of life when women are often in the middle of careers, returning to school, with many taking care of older children while supporting aging parents. It is also a time when many women are pushing to earn retirement dollars in anticipation of retiring. Stress hormones, particularly cortisol, increase blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate, all of which contribute to poor sleep, fatigue, anxiety, and pesky hot flashes commonly seen in menopausal symptoms. Another contributor that is not often considered is liver function. A sluggish liver is not uncommon given our American diet, making it more difficult to rid the body of excess hormones like estrogen. Estrogen excesses are not uncommon in women around menopause can contribute to weight gain, fatigue, moodiness, and even body aches. Milk thistle and dandelion root work well to stimulate detoxification in a sluggish liver, helping to remove excess estrogen. Milk thistle also works to repair any damaged cells in the liver caused by medication use and/or alcohol consumption. Passionflower, skullcap, holy basil, ashwaganda, and milky oat are herbal adaptogens that also nourish and support the nervous system, reducing symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations, often experienced during this transitional time.
These herbs can be used in combination, or individually for their positive effects on physiology. Finding a high-quality supplement can be challenging, and I like to use Traditional Medicinals Teas, Oregon Wild Harvest, and Medi-herb to ensure high-quality products without added chemicals.
Unfortunately, most symptoms in western culture are treated with medications, not giving justice to the interconnectedness of body systems. Menopausal symptoms vary greatly in different parts of the world and are linked to lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, and stress ( https://mymenopausejourney.com/menopause-in-different-countries/#:~:text=Menopause%20in%20different%20countries%201%20Symptoms.%20Research%20about,…%208%20North%20America.%20…%209%20Europe.%20).
I can attest to the power of herbals and whole foods to improve menopausal symptoms! Two years ago, I was teaching a new course at the University of Portland. As my stress levels went up, my eating became less regulated and healthy, and these horrid hot flashes began. Within weeks, I endured hot flashes while teaching, during the night, and during faculty meetings, and I was over the top irritated by it all. I went back to what I learned from my nutrition program, made some changes to my diet, and began using maca root, milk thistle, and ashwaganda. After two weeks I experienced fewer hot flashes, and two months later, they were gone and have not returned. Take it from me, food is medicine, and with the right combination, the body can often correct underlying imbalances, reducing unwanted symptoms many of us experience during this time of life.