Written by Natasha Richardson
Peri-menopause can really affect people’s quality of life as there are many different symptoms that can flare up. Thankfully, there are herbs which can alleviate these, and we share them with you here.
The symptoms of peri-menopause vary hugely from person to person, culture to culture, and even class to class. But with suicide being at its highest rate amongst women in the 45-55 age bracket and 1 in 10 women quitting their job in the UK due to the peri-menopause these symptoms should not be ignored. Sadly, many who had found an answer in the form of HRT are being challenged with issues in the supply chain and many may be considering natural alternatives in light of this. Furthermore, unwanted side effects from HRT have made people want to seek the natural route.
Menopause is far more than just an oestrogen deficiency. It is quite natural and normal for oestrogen to reduce at this time in life. The symptoms that this change creates depend on things like class, race, gender, geography, diet and lifestyle more than it does oestrogen levels. I’ve chosen the top 6 symptoms that came up when we surveyed our followers for their peri-menopausal experiences. Whilst taking phytoestrogens is something everyone can do from the age of 40 on, they may not treat all the symptoms you’re dealing with.
One phytoestrogen which I particularly like at this time of life is black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) because it not only supports oestrogen but also helps with aching joints and anxiety too. Another phytoestrogen I like is sage (Salvia officinalis) as it is easily bought and helps with lessening hot flushes, and improves cognition and brain fog too. But probably more importantly is to take phytoestrogens regularly in your diet throughout the day in the form of some fruits, vegetables and of course, soya. There was a scare with soy not very long ago that it may make oestrogen-dependent cancers more prevalent but the opposite has been found to be the case.
Hot flushes are most prevalent in African Americans and Caucasians. It is least prevalent in East-Asian people. It’s thought this is because of the soy-rich diet of those in places like Japan. But it is also because the ageing process is revered in East-Asia where it is not in Westernised countries such as America.
To support someone with hot flushes phytoestrogens such as sage are key. Sage is especially nice because it is also cooling and helps with hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating). Another herb worth considering is peppermint (Mentha piperita) for its cooling properties.
Anxiety is worst in people who are approaching perimenopause and already burnt out from life’s demands. To abate this, phytoestrogens like black cohosh can help because it’s also a nervine.
But it can be complemented with other nervines like chamomile (Chamomilla recutita) and passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). I also like to give people suffering with anxiety herbs to help with burnout such as oat straw (Avena sativa) and perhaps even an adaptogen such as ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) because it relaxes and strengthens.
I see lethargy as another symptom of burnout. Adaptogens are key here, as well as tonics. I particularly like nettle (Urtica dioica) in addition to the ashwagandha I’ve already mentioned. Eating a low glycemic load diet will also help with lethargy as it improves slow release of energy. This is vital for anyone surviving on coffee which will stress the adrenals further.
Weight gain is somewhat unavoidable and potentially beneficial as fat cells are where we make a lot of our oestrogen. But when it seems to be going on too fast, or too much, it’s important to try and work to stop that.
Weight-bearing exercises such as weight lifting is a great way to improve muscle bulk and metabolism, not to mention bone health. Eating a low glycemic diet will help stop the fat from depositing in the middle of the body, as will managing stress levels with relaxants (as mentioned in the anxiety section). You can also work with herbs that help balance blood sugar levels, like cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanica).
If you’re struggling to get to sleep, it’s partly because it takes much longer to produce melatonin as we age. This means that we need longer in the dark than we used to before bed.
It’s crucial to have at least an hour away from all screens before bed in order to promote its production. But interestingly, working with chaste berry (Vitex agnus castus) can help with this at the right dose.
Poverty, stressful life events and negative attitudes to ageing contribute to menopausal depression more than ethnicity. But it’s interesting to note that Chinese Americans have the least amount of depression in western society. Possibly because they still revere their older generations.
Gambian women are known to feel renewed and strengthened during the perimenopause as they are relieved from childbearing and become a respected elder. Our western attitudes to ageing have a lot to answer for. But whilst I’d love those attitudes to change overnight, they won’t. In the meantime, we’re left with depressed perimenopausal populations.
Anti-depressants like St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) may help, but I don’t particularly like it. I actually much prefer lemonbalm (Melissa officinalis) and orange blossom (Citrus auratium) as they are incredibly uplifting. It’s hard not to see the brighter side of life while taking those herbs.
Any and all of these herbs can be made into an infusion or decoction. For an infusion, just pour boiling water on top of a heaped teaspoon of herbs and let it infuse for 5mins before drinking. Drink that 3 times a day. But if you don’t have time for that you can get them as tinctures, an alcohol extract, and taken as drops each day. I’d recommend 2-5ml of a herb twice a day. Or 5ml three times a day if you go with a combination of herbs.
Finally, we want to note that due to the rise in popularity of herbs for women’s health, some of the popular species are now in danger. For example, this is true for black cohosh. Therefore, buy from reputable suppliers, and ideally places that source cultivated plants rather than wild-harvested to be sure that your medicines are sustainable. Read more about Endangered plants and women’s health: Fertility herbs at risk.