The menopause is a natural transition for women to go through. We experience a wide range of sensations, both physical and emotional, that may last for several years. If menopause can be seen for the natural process that it is and welcomed as the next stage of life, with happiness, this is good medicine. Many cultures still revere women becoming elders and passing on their knowledge and experience is respected.
That said, we can use some fabulous natural remedies to ease the journey, including essential oils, herbal medicine and nutrition. The following will give you some ideas to consider. Good luck and enjoy the process!
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum) – lack of concentration, fatigue, lethargy.
- Chamomile Roman (Anthemis nobilis) – aches and pains, insomnia, headaches, skin problems.
- Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) – hot flushes, sweating, insomnia, disturbed sleep patterns.
- Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) – fluid retention, hot flashes, sweating, irritability.
- Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) – balancing emotions (irritability, depression), dry skin.
- Peppermint (Mentha piperita) – hot flushes, sweating, headaches, fatigue.
Using essential oils during menopause
One way to get essential oils into your system is by having a warm, soothing bath. Choose your oils, add 6-8 drops (in total) to the bathwater, and have a nice long relaxing soak. A couple of drops each of clary sage, geranium and cypress oils in the bath can help to balance your body and aid the reduction of hot flushes or night sweats experienced.
You can also use essential oils diluted at 2% in a body massage, which is roughly 5 drops of oils to 10ml of carrier oil. If you prefer you can add your chosen essential oils to a lotion base and apply after a bath or shower.
Essential oils can be inhaled directly from a tissue for an instant treatment whilst out and about, or you can put them in your diffuser or vaporiser in the usual way. At the first sign of hot flushes or a headache put one or two drops of peppermint essential oil on a tissue and inhale gently.
Alternatively, carry a small spray bottle of peppermint hydrosol in your handbag and spritz the face, head and neck as required. The cooling and refreshing effect of peppermint hydrosol really helps to cool you down.
To keep up your treatments whilst out driving, place a few drops of essential oil onto a cotton wool ball and put it in your car to receive the benefits of your oils whilst travelling to work or shopping.
Emotional and psychological sensations can occur during the menopause and your confidence can take a real nose dive, which in itself can affect other feelings.
To help instil confidence, strengthen,
and focus the mind, try one of these synergistic blends in a soothing bath;-
• 2 drops Grapefruit
• 2 drops Frankincense
• 2 drops Bergamot
• 1 drop Jasmine
• 2 drops Geranium
• 2 drops Ylang ylang
• 2 drops Bergamot
• 1 drop Sandalwood
• 2 drops Grapefruit
• 2 drops Cardamom
• 2 drops Patchouli
• 1 drop Rose
Herbal medicine remedies
(Actaea racemosa, Cimicifuga racemosa)
This herb has received quite a bit of scientific attention for its possible effects on hot flashes. Studies of its effectiveness in reducing hot flashes have produced mixed results. However, some women report that it has helped them. Recent research suggests that black cohosh does not act like estrogen, as once thought. This reduces concerns about its effect on hormone-sensitive tissue (eg, uterus, breast). Black cohosh has had a good safety record over a number of years. There have been reports linking black cohosh to liver problems, and this connection continues to be studied.
(Trifolium pratense) In five controlled studies, no consistent or conclusive evidence was found that red clover leaf extract reduces hot flashes. As with black cohosh, however, some women claim that red clover has helped them. Studies report few side effects and no serious health problems with use. But studies in animals have raised concerns that red clover might have harmful effects on hormone-sensitive tissue.
(Angelica sinensis) Dong quai has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat gynecologic conditions for more than 1,200 years. Yet only one randomized clinical study of dong quai has been conducted to determine its effects on hot flashes, and this botanical therapy was not found to be useful in reducing them. Some experts on Chinese medicine point out that the preparation studied was not the same as they use in practice. Dong quai should never be used by women with fibroids or blood-clotting problems such as hemophilia, or by women taking drugs that affect clotting such as warfarin (Coumadin) as bleeding complications can result.
(Panax ginseng or Panax quinquefolius) Research has shown that ginseng may help with some menopausal symptoms, such as mood symptoms and sleep disturbances, and with one’s overall sense of well-being. However, it has not been found to be helpful for hot flashes.
(Piper methysticum) Kava may decrease anxiety, but there is no evidence that it decreases hot flashes. It is important to note that kava has been associated with liver disease. The FDA has issued a warning to patients and providers about kava because of its potential to damage the liver. Because of this concern, Health Canada does not allow kava to be sold in Canada.
Evening Primrose Oil
(Oenothera biennis) This botanical is also promoted to relieve hot flashes. However, the only randomized, placebo-controlled study (in only 56 women) found no benefit over placebo (mock medication). Reported side effects include inflammation, problems with blood clotting and the immune system, nausea, and diarrhoea. It has been shown to induce seizures in patients diagnosed with schizophrenia who are taking antipsychotic medication. Evening primrose oil should not be used with anticoagulants or phenothiazines (a type of psychotherapeutic agent).
Does Food Play a Role?
Some have suggested that menopause was much easier for Asian women than for Westerners—at least while women followed traditional, mostly plant-based diets. Hot flashes have been reported by only about 10 percent of women in China,1 17.6 percent of women in Singapore,2 and 22.1 percent of women in Japan.3 In contrast, it is estimated that hot flashes are experienced by 75 percent of women over the age of 50 in the United States.4 Whether these differences might be partly due to reluctance in reporting symptoms among Asians is not entirely clear. And as Asia’s diets gradually westernise, these differences are likely to disappear anyway.
But we do know that, throughout their lives, Western women consume much more meat, and about four times as much fat, as women on traditional Asian rice-based diets, and only one-quarter to one-half the fibre. For reasons that have never been completely clear, a high-fat, low-fibre diet causes a rise in oestrogen levels. Women on higher-fat diets have measurably more oestrogen activity than do those on low-fat diets. At menopause, the ovaries’ production of oestrogen comes to a halt. Those women who have been on high-fat diets then have a dramatic drop in oestrogen levels. The drop appears to be less dramatic for Asian women who have lower levels of oestrogen both before and after menopause.
More evidence of the diet link comes from a fascinating study by a medical anthropologist from the University of California who interviewed Greek and Mayan women about their experiences of menopause.5
The Greek women were subsistence farmers. Menopause occurred at an average age of 47, compared with an average age of more than 50 in the United States. About three-quarters of the Greek women had hot flashes, but they were considered normal events and did not cause the women to seek medical treatment.
The Mayan women lived in the south eastern part of Yucatan, Mexico. Menopause occurred earlier than in Greece or North America, at an average age of 42. Unlike the experience of Greeks and Americans, hot flashes were totally unknown among Mayans, and, like the Japanese, they have no word for them. Midwives, medical personnel, and the women themselves reported that hot flashes simply do not occur, nor are they mentioned in books on Mayan botanical medicine.
The difference between Americans and Greeks and other Europeans on the one hand, for whom hot flashes are common, and the Mayans and Japanese on the other, for whom hot flashes are rare or unknown, appears to be diet. The Mayan diet consists of corn and corn tortillas, beans, tomatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, radishes, and other vegetables, with very little meat and no dairy products. Like the traditional Japanese diet, it is extremely low in animal products and low in fat in general. The Greek diet, while rich in vegetables and legumes, also contains meat, fish, cheese, and milk, as does the cuisine of other countries in Europe and North America. Animal-based meals affect hormone levels rapidly and strongly, and undoubtedly contribute to the menopausal problems that are common in Western countries.
Treating Hot Flashes
In addition to a low-fat, vegetarian diet which is strongly recommended for women who are experiencing hot flashes, regular aerobic exercise helps.6 A vigorous walk every day or so, or any equivalent physical activity, seems to ease hot flashes.
For those women who are considering hormone supplements, some preparations may be safer than others. Oestrogens commonly prescribed by physicians contain significant amounts of oestradiol, which is one of the forms of oestrogen that has scientists and many postmenopausal women concerned about cancer risk.
The Psychology of Menopause
Hormone shifts can affect moods. It can be disturbing to find yourself feeling uncharacteristically nervous or depressed or having memory lapses. Sometimes these feelings can even strain your relationships with others. It helps to know that the psychological effects of menopause are temporary. In all likelihood, you’ll soon get back on an even keel. Here are the most common psychological accompaniments of menopause.
Women who have never had a problem with anxiety before may become more self-conscious and worried about minor events. In some cases, panic attacks occur. Many people feel much better just knowing what the condition is. The most important piece of advice is not to let anxiety restrict your activities. When anxiety or panic disorders cause people to avoid stressful situations, the result can be an ever-tightening leash that keeps them from enjoying life. Anxiety can lead to avoidance of many aspects of normal life.
Depression and Irritability
Depression can be a feature for menopausal women.14,15 Irritability is also common.16 When considering therapies for depression, irritability, or anxiety, it is important to explore the full range of available options. The first step is to get your diet in order and to get regular exercise to help stabilise hormone shifts and reduce physical sensations that can aggravate mood problems.
Poor Memory and Concentration
Some women find that menopause brings occasional memory lapses, often related to reduced ability to concentrate. This can be upsetting and annoying, but fortunately it seems to go away on its own with time.
Keeping or Restoring Strong Healthy Bones
Osteoporosis—thinning of the bone tissue—is common, particularly among Caucasian women, after menopause. The cause is not an inadequate calcium intake, ordinarily. The problem is abnormally rapid calcium loss, aggravated by the following five calcium wasters:
- Animal protein. When researchers feed animal protein to volunteers and then test their urine a little later, it is loaded with calcium, which comes from their bones. Here’s why. A protein molecule is like a string of beads, and each “bead” is an amino acid. When protein is digested, these beads come apart and pass into the blood, making the blood slightly acidic. In the process of neutralizing that acidity, calcium is pulled from the bones. It ends up being lost in the urine. A report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that when research subjects eliminated meats, cheese, and eggs from their diets, they cut their urinary calcium losses in half.17 Another study showed that a high ratio of animal protein to vegetable protein in the diet increases bone loss and risk of fracture in postmenopausal women.18 Switching from beef to chicken or fish does not help, because these products have as much animal protein as beef, or even a bit more.
- Sodium (salt). If you throw salt on a slippery sidewalk, it dissolves the ice; if you sprinkle it on your food, it can dissolve your bones, albeit by a different mechanism. Salt apparently increases calcium losses via the kidneys. For an average person, cutting sodium intake in half reduces the daily calcium requirement by about 160 milligrams.19 For postmenopausal women, decreasing sodium intake from the U.S. average (3.4 grams per day) to a low sodium diet (< 2 grams per day) has been shown to improve skeletal health.20 Grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans are very low in sodium unless salt is added to them. Snack foods, canned foods, dairy products, and meat tend to drive up the amount of sodium in the diet.
- Caffeine. Whether it comes in coffee, tea, or colas, caffeine is a weak diuretic that causes calcium loss via the kidneys.21 Caffeine intakes of >300 mg per day have been shown to accelerate bone loss in elderly postmenopausal women.22
- Tobacco. Long-term smokers have 10 percent weaker bones and a 40 percent higher risk of fracture.23 Even secondhand smoke in the home can negatively affect bone density.24
- Sedentary lifestyle. Bones that have nothing to do lose their strength,25 and low physical activity is a risk factor for osteoporotic bone fractures.26 For optimal bone health, adults should aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days, preferably daily, and include weight-bearing and strength-training exercises.27
Healthy Calcium Sources
When you eliminate these calcium-wasters, you need less calcium in your diet. However, you will always need some calcium. The World Health Organisation recommends 800 mg per day for postmenopausal women on a diet low in animal protein.28
Although many people try to get their calcium from milk, only about 30 percent of calcium in dairy products is absorbed.29 The remaining 70 percent never makes it past the intestinal wall and is simply excreted with the faces. Milk products also contain lactose sugar, animal proteins, and frequent traces of antibiotics and other contaminants.
The most healthful calcium sources are greens and beans. Green leafy vegetables are loaded with calcium. One cup of collard greens has 226 milligrams of calcium. What’s more, the calcium in most green leafy vegetables is more absorbable than the calcium in milk. An exception is spinach, which tends to keep its calcium to itself. Beans, lentils, and other legumes are also loaded with calcium. If you make green vegetables and beans regular parts of your diet, you’ll get two excellent sources of calcium. Calcium-fortified orange juice contains more calcium than milk, and it is in the form of calcium citrate, which is much more readily absorbed than that in milk or in calcium carbonate supplements.
You don’t need to eat six cups of greens or huge servings of beans to get enough calcium. A varied menu of vegetables and legumes can easily give you all you need, and the amount your body needs is far less when you steer clear of meats and the other calcium depleters.
Healthful Calcium Sources
Black turtle beans (1 cup, boiled): 102 milligrams
Broccoli (1 cup, boiled from frozen): 94
Brussels sprouts (1 cup, boiled): 56
Butternut squash (1 cup, boiled): 84
Celery (1 cup, boiled): 63
Chickpeas (1 cup, canned): 80
Collards (1 cup, boiled): 226
Figs, dried (10 medium): 270
Great northern beans (1 cup, boiled): 120
Green beans (1 cup, boiled): 58
Kale (1 cup, boiled): 94
Kidney beans (1 cup, boiled): 50
Lentils (1 cup, boiled): 38
Lima beans (1 cup, boiled): 54
Mustard greens (1 cup, boiled): 104
Navel orange (1 medium): 56
Navy beans (1 cup, boiled): 127
Nondairy milk (1 cup, fortified soy or rice): 300
Oatmeal (1 cup, prepared instant): 215
Onions (1 cup, boiled): 46
Orange juice, calcium-fortified (1 cup): 350
Pinto beans (1 cup, boiled): 82
Raisins (1/2 cup): 40
Soybeans (1 cup, boiled): 175
Sweet potato (1 cup, boiled): 69
Tofu (1/2 cup): 204
Turnip greens (1 cup, boiled): 148
Vegetarian baked beans (1 cup): 127
White beans (1 cup, boiled): 161
Source: Pennington JA, Douglas JS. Bowes and Church’s food values of portions commonly used. 18th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2005.
As sunlight touches the skin, it turns on the natural production of vitamin D, which helps your digestive tract absorb calcium from foods and makes your kidneys hold onto it as well. For those who get infrequent sun exposure, a vitamin D supplement or multivitamin containing vitamin D may be necessary. For women < 50 years old, 5 mcg (200 IU) per day is recommended; for women 51-65 years, 10 mcg (400 IU); and for women > 65, 15 mcg (600 IU).35 Higher doses of vitamin D can be toxic and should be avoided.
Menopause is a normal part of life, not a diagnosis. And there are healthful, natural ways to manage the changes it can bring. A low-fat, vegetarian diet, combined with regular physical activity, can help women reduce the symptoms of menopause. While hormone replacement therapy increases cancer and heart disease risk, these recommended healthy lifestyle changes actually reduce the risk of these illnesses, as well as other menopause-related problems.30
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