Suffering hot flushes? Losing your sex drive? Growing a moustache? Can’t sleep? Irritable and depressed? Go to the doctor with these symptoms and, chances are, if you’re over 50, she’ll tell you you’re menopausal. If your symptoms are bad enough she may offer your hormone replacement treatment (HRT) but HRT, although many women wouldn’t have wanted to cope with the menopause without it, has had some bad press, and isn’t recommended for all women. So is there a herbal alternative?
The menopause is natural
The first thing to remember is that the menopause isn’t an illness. At times it may feel like one but it’s simply your body adjusting to a new stage of life. Not a worse stage but a different one. For hundreds of years women have coped naturally with the menopause and its symptoms often using remedies suggested by their mothers or older female friends. In the old days the wise woman of the village would have been responsible for treating all the villagers’ ailments with her home-made herbal cures.
In our scientific – and litigation-loving – age, where everything that is sold as medicine or a health supplement has, quite rightly, to be tested rigorously, little incontrovertible evidence has yet been offered to show that specific herbs will help combat the symptoms of the menopause. On the other hand thousands of women would say that herbal remedies have helped them. So if you’re dubious about using HRT then do consider, investigate, and try some of the alternatives.
It’s thought that the problems typically associated with the menopause are the result of the pituitary glands, which control our hormones, trying to make up for the declining levels of oestrogen and progesterone.
The most recommended herbs and their reputed benefits
- Black cohosh, an oestrogenic herb, helps regulate hormone levels and is said to work directly on the uterus, easing cramp. It’s also reputed to relieve hot flushes.
- Chaste tree (agnus castus), another hormone regulator that helps to relieve depression. It’s one of the most recommended for hot flushes.
- Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) is used for a number of women’s health issues but especially those associated with the menopause as it helps maintain the hormonal balance.
- Sage is another herb high in plant oestrogens. It’s especially useful for combating night sweats.
- Wild yam (Dioscarea villosa) has anti-inflammatory properties and as such eases cramping.
- Not herbs but hormone regulators, tofu, soy milk and flour, alfalfa and flax seeds are also recommended for menopausal women.
Other things to consider
A good diet and plenty of exercise as well as time to relax all help the transition to postmenopausal woman. And if you’ve gone off sex because you’re suffering from vaginal dryness and it’s painful, there are plenty of creams and remedies that can help.
And consider a vitamin e supplement to your diet. As long ago as 1949 a British doctor discovered vitamin e to be useful in the treatment of menopausal symptoms. It’s thought a daily dose may alleviate hot flushes.
It’s a good idea to discuss with your doctor all the options available to you, and consult her before beginning on a course of herbal treatment, especially if you’ve already been prescribed HRT or other hormone therapy.