‘There is medicine for 100 problems, but laughter is my best healing friend!’
A Hindi adage.
But how can you laugh when you’re feeling anxious? The more we worry about everything the more stressed and anxious we feel. Anxiety is commonly associated with the menopause. The symptoms we experience during the menopause may be exacerbated if we are feeling stressed on a daily basis by external factors, whether that be at work or at home. Factors might include: household chemicals, pesticides in our foods, pollutants in the air, the glare of our various devices and the relentlessness of our jam-packed lifestyles.
This can overwhelm our already challenged body’s ability to cope, to cleanse and repair. In turn this leads to insomnia, tiredness, anxiety, depression and some physical illnesses, all or some of which we may already be experiencing during the menopause. If we are not careful we can find ourselves in a far more ‘burnt out’ situation than necessary.
We can all try to improve our lifestyles by fitting in yoga, swimming, running, or an exercise class, but how do we look after ourselves from the inside? Good eating habits and avoiding too much sugar and fat are both well documented ways of nourishing our bodies and dealing with our weight, which can be an additional factor to worry about during the menopause, but what other natural substances are good for us?
If we turn to the help of nature we will find some amazing plants and herbs that can support our body’s natural healing system until we are back on an even keel. Likewise, during the menopause, with all the changes it throws at us, we can also benefit from exploring the world of adaptogens.
Adaptogens are non-toxic plants that can help the body resist stressors of all kinds, whether physical, chemical or biological. Many of these plants have been used for centuries in Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic healing traditions, but are currently having a renaissance within the general population, not just women going through the menopause.
How do they work? Some adaptogens can help restore a balance by stimulating your adrenal glands to produce a different hormone, androgen, which is then converted to a kind of oestrogen. Also, by enhancing the state of non-specific resistance in stress they literally help the body to adapt, adjust and recalibrate itself according to our emotional and physical state. This sounds like the perfect alternative to prescribed medicines, such as HRT patches, gels and tablets. However, let’s just consider the information a little more carefully. How will we know which adaptogen and what quantity is required in order to bring our levels back into balance? Perhaps they will work better in a supporting role to prescribed medicines?
It is worthwhile taking a more in-depth look at which adaptogens are most popular and why. Then, during your consultation or follow up appointments you will be better able to discuss whether or not there is a role for any of them in your treatment. Some are clearly more useful for certain symptoms than others.
Broadly, an adaptogen must have the four ‘Ns’.
1 Nourishing – bring nutritive strength.
2 Normalising – raise what is low and lower what is high.
3 Non-specific – act on multiple parts of the body at the same time.
4 Non-toxic – be completely safe when used over extended periods of time.
Ashwagandha (also known as Indian ginseng)
One of the least talked about hormones is cortisol. Once your body is not required to make oestrogen it has more natural resources to make cortisol, a stress hormone, even if your body doesn’t actually need more of this particular hormone! Cortisol flooding your body can actually have a negative impact, leading to anxiety, weight gain and feelings of lethargy.
If hot flushes and insomnia have been brought under greater control by HRT treatments, Ashwagandha, taken in the form of capsules or an infusion, reinforces this effect by helping to promote serenity and deepen sleep by reducing the amount of cortisol produced by the body.
Tulsi (Holy Basil)
In Hindu belief this plant is regarded as an earthly manifestation of the goddess Tulsi/Vrinda who represents ‘wealth’. It is known to be rich in antioxidants, which help in mitigating stress and conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, allergies, infections and pathogens.
Used by many people today for many reasons, this ‘superfood’ has recently gained in popularity even further and we can see it being served in chic coffee and tea houses, and also found in most supermarket aisles in the form of tea bags, chocolate, fresh, grated, ground or dried. One of its amazing properties is that it can boost blood circulation to the muscles, so helping to maintain good muscle tone. Muscle depletion is primarily a male domain, however, women going through the menopause can also experience a weakening of muscles, particularly in the pelvic floor area. It is essential to support the continued strength of all our muscles as we grow older, but particularly so for women who want to avoid any incontinence issues in later life. Regular pelvic floor exercises followed by a mug of turmeric tea could become one of your daily treats.
One of the very best herbs for supporting hormonal change throughout a woman’s lifecycle, but particularly during the menopause is shatavari. It is a well-known tonic for the reproductive tract, making it perfect for the hot, dry symptoms of the menopause, which may reduce a woman’s sex drive.
An alpine plant, which has been used for many years to treat stress-related fatigue caused by an increase in production of cortisol during the menopause, its roots also contain a number of unique antioxidants, which can influence the levels of those hormones that make you feel happy and relaxed, including serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline.
This was commonly used by the Inca people in South America. Maca supplements can help increase oestrogen production, so helping maintain hormone balance in peri menopausal women. There is also some research that indicates that maca supplement can improve libido or sex drive.