Smooth Transitions – Natural Menopause Solutions
By Claudia Ward, MA, LAc, Dipl Ac
An Ayurvedic Approach to Menopause
“You’re never too old to become younger.”
According to a text written in the early 1800s menopause was a more or less extended, frequently quite troublesome but rarely lethal period in the life of women. It was also remarked, that “simple country women suffered few or no complaints compared to upper-class urban women, who constantly exposed body and mind to all kinds of disturbances and irritations. The demands of social life, loose sexual mores, the reading of bad novels, the unnatural state of excitation caused by concerts and theater, dances and gambling, and overly rich and spicy food, the abuse of coffee, tea, tobacco, wine and spirits – all this created an unrelenting state of over-stimulation. It was made even worse by a life of idleness spent reclining on cushions and chaise lounges instead of attending to domestic duties, by an unwillingness to breast-feed, and by the bad air in overcrowded salons.”
While our mothers endured virtually in silence the hot flashes, mood swings and other unmentionable symptoms of “the change,” today’s unprecedented millions of baby boomers are bringing their mid-life menopause concerns into the open and are researching treatment options.
Lately bio-identical hormones have been suggested as alternative hormone replacement therapy for women, but in actuality, no one knows if bio-identical hormones carry the health dangers of hormone replacement therapy, or not. They are called bio-identical because the molecular structure of the hormones is identical to a woman’s own. They are probably safer than conventional HRT, but no studies concerning long-term use have been done.
Contrary to what some people think, not all of a woman’s hormones are produced by the ovaries. Some are produced by the adrenals. Some are produced from cholesterol. Some are created from other hormones. The alternative hormone replacement therapy for women that consists of bio-identical hormones may have shortcomings in that hormonal levels can vary from day to day and week to week. So, while the compound created may be correct on one day, it may not be on the next. Low estrogen is part of the healthy, natural state of post-menopause. Low estrogen reduces your cancer risk (estrogen is linked to some types of cancerous cell growth). When resolving hormonal problems, women are led to believe that all that is required is tweaking their hormonal function. However, hormonal imbalances are, in fact, symptoms of deeper root cause issues such as exhausted adrenals, low thyroid function, candida or congested livers.
Prolonged stress, whether as a result of emotional, environmental or physical causes, is disastrous for the adrenals. Initially, it results in chronically elevated cortisol levels, resulting in weight gain (especially around the midsection), blood sugar imbalances, thinning skin, memory loss, high blood pressure, dizziness, hot flashes, night sweats, and excessive facial hair. Overworked adrenals eventually crash, leading to adrenal exhaustion, where the body is unable to maintain adequate adrenal hormone production. Symptoms of overtaxed adrenals include extreme fatigue, irritability, inability to concentrate, frustration, insomnia, addictions to either sweet or salty foods, allergies, nervousness, depression, anxiety, PMS, diabetes and headaches. Since the adrenals contribute to about 35 percent of pre-menopausal female hormones and almost 50 percent of postmenopausal hormones, compromised adrenal function profoundly affects hormonal balance.
Restoring adrenal function is a pre-requisite for hormonal balance.
An Ayurvedic lifestyle combined with the use of Ayurvedic herbs can effectively strengthen the adrenal function.
A congested liver can be the cause of many chronic health problems. Muscle and joint pain, constant fatigue, migraines, nail fungus, fibroids, sleep disorders, heart palpitations, poor memory, skin problems, allergies, arthritis, sinus problems and poor eyesight are a few examples of what may result when the liver is stressed.
Regular Ayurvedic Panchakarma cleanses detoxify the liver and strengthen its function.
Low Thyroid Function
Overtaxed adrenals can lead to hypothyroidism, which has a direct effect on women’s hormonal health. By age 50, one in every twelve women has a significant degree of hypothyroidism. By age 60, it is one woman out of every six. The thyroid, which regulates metabolism, may turn down its hormonal activity in an attempt to reverse adrenal overdrive. Some symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, heavy bleeding, depression, PMS, migraines, lack of concentration, cold hands and feet, menopausal symptoms, miscarriage and infertility. Birth control pills and estrogen increase thyroid-binding proteins in the bloodstream. This means that thyroid blood test results may be unreliable. Even though they may show normal thyroid hormone levels in the blood, there may be insufficient thyroid hormone in the tissues.
The Candida-Hormone Connection
Yeast overgrowth is caused by eating large amounts of sugar and/or prolonged or repeated use of antibiotics, birth control pills, estrogen therapy, and cortisone. A long list of potential symptoms associated with candida overgrowth include depression, anxiety attacks, mood swings, lack of concentration, drowsiness, poor memory, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, bloating, constipation, bladder infections, menstrual cramps, vaginal itching, muscle and joint swelling, pain, hypothyroidism, and skin problems. However, it is rarely understood that candida also contributes to hormonal problems. A candida waste product produces a false estrogen, which tricks the body into thinking it has produced adequate levels, signaling a reduction of its own estrogen. Estrogen will literally feed candida growth, which is why birth control pills and estrogen replacement therapy put women at a greater risk of developing candida.
AYURVEDA AND MENOPAUSE
How balanced, or overall healthy you and your lifestyle are when you reach menopause largely determines how smooth your transition will be. If you are “burning the candle at both ends” in your 30’s and early 40’s, you are more likely to have mood swings, sleep problems and troublesome hot flashes when your hormones start to change. Whereas if you have healthy lifestyle habits and are managing your stress effectively, you are likely to breeze through menopause without any major problems.
Menopause symptoms are nature’s wake-up call to let you know you need to start paying more attention to your health. Age forty-five to fifty-five is a critical decade, according to Ayurveda. Making lifestyle changes now is critical to ensuring that you age gracefully without the burden of chronic health problems. While eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise provides the foundation of good health for everyone, each woman’s menopause experience is unique. Symptoms vary from woman to woman. Ayurveda describes that the symptoms you have depend upon which body dosha is out of balance in your mind/body system.
Vata imbalance: Anxiety, panic, mood swings, vaginal dryness, loss of skin tone, feeling cold, irregular periods, insomnia, mild or variable hot flashes, constipation, palpitations, bloating and joints aches and pains.
Ayurvedic Tips: Increase warm food and drinks, regular meals, early bedtime, oil massage, meditation, yoga, walking and spices such as fennel and cumin. Decrease caffeine and other stimulants, refined sugar, cold drinks, salads.
Pitta imbalance: Anger, irritability, hot flashes, night sweats, heavy periods, excessive bleeding, urinary tract infections, skin rashes and acne.
Ayurvedic Tips: Increase cooling foods, water intake, sweet juicy fruits (grapes, pears, plums, mango, melons, apples,) zucchini, yellow squash, cucumber. Go to bed before 10 PM. Decrease excessive sun and overheating, hot spicy foods, hot drinks and alcohol.
Kapha imbalance: sluggishness, lethargy, weight gain for no reason, fluid retention, yeast infections, lazy, depressed, lacking motivation, slow digestion.
Ayurvedic Tips: Increase exercise, fruits, whole grains, legumes, vegetables, spices such as black pepper, turmeric and ginger. Get up early (by 6AM). Decrease meat, cheese, sugar, cold foods and drinks.
REST AND RELAXATION TECHNIQUES
Yoga, pranayama (yogic breathing), meditation, adequate sleep, Ayurvedic massages and shirodhara (warm oil poured over the forehead are wonderful relaxation techniques for combating stress.
When was the last time you had a vacation?
Daily exercise (gentle for Vata and not too overheating for Pitta) is also important for keeping all doshas in balance and alleviating menopausal symptoms.
The Ayurvedic Panchakarma treatments thoroughly cleanse and purify the physical and mental impurities from the body and mind.
Panchakarma detoxification is perhaps the “missing link” to restoring optimum function of our cells and tissues in peri-menopause and menopause. Whether undertaken to prevent or treat disease, most women who avail themselves of authentic Panchakarma cleanses once or twice a year will feel physically and mentally revitalized while greatly relieving many of the symptoms of menopause and premature aging.
Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb that supports the adrenal glands, it has the added benefit of helping to balance hormones by counteracting the effects of cortisol (a stress hormone). Many women report that it buoys energy levels, improves sleep, and assists in managing hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings.
Shatavari has been used in Ayurveda as general woman’s tonic for thousands of years because of its natural affinity for the uterus and its ability to counteract symptoms of the menopause. The cooling qualities predominant in this herb help reduce the fire principle (pitta) and thus cool and moisten the body’s tissues. This enhances women’s ability to cope with the major changes taking place during the menopause and helps combat hot flushes, mood swings, dryness, weight gain and night sweats.
Triphala is recommended and used more than any other Ayurvedic herbal formulation. Popular for its unique ability to gently cleanse and detoxify the system while simultaneously replenishing and nourishing it, this traditional formula supports the proper functions of the digestive, circulatory, respiratory and genitourinary systems.
Besides its use as a general memory aid, gotu kola has become popular in the Western world for its calming effects as well as for improving concentration. It relaxes the nervous system while stimulating the brain to focus better.
Women around the world are now living approximately one third of their lives after they reach menopause. Every women can benefit during these years from a balanced diet tailored to her specific constitution, an appropriate form of regular exercise, and intelligently selected plant-based Ayurvedic preparations, Most women will also derive great benefit from Panchakarma therapies followed by Rasayana (rejuvenation) therapies once or twice a year.