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Natural ways to relieve the symptoms of menopause

Going through the menopause marks the beginning of a new period in a woman’s life and can be a time for renewed self-confidence. However, for many women, these hormonal changes can create unwanted emotional and physical symptoms, such as hot flushes, night sweats, loss of sex drive, weight gain and mood changes.

We caught up with our Herbal Education Specialist, Holly Huntley, to explore the causes of menopausal symptoms, why they occur and natural relief using diet and nurturing daily practices.

How do I know if I am menopausal?

Every woman’s experience of the menopause is different, but the average age range is anywhere between 40-55.

The first signs to look out for are any irregularities with the menstrual cycle; these could be anything from an unusually shorter or longer cycle, very light or heavy bleeding or skipping a cycle for example. It is normally after this that women start to experience some of the more common symptoms such as hot flushes.

What causes menopausal symptoms?

The menopause occurs when a woman has her last period. It signifies that there are no longer any follicles (which contain a woman’s eggs) left in the ovaries. During this time, the ovaries essentially shut down and they no longer secrete oestrogen and progesterone; a woman’s two key sex hormones.

Oestrogen and progesterone are responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle, so the menstrual cycle therefore stops when these two hormones are no longer secreted, as there are no longer any follicles (eggs) for release. The change in oestrogen and progesterone production affects the functioning of a woman’s body. Over time, as the body adjusts, symptoms will reduce but can be distressing when at their worst.

What is the best diet for the menopause?

The best way to approach this is to look at foods that will help to balance oestrogen levels within the body. Here are a few top tips:

  • Cruciferous veggies: Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and cabbage contain several powerful nutrients that help metabolize oestrogenic molecules. Read more on the importance of eating plenty of nutrient-dense, phytonutrient-rich foods.

  • Healthy fat-rich foods: These are foods that are rich in saturated and omega-3 fatty acids. It includes plant-based fats such as coconut oil, hemp seed oil, extra virgin olive oil and avocados. Raw nuts (other than peanuts) and seeds contain oestrogen balancing plant sterols.

  • Allium family: The alliums include garlic, onions, scallions, chives and leeks - all of which are rich in sulfur-containing amino acids that both help the liver detoxify and reduce the production of oestrogen.

  • Herbal teas: Green tea and licorice specifically balance oestrogen levels.

  • Lentils: All lentils contain beneficial amounts of phyto-oestrogens that help to balance oestrogen-progesterone levels. Soy is well known for this, but all pulses are helpful.

What lifestyle changes can help ease menopausal symptoms?

One of the primary influencing factors on the severity of symptoms of menopause is stress. Increased severity of symptoms can often be correlated with individuals undergoing external stress.

The stress response is also managed by hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, so it also makes sense that a significant change in the hormonal balance of the body will affect the functioning of other primary hormones in a woman’s body and put the body under a level of physical ‘stress’.

Incorporating daily practices such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness can be helpful, along with listening to what your body needs, being in tune with your energy levels and making sure you are not overdoing it.

What herbs can help during the menopause?

One of the very best herbs for supporting hormonal change throughout a woman’s cycle is shatavari. The name shatavari is derived from the Sanskrit words shat, which means ‘100’ and vari, which means ‘root’. The word vari can also mean ‘husband’, which may explain why Shatavari is often referred to as ‘she who has a hundred husbands’. A reference to the traditional uses of the root, which for centuries has been used to treat and nourish women’s health.

Shatavari is a renowned tonic for the female reproductive system and contains natural precursors to female hormones that help to balance hormones and reduce menopausal symptoms. It is also naturally cooling and moistening to the reproductive tract, making it perfect for the hot, dry symptoms of menopause whilst also boosting libido.

This plant is also classed as an adaptogen, tonifying a weakened system exacerbated by stress and undergoing change.

It’s also worth considering cooling and calming plants that will soothe the nervous system as well as the heat. Roses are a wonderful example and can be made into ice teas or you can try refreshing rose water sprays for the skin.