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 vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and cabbage contain several powerful nutrients that help metabolise 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.
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.
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.
Natural supplements for the menopause
One key difference after the menopause is that the lower levels of oestrogen can impact on bone density, so increasing key minerals to support bone health and incorporating herbs that boost circulation to the muscles, such as turmeric, can be especially helpful. Our organic Womankind Menopause supplement can help replenish your body during this transition.
If you are noticing changes, it is important to give yourself a break and understand that what your mind and body are going through is totally natural. The body has been functioning in a certain way for a length of time and this has now changed.
The change in hormone levels can affect energy, mood, motivation, libido and emotional health. The first and most helpful step is understanding how your body has changed and what, for you as an individual, is going to be most helpful. For example, if stress is your preliminary influencing factor, this is where your focus needs to be concentrated.
We are partnering with the Sport and Health Sciences Department at the University of Exeter to explore the impact of Indian herb, shatavari, on bone and muscle health in post-menopausal woman. Among other symptoms, it is well known that the menopause can affect joints, knees, shoulders, neck, elbows, or hands - presenting aches and pains (not previously experienced) in most cases. The researched reason for this is oestrogen levels are lowered post-menopause, and oestrogen helps to reduce inflammation and lowered oestrogen can impact bone density. Increasing key minerals to support bone health and boost circulation to the muscles becomes increasingly important at this stage in a woman’s life. Exploring how shatavari improves oestrogen reception in women after the menopause are the University of Exeter’s Dr Mary O’Leary and Head of the Sport and Health Science, Dr Joanna Bowtell.
Author: Dr Vivien Rolfe
Head of Herbal Research
Viv is a gut physiologist and has recently achieved a Foundation in Herbal Medicine. She leads Pukka’s research programme to explore how herbs can benefit our health and be used to widen healthcare choices. This includes research into herbs for Women’s health and as alternatives to antibiotics. She establishes global research partnerships and enthuses the next generation of scientists through Pukka’s Scholarship Scheme. She is a champion of diversity in science and open access to knowledge.
BSc, PhD, PFHEA
Years of experience:
30+ years in the wellbeing industry and academia
Degree in Physiology University of Sheffield, PhD University of Sheffield, Foundation in Herbalism Heartwood, MBA Entrepreneurship (on-going) Edinburgh Napier University, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Membership of Nutrition Society, Physiological Society, Society for Chemical Industry, and other herbal and botanical groups.