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Managing the menopause

Sarah Burt ND offers some tips on how to handle the symptoms of the menopause naturally

Menopause, the time in a woman’s life where the monthly periods cease to happen, can be an unstable time of life for many.

The lead-up to this period can take up to 10 years of what is known as perimenopause, in which many of the symptoms which hit full force in actual menopause can start to happen. This is an ideal time for women to begin making changes to their diet and lifestyle to try to minimise the severity of some of these common complaints.

Menopause officially occurs after a woman has not had a period for three consecutive years. There may be two or three episodes where she might think she is going through the menopause due to no bleeding for nearly two years, and then out of the blue she can bleed again.

It is a time where hormones, including oestrogen, progesterone and androgens, are altering radically in the body. These fluctuating hormone levels are the reason why some women suffer with many symptoms whereas others might have none. This is why a healthy lifestyle and diet are so important during this time of change .

Love your liver

It is critical to follow a diet that is rich in plant protein (such as nuts, pulses and grains) as well as high in fresh fruit and vegetables and fish oils. It’s also important to drink as much water as possible. The liver is responsible for healthy hormone production, so following these dietary tips will help to ease the way it handles these altering hormone levels as we mature. A poor diet full of too much meat, processed foods, fat, tea, coffee, sugar and alcohol puts excess pressure on the liver, making it less effective at managing alterations in hormone levels. Stress also plays a big part in the severity of menopausal symptoms, so it is highly advisable to deal with any underlying issues that might be causing tension.

Signs and symptoms

Here are the most common symptoms experienced during menopause plus some ways to help treat them:

Sleep problems

Midlife women go through many changes in their sleep patterns, which can result in needing more sleep than ever, suffering from insomnia or not feeling refreshed after sleep. Hot flushes are by far the most common reason for sleep deprivation.

Try this: A natural progesterone cream made from wild yam plants may help. Try a quarter to half a teaspoon of the cream rubbed into the skin before bedtime. It binds to receptors in the brain and has a calming effect. It also helps to increase progesterone in the bloodstream, which has a calming effect on hot flushes.

Valerian is a botanical herb that can enhance relaxation – try 150 to 300mg of valerenic acid at bedtime. Milk thistle is a well-known herbal plant which helps to cleanse and renew the liver, so if you are waking feeling unrefreshed from a night’s sleep it may be because the liver needs some support.

Hot flushes

These are one of the most common symptoms experienced during the menopause. They are triggered by neurotransmitter changes in the brain that result, in part, from erratic oestrogen levels which act as a cerebral irritant.

Try this: The wild yam progesterone cream mentioned previously, applied twice a day, can really help to reduce these. Also, the herb sage is traditionally used as a tea to help diminish the severity and frequency of hot flushes. Stress reduction is the biggest factor in treating the hot flushes as high adrenal output of adrenaline and cortisol radically enhance this symptom during menopause.

Depression and anxiety

Oestrogen boosts serotonin and acetylcholine, which are neurohormones associated with positive moods. So the decrease of oestrogen during the menopause may lead to symptoms such as depression and anxiety.

Try this: Deficiencies of certain nutrients can be linked to depression, so good supplements in the following are recommended:

Memory loss

Decreasing oestrogen has an effect on acetylcholine, which regulates memory, leading many women to experience frightening memory loss.

This is often greatly improved by taking a small amount of bioidentical oestrogen. However, for many women where there is a history of breast cancer in their families, feeding the brain with nutrients is a preferable approach.

Try this: DHEA acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, promoting the same connecting branches between brain cells that are seen with oestrogen. Pregnenolone (25–50mg) is a precursor to DHEA and is widely available over the counter.

Herbal supplements that are also effective are Gingko Biloba, which increases blood flow to the brain, and is widely suggested at 100mg three times a day, and Gotu Kola, known as ‘‘the memory herb’’, which increases circulation to the brain with a recommended dose of 100mg daily.

Irritable bladder

Strong urges to urinate, or loss of bladder control, are other symptoms commonly reported amongst perimenopausal women. Involuntary contractions can start to occur in the bladder muscle which can be caused by a localised lack of oestrogen in the bladder and urethral area. This can also start to cause recurrent urinary tract infections.

Try this: Drink copious amounts of water and consider taking a cranberry extract which contains a substance that prevents bacteria from sticking to the bladder walls. A daily probiotic that is specific for women’s health may also help.

Vaginal dryness

This is another result of declining oestrogen levels as the lining of the vaginal mucosa deteriorates.

Try this: This is usually rectified by using an oestriol cream which, if given locally, is safe to use as it doesn’t affect oestrogen in the whole body, but equally can be done by using a non-hormonal natural lubricant. A number of herbal remedies can also be used to restore vaginal lubrication: black cohosh, wild yam, dong quai and chaste tree are good examples.

Skin ageing

This seems to happen very quickly without the levels of oestrogen and can leave the skin very dull, sallow, dry and with uneven pigmentation.

Try this: Research has shown that antioxidant therapy, such as high doses of vitamin C, green tea extract, vitamin E and vitamin A can all be applied topically if they are in a form that is absorbed effectively into the skin. Additionally, these nutrients can be taken as supplements:

Overall, promoting good liver function through a healthy diet and lifestyle and living as stress-free as possible are primary factors in avoiding severe symptoms during this time in our lives when natural changes in hormones are taking place.

Sarah Burt ND is a qualified naturopath and a member of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council as well as the General Council and Register of Naturopaths. To contact her and find out more, visit

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