What is the menopause?
The menopause is the name given to the end of menstruation (periods). It is also commonly referred to as “the change of life”. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 52. If the menopause occurs in a woman who is under 45 years of age it is known as premature menopause. It is estimated that premature menopause affects 1% of women under the age of 40 and 0.1% of women under the age of 30.
A woman is said to have reached the menopause once she has not had a period for one year, signalling the end of your reproductive years. It happens when there are no more eggs in your ovaries. Because eggs stimulate your body to produce oestrogen, when they run out, the levels of oestrogen in the blood drop, resulting in menopausal changes in the body.
During the time leading up to the menopause several hormonal and biological changes occur. As a result of these hormonal changes, many women experience both physical and emotional symptoms.
What is the peri-menopause?
The time leading up to the menopause is known as the peri-menopause. The peri-menopausal stage lasts around four years and starts around the age of 47. During this peri-menopausal phase, your periods may become irregular and it is now that the hormonal and biological changes that are associated with the menopause begin.
PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) or PMT (Premenstrual Tension)
PMS or PMT affects around 75% of menstruating women in one way or another. Symptoms include irritability, mood swings, low mood, bloating and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms can continue through the perimenopause stage and into menopause itself.
Natural support for PMS
Agnus castus has been used in herbal medicine for centuries to relieve symptoms associated with female hormonal imbalances such as menstrual cramps, mood swings and water retention.
Benefits of Agnus Castus
Agnus castus is thought to work by prompting the pituitary gland into sending a signal to the ovaries to balance the body’s natural oestrogen-progesterone ratio. This in turn helps to relieve some of the familiar symptoms of PMS such as irritability, depression, breast pain and bloating, which are thought to be triggered by an imbalance of these hormones.
Taken in the years leading up to the menopause, agnus castus can help to regulate the menstrual cycle and control bleeding. It can also be used alone or in combination with other herbs such as black cohosh or sage to help relieve or prevent menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes, night sweats and headaches.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
As a result of the hormonal changes surrounding the menopause, many women experience both physical and emotional symptoms. These include:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Insomnia/disrupted sleep
- Weight gain (especially around the waist and abdomen)
- Skin changes such as thinner, drier skin and hair and brittle nails
- Aches and pains in your joints and muscles
- Lower libido
- Vaginal changes – dryness, pain during sexual intercourse and increased risk of vaginal infections
- Urinary changes – inability to control urination and increased risk of urinary infections
- Difficulty concentrating and memory lapses
- Fatigue/low energy levels
- Mood swings and irritability
A major life change such as the menopause can also have psychological implications for a woman, and common emotional symptoms include:
- Loss of self-esteem
- Anxiety and panic attacks
Best Menopause Supplements:
A member of the buttercup family, the black cohosh herb was widely used by the Native Americans to treat the menopause alongside other hormonal complaints. It has an oestrogenic effect, which makes it useful for many menopausal symptoms including hot flushes, anxiety and low mood. It also helps to protect against vaginal atrophy (thinning and drying of the vaginal walls) as well as osteoporosis.
MenoHerb is traditionally used for relieving symptoms of the menopause including hot flushes, night sweats and temporary mood changes.
MenoMood combines Black Cohosh with St John’s Wort – a traditional herbal remedy used to relieve symptoms of anxiety and low mood.
Black Cohosh should not be used if you have had breast cancer or another ‘hormone’ driven cancer and is not recommended for long-term use.
Sage is one of the best remedies for hot flushes and can be extremely effective in as little as a couple of days. It has an anti-diaphoretic action, which means it helps to stop sweating and helps to cool the body; it was traditionally used to treat fevers. It is available as a tablet or tincture and can also be taken as a tea.
HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) is the conventional treatment for menopause. While for some it works really well, for others it may be unsuitable, especially if you are looking for a more natural approach to managing your symptoms.
Other lifestyle changes you can make to help manage the menopause:
- Eat a balanced diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables and avoid processed, refined foods.
- Calcium can help to keep bones strong, so make sure your diet is rich in dairy products, fish with bones such as sardines and leafy green vegetables.
- Vitamin D and magnesium also help maintain bone health. Our skin produces most of the vitamin D we need when it is exposed to sunlight, but you can also find it in oily fish, eggs and some fortified breakfast cereals. Magnesium, which aids the absorption of calcium, can be found in nuts and pulses.
- Omega-3 fatty acids can be really beneficial for many women during menopause, as they can help to maintain a healthy heart and healthy joints. You can increase your dietary intake by eating oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and herring.
- Regular exercise can help to alleviate some symptoms of the menopause such as hot flushes, night sweats, difficulty in sleeping and mood changes.
- Physical activity that involves weight-bearing, such as dancing, aerobics, stair-climbing and skipping, can slow down the loss of bone density associated with menopause.
- Exercise can also protect from heart disease and strokes, of which women are at an increased risk after the menopause.
- Activity such as brisk walking, jogging, hiking or aerobics release endorphins, the feel-good hormones in the body, which can help alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety.