Despite commonly being viewed as a stage of bothersome symptoms and general inconvenience, menopause is a natural biological transition in every woman’s life that brings transformation, both physically and emotionally. Our reductionist conventional medical system often depicts menopause as something to be treated, offering patches and pills of synthetic hormone replacement therapy, mood stabilizing drugs for anxiety and depression, and preventative medications for osteoporosis. While some of these drugs can be necessary, they also have a range of side effects and taken long term, can cause damage to the body. As individuals and society as a whole, evolving our perspective on this transitional time to embrace these changes – instead of fight them – will better nurture our needs as women, and prevent the need for invasive treatments.
On a biochemical level, menopause depresses the production of estrogen by the ovaries. Though the adrenal glands produce small amounts of estrogen, serum estrogen drops dramatically compared to reproductive years, inhibiting the menstrual cycle. This relative estrogen deficiency also contributes to the well known symptoms, including hot flashes, mood imbalances, and night sweats. Estrogen receptors are found in bones, and when these receptors are not filled, loss of bone density can occur, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
Using herbal medicine to ease the body through the significant drop in estrogen can help alleviate unpleasant symptoms. Certain herbs such as sage, black cohosh, and soy isoflavones contain phytoestrogens, constituents that resemble and act like estrogens on a chemical level within the human body. These plant based molecules fill estrogen receptors, and are able to be used by the body as a means of natural hormone replacement. This can help reduce hot flashes, mood changes, vaginal dryness, and sleep disturbances. In particular, sage is a good herb of choice, as its cooling properties further assist with temperature regulation, reducing hot flashes, controlling night sweats, and balancing chills.
Beyond the physical realm, an important but overlooked aspect of menopause is honouring the emotional component of this transition. Loss of fertility can cause underlying sadness or grief that often goes unrecognized; though, in turn, also promotes freedom. In many cultures globally, menopause is viewed as the final stage of physical, emotional, and spiritual evolution in the life of a woman (third after puberty and pregnancy), and post-menopausal women are warmly regarded as “women of wisdom”.
Providing the body with a foundation of balanced nutrition by eating whole, fresh, seasonal foods will enable physical strength.
Practising stress reduction techniques encourages cellular resilience and supports the adrenal glands as this organ takes over the responsibility as the primary producer of estrogen in the body.
When the emotional changes challenge you, seek support and social interaction with loved ones and likeminded individuals in the community. Allow yourself space and honour your needs during this life change, and encourage yourself to explore a spiritual practise such as meditation, mantra work, yoga, or prayer, if any of these practises resonate with you.
Plant based medicines such as sage or other estrogen-supporting herbs can gently guide the body into a state of balance, aiding challenging physical and emotional side effects of menopause.
Remember that bioindividuality will play an important role in your experience with menopause. Depending on her genetics, environment, social integration and relationships, emotional balance and mindset, and nutritional status, every woman will have a different perspective, symptoms, and duration of this transformation. Find peace and comfort knowing that many women report discovering a newfound love for life and creative passions on the other side of this transition. Many women walk alongside you during this time and beyond.
Kayla MacDonald, R.H.N.