Herbal medicine and the menopause

Have you been listening to Women's Hour on Radio 4 this week about the menopause? I felt I should stick my oar in to say that you do have a choice - it doesn't have to be HRT! Are you suffering from any of these symptoms?

  • Hot flushes/night sweats
  • Depression, anxiety, irritability
  • Poor memory, insomnia
  • Palpitations, raised blood pressure
  • Joint pain
  • Vaginal dryness, UTIs, low libido
  • Fatigue, exhaustion

Hopefully not all of the above!

Menopause (the complete stopping of periods) tends to occur between the ages of 45 and 55. Over time, progesterone and oestrogen levels start to decline, and in the run up to the actual menopause (the "perimenopause"), periods start to become irregular and often very heavy (more about the perimenopause in a future post). The symptoms above are generally considered to be due to these changes in oestrogen.

Mood issues are also related to psychological factors - "empty nest" syndrome, difficult teenagers or ageing parents, the loss of your childbearing years (I know many women will be cheering at this!) and the fact that society is just so youth-oriented. It's no surprise that self-esteem can be hit as well.

What can herbal medicine do to help? Well, first of all, your first appointment gives you a full 55 minutes to talk about EVERYTHING that you're going through at the moment. We go through each of your body systems and not just your gynae health. We talk about your diet and what dietary supplements and changes might help, what drugs you may already be taking, and your social and family situation. You'll probably be prescribed a herbal mix of 5 or 6 separate herbs that might have the overall effect, for example, of helping with your hot flushes, lifting your mood and stopping you shouting at your family as much, relieving palpitations and easing joint pain. One of the herbs sometimes prescribed for menopausal symptoms is Vitex agnus-castus or chaste tree. It helps balance the hormones and also acts on the body's supply of the neurotransmitter dopamine which means it can help with insomnia. However, it's a herb that needs to be prescribed with caution as it doesn't suit all situations and dosage is very important.

If you've had it up to here with the menopause, why not have a chat with your medical herbalist?