Coping with menopause without HRT

Valeriana
Valeriana courtesy of A. Vogel

It can start in  your early 40’s (or even before) or you may be 50 or even 60. Some people sail through the menopause, particularly those women in the far east who eat a lot of soya.

While HRT is very popular it has been found to increase the likelihood of both breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Symptoms include: hot flushes and night sweats/anxious and irritable/tiredness/vaginal dryness/bladder discomfort/muscle aches/low libido/weak pelvic floor muscles.  See also Menopause – the change, not the end

 Hot flushes          

Whether they last for a few seconds or induce sweating night and day, hot flushes are a common and debilitating symptom of menopause. If night sweats are happening regularly sleep is also interrupted.

  • Wear little or nothing at night and sleep under lightweight covers;
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, spicy food, hot drinks and red meat;
  • Choose foods rich in naturally occurring oestrogen: soya, golden linseeds and seeds, lentils and chick peas, as well as the supplement Red Clover.

Herbal helpers

A review of five trials found that Black Cohosh reduced hot flushes in 80 per cent of menopausal women, but it isn‘t good for women who get headaches and migraine. As an alternative you could try making a tea with a teaspoonful of chopped up fresh sage leaves and boiling water as an alternative.  It would be irresponsible not to point out that there is a question over the safety of black cohosh – that it may cause liver damage, but it has not been banned. Sometimes research leading these scares is somewhat flawed but make sure you read the label and if in doubt consult a herbalist.

Other tips

Michael Dooley suggests the yoga alternate nostril breath – breathe slowly through one nostril at a time while shutting off the other one with your thumb or finger, and retain the breath to a count of four. He claims, ‘This breathing exercise was shown in a study to enable the pituitary gland to work at its best, reducing body temperature and hot flushes.‘

Homeopathy

Homeopath and author, Beth Maceoin, recommends Pulsatilla for drenching, exhausting sweats particularly at night.

 

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Aches and pains

It‘s easy to think that there‘s something else wrong – like arthritis – when aches and pains in the joints and muscles set in. It seems like old age is creeping up far too quickly, but it‘s a normal menopausal symptom.

Maryon Stewart of The Natural Health Advisory Service suggests:

  • Magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins for muscle function;
  • Glucosamine sulphate which has been shown in several clinical studies to improve pain and joint tenderness – at a dose of 400mg three times a day;
  • Evening primrose and strong fish oils with calcium to help increase the uptake of vitamins and minerals, normalise hormone function, lubricate joints and keep the heart healthy.

There are special menopause formulas which contain many of the recommended supplements, such as Menopace and Fema 45+.

Other helpers:

  • Black Cohosh for aches and pains which feel like rheumatic pain – check the label as there has been some suggestion that too much of this herb can damage the liver
  • Nettle tea to clear out uric acid.

Instead of giving up exercise because of pain weight-bearing exercise can both ease aches and pains and build up bone mass to prevent osteoporosis – walking, tennis, jogging, and skipping are all good.

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Tiredness and insomnia

Passiflora courtesy of A.Vogel Bioforce

‘Not enough sleep, stress at home and at work, lack of exercise and a poor quality diet can all reduce energy levels,’ according to Maryon Stewart of the Women‘s Nutritional Advisory Service. ‘A healthy diet with a multi-vitamin supplement containing 20 to 30mg of zinc is helpful.‘

Expert tips:

  • Ginseng for women who are tired and run down, but choose Siberian Ginseng if anxiety is also a problem;
  • Sepia homeopathic remedy ‘for mental, emotional and physical exhaustion at times of hormonal upheaval and transition’ according to Beth Maceoin.
  • A relaxing night-time tea of Chamomile  can help induce sleep but for persistently bad nights passiflora or valerian tablets and tinctures need to be taken 30 minutes before bedtime.

 

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Anxious and irritable

It‘s not surprising that night sweats, insomnia and a host of hormonal changes leave some women frazzled, anxious and uptight!

Some recommended herbs:

  • Motherwort for anxiety accompanied by palpitations;
  • St John‘s Wort* when women are feeling low – check with doctor if taking medication as well;
  • Chamomile and lemon balm teas for calming.

Aromatherapy oils can also be relaxing – put a few drops in a bath or preferably in a massage!

  • Lavender, rose and geranium oils
  • Ylang ylang on a tissue to ease depression;
  • Lavender oil can be rubbed into the skin – test it first – on the throat either side of the thyroid where it gets absorbed by the carotid artery and carried to the brain.

Other calming tips:

  • Valerian or passiflora herbs for calming;
  • Nux vom homeopathic remedy which according to Beth Maceoin, ‘Is good for anyone who sleeps badly, has headaches and craves tea, coffee, alcohol or cigarettes to keep them going.‘
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Sepia 30C Nelsons Clikpak 84 £5.45
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Loss of libido

There‘s so many reasons for loss of libido at this stage of life – for men and women. Young children, relationship problems, depression, overuse of prescription drugs, plenty of stress at work and home, and hormonal changes all contribute.

Now we have so many herbs at our disposal you can find some to boost sex drive (forget the Viagra!):

  • Damiana used by the Maya of Central America
  • The Chinese Horny Goat Weed;
  • The Inca‘s Maca from Peru and Korean Ginseng, which should not be used by anyone with high blood pressure.
  • Bush Flower Remedies‘ Sexuality

Aromatherapy‘s great for sensual mood building with oil burners or massage. Some oils have an aphrodisiac quality:

  • Neroli
  • Sandalwood
  • Ylang ylang
  • Patchouli
  • Jasmine
  • Rose

The Romans used to scatter rose petals over the beds of newly weds and orange blossom was used to crown brides and calm and relax them before wedding nights.

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Pelvic floor muscles

 
Having children,  intercourse and just getting old all serve to make the pelvic floor muscles weaker. This can result in incontinence, dribbling or discomfort if the walls of the vagina are collapsing on to the bladder or bowel – prolapse.

There are conventional ways of dealing with weak pelvic floor muscles, but even doctors aren’t particularly keen on surgery and it’s such a delicate part of the body that the consequences aren’t always great and the problem isn’t necessarily solved. There are various gadgets that appear that you can put inside the vagina, but quite frankly the best solution is pelvic floor exercises.

They are so easy to do and so discreet that you can practise them while you’re driving, sitting on a train, in the bath, lying in bed or anywhere! Pilates and Yoga are both good for strengthening these muscles, and it is often worth asking the teacher for specific exercises.

Vaginal dryness

A dry vagina is due to the thinning of the mucous membrane and the fact that lubricating fluid is no longer produced. It can lead to painful intercourse and a general feeling of discomfort and the problem may be worse in very hot weather.

Doctors offer pessaries and creams that contain oestrogen, but they do ask if you have breast cancer in the family. If you prefer to avoid taking oestrogen a natural plant-based moisturiser can be just as effective.  A phytoestrogen diet as highlighted above definitely helps as well.

Author of Natural Medicine, a Practical Guide to Family Health, homeopath, Beth Maceoin recommends:

  • Avoid tight jeans and nylon underwear
  • Don‘t use scented soaps or bath foams
  • Do have regular sexual activity! ‘It maintains lubrication and suppleness of the genital area and orgasm with the associated rush of blood and muscular contraction plays an essential part in maintaining moisture and flexibility of the vagina!’

Helpful products

There are some very helpful products on the market at long last to help women with this problem. Some of them are lubricants to use when anticipating making love, while others are pessaries and vaginal gel which are inserted into the vagina overnight to make it more moist generally.  There are also some supplements taken as oral capsules which may prevent the area from drying up.

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Bladder discomfort

Vaginal dryness and prolapse or weak pelvic floor muscles can contribute to bladder discomfort and sometimes it’s really hard to know what is the cause. Another possibility is that the lack of oestrogen in the body can also cause cystitis – eating soya which contains phytoestrogens could help.If the bladder is being squashed by the walls of the vagina it may produce a dragging pain rather like period pain and can lead to considerable discomfort. Without having surgery there isn’t much that can be done except Pelvic Floor Muscle exercises (see above).Vaginal dryness needs to be addressed as well because it can mean that the vagina tissues tear during intercourse, causing infection which spreads to the bladder.If infection in the bladder is a regular problem there are many things that can be tried including:

Uva ursi, a herbal remedy which soothes bladder infections

Compounds in cranberries (proanthocyanidins – PACs) attach themselves to bacteria (which are mainly E-coli) preventing them from adhering to cells in the bladder – try supplements or Ocean Spray’s Cranberry Plus Grape, Apple and Cranberry Juice which contains no artificial sweeteners or sugar.

Avoid sugar and yeast – often the problem can be linked to Candida – see Candida in this section and eat plenty of fresh vegetables, wholegrains and pulses.

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Further information:

British Institute f