Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that (peri)menopause would resemble a bout of PMS that lasts for years?
Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but as my estrogen levels start their inevitable plummet I’m finding I experience low-level menstrual cramps for weeks, often accompanied by the slight headache and sluggish depression that, in years past, I associated with the days before my period.
And speaking of my period – what happened? It arrived like clockwork every 26 days for more than 30 years.
But now “my little friend” comes knocking at all sorts of odd hours. It will surprise me as early as two weeks after my last cycle began, or make me wait a couple of months before its next visit (that’s when those PMS symptoms really have a heyday!)
I’m one of the lucky ones, I know. I was able to plan my activities around my expected cycles for all those decades, and – unlike some of my friends – I didn’t start with the perimenopausal symptoms until well into my 40s. And even now at 50 those symptoms don’t upset my daily life too much.
Well, at least until the last few months.
From PMS To Night Sweats
Take last night. All day I schlepped around complaining to myself about my low back pain and wondering how long my menses was going to wait this time. Then, instead of a restful sleep, I bolted awake every two hours, shoving the covers aside while sweat poured down my face.
I have fallen victim to the dreaded night sweats.
It’s weird because this hot flash/night sweat symptom only affects me at night. (Not that I’m complaining! Hot flashes, you can continue stay away during the day, thank you!)
But they are powerful enough to tell me that despite my best intentions and most health conscious practices, I am definitely headed down menopause lane.
And judging from the frequency that this topic comes up in conversation with my midlife women friends, I’m not the only one struggling to just feel normal.
Again – I’m lucky. My night time sweating episodes only last 10 minutes or so and don’t require me to change the sheets or go take a cooling shower in the middle of the night.
It’s time to do something about it. (And I guess it can’t be booting my husband out of bed. (Sleeping with him is like sleeping next to a giant hot water bottle, the man is a living furnace.)
I’ve been a little lazy about this whole “change of life” thing thus far. Since my symptoms were minor, I had not yet plunged full bore into researching the optimum nutritional and herbal therapies for lowered estrogen levels.
So What’s The Menopause Remedy?
During my years at Moonrise Herbs I spent hours helping women find the right herbs for their specific package of symptoms. Some found the teas, tinctures and supplements to be enough, especially when combined with some dietary modifications.
Others needed to turn it up and seek out stronger therapies, such as topical hormones, bioidentical hormone therapy – or going for the full on Hormone Replacement Therapy.
Most wanted to avoid that though – and that’s why they’d made their way into an herb shop, even if they’d never stepped foot in one before.
Here’s the frustrating part: There are no quick fixes when it comes to relieving menopausal symptoms by natural means. By most accounts it can take six weeks to several months to bring the body into some semblance of homeostasis.
But, I guess that beats 10 years – that’s the average time the transition takes, from the earliest perimenopausal symptoms until the day a woman can proudly claim the title of Crone (12 months after her very last period.)
We’ve Only Just Begun
This is Part One of a “Menopause Series.” Over the next weeks and months, I’ll share some of the best natural menopause remedies I know of, along with case studies and stories about what works and what hasn’t worked so well – both for me and for women I’ve worked with.
And here’s where you come in.
To make this series the most useful for you, my dearest readers, I need to know what menopause symptoms plague you (or scare you with their imminence) the most. What would be most useful for you to learn about in future menopause articles?
You can tell me in the comment section below, or shoot me an email. You’ll find my email address on the “About” section of this blog.
For now here’s five tips on general lifestyle adjustments and natural remedies that may help to reduce the intensity of your overall symptoms. In future installments I’ll get more specific about each.
Minimize Your Menopause Misery
1) Nutrition (Foods & Substances To Add Or Avoid)
Now more than ever, it’s important to pay attention to what you are putting into your body. For example, much as I hate to admit it I’ve noticed that those night sweats ramp up when I’ve had a little too much wine.
Well, guess what? Alcohol (especially red wine) is on that ‘Avoid’ or ‘Reduce’ list for a healthy symptom-free menopause. (In my case it has to be ‘reduce’ – I love my wine!) I definitely notice a difference, though, when I forgo that second or third glass.
You might notice that it’s caffeine that brings on the hot flashes, mood swings, or other unpleasant notifications that your estrogen supply is winding down. Start paying attention to your own triggers – then you can make the necessary decisions about how much you choose to consume.
The usual no-no’s can wreak even more havoc in your body during this time, especially too much salt, junk food, sugar and refined flours, and nicotine.
And then there’s all that hot stuff. It’s best to steer clear of cayenne and hot and spicy sauces – especially if you are dealing with hot flashes.
Replace some of these substances with sprouted seeds and legumes. They are packed with essential fatty acids, enzymes and lots of other goodness. Buy the sprouts at a health food store, or sprout them at home.
And bring on the fresh leafy green veggies and other vegetables. Eat as much and as often as you can.
Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids will help keep the moisture in your skin, hair and (I’d say most importantly) the vaginal tissues. Such foods include walnuts, salmon, trout and flax seeds.
2) Some Helpful Herbs
Some of the plants that get rave reviews for moderating hormones include: chaste tree berry (often called vitex), black cohosh (specifically for hot flashes), motherwort, dong quai, red clover, licorice and panax ginseng.
You also want herbs that regulate liver function, act as natural diuretics, alleviate stress and support the adrenal system. Supporting all of these system makes for an easier transition through the menopausal years.
Consistency is the key here. You must make a commitment to drink your tea (or take your herbal supplement) several times a day.
Herbs can be taken as teas, liquid extracts, or even in capsules. Many herbalists recommend combining several different liquid extracts (that can get expensive), and there are plenty of combinations already formulated and readily available for purchase.
You have to experiment to find the right combo for your particular symptom pattern and constitution.
I’ll go into specific herbs and how they work in more depth – including references to entire books on the subject – in future posts.
Ah, there it is again. No matter what your phase of life, exercise is going to improve things. This couldn’t be more true than during the menopausal years.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be sweating it out in spandex at the gym. Yoga, dance and good old walking can make a huge difference in how you feel during ‘the change.’
However, to prevent osteoporosis the exercise must be weight bearing. Now, you don’t have to do a weight lifting class or hire a personal trainer (although that is certainly an excellent way to avoid future broken hips).
Weight bearing exercise just means anything that combines use of the muscles with gravity’s pull on the bones.
So, while swimming doesn’t quite make the grade on this one, uphill walking or hiking and even gardening does. Ditto for dancing, yoga and Pilates.
4) Supportive Supplements
Although it is always preferable to get your nutrients from food sources, supplements are a valuable addition. Vitamin E and Evening Primrose Oil are two that are on every menopause relief list.
Omega-3 fatty acids are another important nutrient worth supplementing with. In addition to increasing those needed moisture levels, they have been shown to minimize bone mass decline. Fish oil is a great source of Omega-3s, as is flax seed oil.
A good B-complex supplement can do wonders to stabilize stress levels and balance blood sugar, and Vitamin C can reduce hot flashes. Additional nutrients to consider are: calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D, silica and boron.
5) Inner Attention
Menopause is not just a physical transition. Many of us find ourselves facing huge changes both in our inner and outer lives. Children leave the nest, marriages sometimes implode, buried feelings begin to bubble up and overflow in disturbing ways. And that’s just the beginning.
My friend Jackie Walker recently wrote this in an online conversation on the subject: I started noticing I was getting hot flushes, and I realised they were connected to anger, and if I released the anger, they stopped! And, anger in women is deemed ‘unseemly’ so there’s an awful lot of unexpressed or unfelt anger lying dormant and unconscious.
The truth is, most of us women spend decades giving emotional sustenance to others and only short shrift to ourselves. Once we get to perimenopause if we don’t turn some of this love and attention to our own needs, we can get slammed with hot flashes and other unpleasant symptoms.
How exactly to do this could be the subject of an entire book. (And Jackie is a great resource for help in getting rid of anger.)
Taking some time to nurture and get to know yourself and your needs during this phase of life is essential. Meditation, walking in nature and journaling are three of my favorites – and any of these would be a great place to start.
Some of us might need to take it a little further with therapy or coaching – or maybe by joining a women’s circle.
The good news is, despite the tempest brewing inside of us, wiser women who have reached the other side tell us this is our time of power. It is a time of great transformation and a portal to a new relationship with our creativity.
This above information barely pokes the surface of a deep well. Future posts in the series will delve further into how to handle these physical and emotional changes as our hormones start to wreak some serious havoc.
So tell me – which of the topics above would you be most interested in learning more about? Or is there another menopause related issue or natural therapy you’d love me to write on? Let me know in the comments below or send me an email.