The Menopause Promise
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Menopause & Herbs
Menopause can bring a new level of freedom and excitement about starting a new phase of life. For many women however, they are often confronted with a litany of changes and problems including: muscles aches and pains, anxiety, fear, nervousness, increased bladder infections, severe cramps, depression, numbness, digestive disturbances, bloating, dry skin and vaginal tissues, emotional instability and uproar, scanty and irregular periods, fibroids, cardiovascular disease, fatigue, menstrual flooding, headaches and migraines, heart palpitations, hot flashes, incontinence, depressed libido, skin changes including itching, burning and atrophy, joint pain, night sweats, severe premenstrual syndrome, panic attacks, dizziness, dry eyes, dry and burning mouth, rage, postmenopausal bleeding, restless or little sleep, sore breast tissue, hypertension, elevated blood lipids, thinning of hair, increased weight gain, spotting, increased yeast infections, poor memory and concentration... to name a few. Of course, there is the ever present fear of osteoporosis crippling and debilitating women's lives.
All these experiences and statistics are real and represent real suffering and decrease in the quality of women's lives. What is the solution? Is it true that women may need to have their hormonal output chemically altered and adjusted to escape a generally unhealthy life? Does it make any evolutionary sense that women would have a built-in sabotage mechanism for decreasing their quality of life? Or might it be that there are other reasons why these are the outcomes for menopausal women?
The shifting hormone patterns of menopause can appear to be quite an unhappy prospect if viewed only from the vantage point of the cessation of estrogen and progesterone production and the withdrawal of their support for body processes that up to this point in life we have viewed as normal and beneficial. It can look as if nature has set the stage for increased aging and decreased optimal functioning, comfort, and growth. Viewed from this vantage point we would want to do everything possible to maintain the normal functioning of our bodies as they operated in our younger years. Nature must have somehow made a mistake in having women live for so many years after menopause in such a declining state of viable health and well-being. If we could improve upon this error it would certainly be to our benefit to do so.
But logic would direct us to look again at menopause from the vantage point that menopause is not an error or oversight of nature, but rather the next step in evolution, growth, and development for women. In the plant and animal kingdoms, if an individual can not continue to grow in a healthy manner it has its own built-in mechanisms to assist it in removing itself as an energy drain on the community and it dies. As a matter of course, women do not die after menopause. Logically then, there should be a next step in evolution and growth that the menopause changes facilitate. By shifting the paradigm from which we look at menopause we may see many new possibilities and benefits that arise from the changes that occur during the menopause transition.
Because all women go through menopause and not just a select few, it would seem reasonable to assume that menopause has some benefit to women. The body in its wisdom may shift the hormonal interplay for the continuing benefit of women. Many health care practitioners have observed that women who go through menopause viewing it as a natural, healthy process have an easier time than women who view menopause as time of crisis and degeneration. Fear, misunderstanding and dread all seem to influence women's bodies and their experience of menopause.
Hormonal Changes That Occur In Menopause
With each menstrual cycle one follicle matures and an additional 1000 or more degenerate. Most women have exhausted their supply of follicles by their late 40's. As women enter their 40's aging effects occur in the reproductive cycle.
As the number of follicles diminish, the remaining follicles produce less and less estrogen and thus the production of progesterone also becomes deficient. In the transition to menopause, ovulation occurs less frequently. Because of the drop in hormonal output by the ovaries, the pituitary hormone FSH rises in an attempt to push the ovaries to secrete more estrogen. Sometimes these high levels of FSH over-stimulate the follicles and produce an abundance of estrogen. Very high levels of estrogen may be produced and yet not enough progesterone will be produced because the follicles never mature sufficiently. This fluctuation between the production of high and low levels of estrogen may continue for years.
During this time women can be very vulnerable to a variety of health problems. The imbalance of estrogen and progesterone levels can trigger the growth of uterine fibroids, PMS symptoms, and changes in the amount and frequency of the menstrual cycle. When estrogen levels are low there tends to be longer intervals between cycles, and lighter bleeding. When estrogen levels surge without the secretion of adequate amounts of progesterone there may be heavier and more frequent menstrual bleeding. The menstrual cycle often becomes irregular and the onset of menses will occur erratically until menstruation stops completely. The fallopian tubes and the length of the vagina shrink, and the lining of the uterus and vaginal epithelium change. The external genitalia shrink. The pelvic ligaments which provide support for the bladder and vagina lose their integrity and elasticity. Pubic and underarm hair thin and body fat is redistributed. Symptoms such as bleeding or fibroid growth may lead to more hysterectomies.
Finally, as the follicles become exhausted, the estrogen levels drop to a point where there is not enough estrogen to build up the lining of the uterus sufficiently to induce menstruation. This usually occurs between the ages of 46 to 53 . A women is officially considered menopausal when she has had no menstrual period for at least 6 months.
As estrogen levels diminish, the level of FSH begins to rise to the point where it is considered to be diagnostic for menopause. FSH levels continue to remain high during the postmenopausal years. After the menstrual periods cease, the pituitary continues to release FSH's companion, luteinizing hormone (LH) and along with FSH LH levels remain elevated in the postmenopausal years.
The Menopause Opportunity
What if the symptoms of menopause were actually a psychological and spiritual opportunity for growth and development rather than a degeneration and decline of usefulness and productivity accompanied by bothersome and unhealthy symptoms?
For instance, it might be that hot flashes represent a rising and rebalancing of life-force energy that assists women in burning off stress and attaining new levels of evolutionary development. In some spiritually advanced practices, great increases in body heat are associated with great increases in the flow of the vital electricity / energy.
As women go through the menopausal years perhaps hot flashes are the physical manifestations of the emergence of an increased electrical / energy flow in women which is opening and stabilizing new channels of energy flow. As women learn to experience this new flow of energy as positive, beautiful, and transforming they may become aware that in menopause they maybe experiencing a dissolution of habitual ways of viewing the world. In this process they may be releasing and forgiving unresolved stresses and unworkable patterns of behavior, thoughts, and feelings. Hot flashes may be the symptom of a blocked or hampered energy force the purpose of which is to burn away unworkability and to bring forth stronger, and more productive vital energy forces.
Menopause is a time of mid-life reevaluation when women are pressed to question what the most important things in their lives are. Women may suddenly realize that their lives are out of synch with their values and make important decisions to either adjust to the present circumstances or make drastic changes that allow them to live more congruently with their deeply held values.
Menopause is a time when authenticity and integrity become of paramount importance to women. Menopause fosters a self-examination that brings women to a clearer set of inner values and the need to change outer life circumstances to be more in line with these inner values. During menopause many women are driven to have their external world reflect and extend their internal values bringing themselves into a state of integrity or wholeness. Temporary states of stress arising from changing lifestyles seem to be much easier than being out of sync with one's core beliefs.
This mid-life reexamination in which values and outer life structures may undergo an extensive transformation are accompanied by physical changes in a woman's body that prime her for coming more fully into her evolutionary expansion and for making a more expanded social contribution.
The physical changes that occur in menopause may be part of an initiation into what can be the most powerful, exciting and fulfilling times of a woman's life. Just as the years leading up to puberty, during which women's bodies undergo physical changes in shape and function that enable them to gain the physiological and psychological capacity to love and mother children , so too the menopausal years, during which women's bodies undergo physical changes in shape and function, may enable her to gain the capacity to embrace the world at a world level from the vantage point of the wisdom gained throughout her life. Just as in her reproductive years she is the vehicle for carrying the next generation into existence, in the menopausal years she is now primed to be the vehicle to carry the transformations that will support the next generation.
Before this transformation is complete women may feel out of synch with their rapidly changing and unfamiliar body. This is the time when the physical symptoms that we spoke about earlier may be experienced. Mental reevaluation may also be evident when women experience more vivid dreams, deja vug, increased recognition of synchronicities, increased confidence in their judgment, more self-esteem, and stronger intuition. Many also experience a strong, decisive wisdom that helps break old patterns and fuels the move toward authenticity. This mental evolution that occurs during menopause can also be experienced as lack of focus on what is happening outwardly, mood swings and feelings of being overwhelmed in the ability to cope.
During the time in which women are experiencing a decline in the female hormones estrogen and progesterone and a corresponding increase in the production of male hormones ( testosterone levels increase twenty-fold) women are also experiencing an emergence of fierceness that Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., terms the Guardian archetype. Gradually during these years, women relinquish their passiveness and become more assertive and they begin expanding their visions to the larger realm of humanity. Women may awaken dramatically to social responsibility.
The hormonal changes that occur during menopause affect the liver, the fat cells, the adrenals, the pancreas, the thyroid, and the pituitary and hypothalamus. Menopause is intended by nature to be a gradual process with few side effects. In well nourished, vibrant women with strong adrenals and other glands that can pick up the job where estrogen leaves off women can remain active, attractive and healthy. Graceful aging can continue, as nature naturally compensates for menopause. Many menopausal problems occur from hormonal imbalances as a result of the effects of stress on the endocrine system and the depletion of and imbalances of important minerals, vitamins, enzymes, amino acids and micro-nutrients. The feelings of ill-health that many women experience may be due to the body's difficulty in being able to naturally compensate for changing hormonal functioning because of accumulated deficiencies and degeneration.
Menopause Herbal Allies
Herbs can be a great help in times like this because they support building and regeneration, enabling the body to heal and nurture itself.
Plants do not contain plant hormones and none have human hormones either. Some plants encourage certain hormone production and some contain constituents such as flavonoids which are hormone-like. Plant hormone-like constituents are called phytosterols and can be converted to human hormones in the body. There are as many as 300 plants that have phytoestrogen content. These plants do not contain estrogen or progesterone. Phytoestrogens refers to plant constituents with molecular structures similar to estrogen and progesterone and which can mimic the true hormone molecules.
Phytosterols provide building blocks that assist the body in producing the precise amount of hormone needed when it is needed. Herbs are taken in by the body through enzyme systems and work with the body to stabilize and revitalize normal body functions. Phytosterols do not usually cause unpleasant side effects such as fluid retention, cellulite deposits, and drastic appetite changes. They act in a way to regenerate the body processes that are needed to produce the amounts of hormones that are in the right proportion for a woman's need.
A woman's need for the various hormones varies throughout the day and from day to day. When using appropriate herbs the body may be able to produce the hormone interplay that is needed at the time from the building blocks supplied by the plants. Herbs can work to produce specific hormonal changes either increasing or decreasing levels of specific hormones. With phytosterols we do not need to try and predict exact hormone levels or eliminate excess hormone production. The herbs assist the body in this function and a well-nourished body can access and activate the processes to do this properly.
Menopause Herbal Support
In menopause we would be providing support for the following processes and functions in the body:
By regenerating and nourishing these processes and functions and supporting organs, glands, and cellular functions we can provide the body with the best possible support to carry on the process of menopause. The body can then operate to its fullest potential during these transitional years bringing about the most expansive experience of menopause possible. By providing the body with the proper support menopause can be one of the richest and most rewarding periods of a women's life.
A well-designed herbal program can support all of the vital processes and functions needed for the body to be fully operational during the menopause years. Herbs can support and regenerate the endocrine glands, particularly the adrenals and the pituitary, pancreas, thyroid and hypothalamus; the kidneys and liver, and proper cellular metabolic processes. In addition to this, herbs like black Cohosh and chaste Tree can be used to balance out specific hormone imbalances.
Two Important Menopause Herbs
Black Cohosh is an important menopause phytosterol which contains constituents which increase its bioavailability in the body. Black Cohosh has been shown in clinical studies to be as effective as ERT in relieving hot flashes, sleep disturbances, and irritability, headaches, water retention, joint pain, and fatigue. Black Cohosh works well to balance estrogen insufficiency. It contains estrogenic sterols, micro-nutrients, and glycosides that assist the body in promoting estrogen production and reducing LH. As long as you are not experiencing menstrual flooding, Black Cohosh can help ease the menopause transition. Black Cohosh promotes regular menstruation, relieves menstrual cramps, relaxes the uterus and relieves irregular, clotted menses.
Black Cohosh is used as a tonic for the nervous system acting directly on the central nervous system and is an excellent nervine. Through its antispasmodic factors and aspirin-like salicylates that dilate the blood vessels it helps to soothe local pain and to relieve headaches. It slightly depresses the central nervous system and assists with emotional and nervous tension and with pain and neuralgia , muscular soreness or aching due to nervous indigestion, arthritis, spinal irritation with or without inflammation, muscular rheumatism, sciatica, neuritis, flu, or fever. It may relax and restore the nerves and calm the spirit.
Black Cohosh seems to act directly on the lungs, heart, stomach, kidneys, and reproductive organs. It is a mild cardiac tonic slightly lowering the blood pressure and the heart rate, while increasing the force of the pulse and equalizing blood circulation by dilating the blood vessels and thinning the blood. It also works in the body to stimulate the secretions of the liver, kidneys, spleen, and lymph system . By nourishing the kidneys and adrenals it eases fluid buildup.
It has been used successfully to reduce the number and intensity of hot flashes and helps tonify and strengthen the pelvic muscles and prevent and correct uterine and bladder prolapsed. By stopping spasms in the urinary system it helps incontinence.
Black Cohosh works well with conditions of energy constraint or deficiency and helps invigorate life energy , reduce irritability and restlessness, agitation and hysteria, and promote peaceful sleep. Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castii)
Chaste Tree is a normalizing herb for the female reproductive system acting over a long period of time (a year or more) to regulate and synchronize a woman's hormonal interplay. It is particularly important for today's woman who faces constant stress in her daily life because it regulates and harmonizes the entire endocrine system and stimulates the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is responsible for regulating hormone production. Chaste Tree increases the production of luteotrophic hormone and luteinizing hormone which enhances the production of progesterone and the brain chemical dopamine. It decreases the production of follicle stimulating hormone and prolactin and normalizes the estrogen cycle. Chaste Tree also acts to support the corpus luteum of the ovaries in its hormone production in the second half of the menstrual cycle. It appears to have a more progesteronic than estrogenic action. It gently lowers estrogen levels, which protects the reproductive tissues from cancer, and increases progesterone levels, keeping the bones and vaginal wall strong and healthy.
Chaste Tree is effective for painful and irregular periods, and heavy bleeding. It has been know to eliminate flooding and spotting particularly when it arises from a corpus luteum deficiency. It is useful for reestablishing normal periods after stopping the use of contraceptive pills or when menstruation has stopped prematurely. Vitex helps with the lessening of tenderness and lumps in the breasts and over time reduces and eliminates uterine fibroids. It is a good aid for infertility, PMS, menopausal problems and other hormonal imbalances and has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of enometriosis.
Regular use of Vitex clears acne related to hormone production and may even help with acne related to allergic skin disturbances. Almost all PMS symptoms including headaches, migraines, and depression may be eliminated through the regular use of Vitex for about 1-1/2 years.
During menopause Chaste Tree may eliminate hot flashes especially for women who have high levels of estrogen and FSH. Chaste Tree relieves dizziness, water retention, and edema and bloating. Constipation and digestive distress in menopause, due to the slowing of muscular movements during menopause, may be eliminated and prevented. Vitex treats dry vaginal tissues and protects against osteoporosis.
Chaste Tree regulates the nerves, relieves pain, and calms and relaxes emotional distress associated with the reproductive system such as menopause depression and hysteria. It acts to clear obstruction and congestion and provides a slow, and steady grounding. Vitex acts to regulate sexual disharmonies, in general, balancing excessive and deficient sexual energies.
Because Chaste Tree lacks phytosterols but contains flavonoids, glycosides, and micro-nutrients it acts as a slow acting tonic. Regular use of at least 2-3 months is required for noticeable improvement and continual use for about 1 year is needed to get the fullest effects of Chaste Tree.
Excerpted from the booklet: Menopause: The Promise by Mary Ann Copson copyright ©1998. The complete booklet is available for $9.95. Order Form
You can find a selection of herbal products specifically designed to assist during menopause in my Menopause Years Product Catalog.
© Copyright 1997 - 2008 by Mary Ann Copson and Evenstar. All rights reserved.
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