Peri- Menopause, Menopause and Hormonal Balance
“Each woman is biochemically and spiritually unique. So is the inner journey she must make if she is to succeed in her quest for wholeness. Such journeys need to be undertaken with the highest respect for the body, the spirit and the powers of nature which bring it about. Such journeys cannot be codified. They are not packaged holidays where you pay your money, take your anti-diarrhoea pills and know exactly what to expect. These, insist natural menopause revolutionaries, are journeys of the soul.”
Highly recommended reading; Passage to Power by Leslie Kenton
Nobody ever prepares you for menopause. Nobody tells you that if you are going to have hot flushes or emotional instability, they are likely to be far worse before you stop menstruating than afterwards. Nor does anybody explain that waking regularly at two or three in the morning, and lying in bed filled with sadness or fear or anger, is likely to be not some abhoration of nature, but a messenger announcing that menopause is near.
And because we are told so little about menopause – apart from the scaremongering that equates the menopause with a disease, something that needs fixing – few women in our culture are prepared for the next phase of their life. We seldom expect the intensity of emotion – both pain and pleasure – that can accompany the end of the childbearing years, nor do most of us realize that such passions can be transmuted into creative power.
In fact, there are many signs that the change is near. Alterations in menstruation, for instance. Periods can become longer, heavier, shorter, lighter or irregular. You can find your feelings go up and down very much the way they did in puberty, so that one moment you are completely content with your life, and the next you want to throw everything up and go off to India to ‘find yourself’. You may begin to experience a growing dissatisfaction with the parts of your life that used to seem fine. You may also find yourself very tired without apparent reason. You may also begin to get aches and pains in joints, or find your skin suddenly seems to sag or look sallow.
Some or all of these things can happen to a woman in mid life. They are commonly lumped together with menopause, some even are temporarily masked by giving hormone drugs; however, most have little to do with the change – aches and pains in the joints, weight gain, and aging skin for instance, as well as the sense many women report that they have climbed to the top of the ladder only to find that it was against the wrong wall. Such symptoms are really signs that a woman’s lifestyle – probably her values too – needs revising.
It could be time to give up the work you are doing and do something else, to follow your passion, learn a technique for meditation or deep relaxation, revise your way of cooking and eating.
If you have been eating convenience foods, or going on and off crash diets over the years, for instance, in an attempt to keep your weight down, you will have inevitably created biochemical imbalances in your body. Deficiencies of minerals such as magnesium and zinc, or trace elements such as boron or chromium here, excesses of heavy metals such as lead or aluminum from your environment there, radically interfere with the functions of enzymes in your body – which are responsible for the manufacture of hormones, for the digestion of food and assimilation of nutrients, and for the production of energy.
A woman’s body has a remarkable ability to compensate for a deficiency here and there. But, as a result of chemical farming – which depletes the soils and therefore our foods of trace elements and unbalances minerals – as well as food processing, which further depletes vitamins and minerals and puts chemicals into our bodies that do not belong there, by the time mid-life arrives most women have accumulated many metabolic imbalances. In time these biochemical distortions begin to create symptoms – mood swings or depression that occur because of a resultant deficiency in brain chemicals such as serotonin, low levels of adrenal hormones that we need to cope with stress and to protect against inflammation in the tissues such as rheumatoid conditions, and fatigue with no apparent cause. Perhaps a woman also begins to get hot flushes or night sweats, both of which are a normal and temporary part of the readjustment in hormones that takes place during the profound passage of menopause, yet these days are also treated like a disease, and so she goes to her doctor for help.
Yet because few doctors are trained in either nutrition or metabolic biochemistry, nor are they aware of how to use effective plant substances and natural hormones to ease a woman’s passage through the change, they believe there is no alternative but to put the woman on drug-based HRT. He will choose from an enormous variety of combinations of oestrogen and artificial progestin drugs, the latter being added to help protect her from cancer. For by now it has been well established that giving oestrogen on its own is dangerous – predisposing a woman taking it to cancer of the breast and womb.
The experience of taking HRT varies widely from one woman to another. Some feel great on it. Others feel lousy and gain weight. More commonly a woman will feel better for a few months and then begin to report unpleasant side effects from the drugs she is taking. The most common complaints from prolonged HRT are migraine, bleeding, depression, water retention, increased blood pressure, weight gain, thrush, breast problems, varicose veins and chest pains. Unlike changes in diet and lifestyle, at best HRT is a stop gap measure which addresses symptoms but offers little in the way of genuinely strengthening and re-balancing a woman’s body. And as far as the treatment of hot flushes is concerned – the single major symptom which is part of menopause – where the plant based treatments from say, wild yam, or agnus castus, sage or angelica will tend to work more slowly, it will also tend to eliminate hot flushes completely; while the woman who opts for HRT as a way of treating hot flushes finds that the moment she stops taking the oestrogen – whether in a few months or ten years – her hot flushes return. But it is time we stopped talking about the bad news connected with menopause and looked at the good. For despite all of this, we are now poised at the brink of a revolution in women’s natural health care, which promises to help women turn the menopause transition into a true passage to power, personal well being and freedom.
In other cultures, the transformation which takes place in a woman’s life sometime between the ages of 35 and 60 is traditionally considered a journey towards new freedom and power for a woman, a time of celebration where her creativity – until then bound to her biology – is at last set free for her to use as she wills. It is a time when women cease to give a damn what others think of their eccentricities and can set themselves free to soar into whatever realms they fancy. The passage we make at menopause – like the passage at birth or in giving birth – is a profound one which dissolves the boundaries of a woman and can take her deep inside an archetypal heroine’s journey to discover the real treasures of her life.
It has been noted that eating, and avoiding, certain types of foods can make the menopause a lot more bearable. Here are common problems those going through the menopause may face and some foods to watch out for…
Stop eating foods that are likely to trigger or worsen hot flushes and night sweats. For instance, avoid stimulants such as coffee, alcohol and chocolate and spicy foods, especially at night – they’re notorious for setting off hot flushes. Sage tea is really helpful, also the Aurvedic herb Shatavari (Pukka herbs)
Avoid snacking on sugary foods – all too often a sharp rise in your blood glucose level may be followed by a sharp dip which leaves you feeling tired and drained. Choose fresh fruit with a few nuts instead.
Many people associate the menopause with weight gain but, as we get older, we need fewer calories. Eating a bit less sounds a simplistic solution but it will help. Watch the amount of fat in your diet and cut back on sugar. Eat complex carbohydrates, such as brown grains, wholemeal pasta, bread and rice, as they will help balance blood sugar levels and keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Legumes, nuts and seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower, almonds contain vitamin E, zinc and calcium. These nutrients and the oils in nuts and seeds may help prevent dry skin and normalise hormone levels. Dry skin brushing each morning and self massage with nourishing oils like Sesame is really helpful.
Depression and irritability
Eat at regular intervals through out the day, have a walk in sunlight each day.Bone health
Women going through the menopause should increase their intake of food sources of calcium, magnesium and vitamins D and K to maintain integrity of the skeleton. In addition, high amounts of phosphorous – found in red meat, processed foods and fizzy drinks – should also be avoided. Too much phosphorous in the diet accelerates the loss of minerals such as calcium and magnesium from bone. Reducing sodium, caffeine and protein from animal products can also help the body maintain calcium stores.
Opt for more alkaline foods – vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts and yogurt – to help prevent calcium reserves being leached from bones. Eat foods high in magnesium. These are minerals which are important for the replacement of bone and thus help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Apples, pears, grapes, dates, raisins, legumes and nuts are good sources. As well as considering a calcium supplement, other vitamins and minerals that are vital for bone health are: magnesium, vitamin E, vitamin D and zinc. Choose a supplement with a combination of these and they will be in the right proportion for maximum effect. Weight-bearing exercise is vital too.
Breathe deeply. Doing fifteen minutes of deep belly breathing twice daily has been shown in several clinical trials to decrease hot flushes and night sweats as well as improve a woman’s sense of well-being. In addition, I encourage women to learn a mind-quieting technique such as Meditation, which helps decrease stress hormones and allows the body to function more efficiently.
Addressing lifestyle including diet, physical activity and stress management as well as gaining support from practitioners and loved ones is an excellent start. In addition to helping with hormonal balance, these mind-body techniques to bring about balance create a greater sense of wellbeing and ultimately optimum health.
The Prithvi/ Prithvi Vardhak Mudra.
Popularly known as Prithvi mudra, this mudra increases the Prithvi (earth) element within the body. At the same time, it decreases the Agni (fire) element. (Brilliant for hot flushes )
Method:This mudra is formed by joining together the tips of the ring finger and the thumb.
Prithvi mudra increases the Prithvi (earth) element within the body but decreases the Agni (fire) element within the body. The element earth is a vital component of bodily tissues like bones, cartilage, skin, hair, nails, flesh, muscles, tendons, internal organs, etc.
Duration : 30 to 45 minutes every day, either at one stretch or in 3 parts (i.e., for 10 to 15 minutes, thrice a day). However, people with kapha deficiency can do it even for longer periods.
Ideal time : Though Prithvi mudra can be performed at anytime of the day.