Sunday December 18, 2005
Herbs for menopausal comfort
MENOPAUSE is not a disease. It is a phase in every woman’s life that occurs as a result of declining hormonal (oestrogen and progesterone) levels. When the levels of these hormones plummet, as in the case of menopause, it gives rise to a host of undesirable effects, including hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings and so on.
Loss of these hormones can also make bones porous and brittle, a condition known as osteoporosis.
Since menopause is a natural transition in the life of a woman and involves physiological and psychological changes, Ayurveda suggests that it be managed holistically to minimise discomfort by the use of diet and herbs that are rich in phytoestrogens.
As to lifestyle changes, a menopausal woman can:
If a woman suffers predominantly from symptoms like hot flushes, night sweats and irritability, it is recommended that she avoid salty and sour food, while favouring sweet, bitter and astringent food.
If symptoms like anxiety, memory disturbances and vaginal dryness are predominant, then salty, sour and sweet food should be favoured.
The diet should include whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, while meat, cheese, frozen desserts, packaged and canned food should be avoided.
The commonest approach to treating menopause and its undesirable side effects is taking oestrogen and progesterone, medically known as hormone replacement therapy or HRT. HRT involves taking estrogen plus progestin.
However, several studies have shown taking HRT has its risks. This is where phytoestrogens, which are plant-derived oestrogens, come to our aid. Phytoestrogens are oestrogen-like substances derived from plants, and are structurally similar to oestrogens.
Women in some countries, such as Japan, appear to experience symptoms of menopause less frequently than women in Western countries. This is explained by the fact that women in Japan consume more phytoestrogens.
Many herbs of Indian origin are rich in phytoestrogens. Some of them include the following:
Ashoka (Saraca indica) and Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)
Both these herbs provide a rich source of plant oestrogens that regulate the hormonal imbalance and thus help in relieving symptoms during menopause.
Saraca indica, also popularly known as the Asoka tree, is also known for its antibacterial activity1. Saracin, an active ingredient found in Saraca indica, also has immunomodulatory actions2.
Asparagus racemosus, also known as Shatavari, is another herb that is rich in phytoestrogens and is extensively used in traditional medicine as a galactogogue, an agent that increases the secretion of milk in nursing mothers.
Its stress-reducing3 and free-radical scavenging4 activity adds to its beneficial effects in the management of menopause. Further, its antibacterial activity and immune system regulating abilities are of value in quelling infections often seen associated with menopause5.
Yashtimadhu (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Yashtimadhu is a natural source of natural plant oestrogen and helps to control hot flushes. It possesses healing, antioxidant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Further, Glycyrrhiza glabra’s heart protective actions benefit menopausal women in many ways. Its cholesterol-lowering, blood clot prevention, stress and anxiety reducing properties protect the heart in many ways.
Many menopausal women also experience psychological symptoms like anxiety, depression and insomnia. Herbs have shown to be beneficial in such conditions as well.
Mandukaparni (Centella asiatica) has mood-elevating properties and is helpful in the management of depression. Its anxiety-reducing properties help calm the mind and helps reduce symptoms of anxiety, stress and fatigue during menopause. It also improves blood circulation in small blood vessels, decreasing the clogging of the blood vessels.
Haritaki (Terminalia chebula) is an herb that exhibits good anti-microbial activity that would be beneficial in preventing vaginal infections. It is a rich source of antioxidants that keep the body free from inflammation and pain.
A right combination of the above herbs in the right measure is absolutely essential to provide overall relief in menopausal symptoms.
Since post-menopausal osteoporosis is a common feature, it is also recommended to include calcium-rich food in the diet.
While herbal medications rich in phytoestrogens and those that have inflammation and pain-reducing, antidepressant, antimicrobial and antioxidant activities can help a woman tide over menopause with ease, good lifestyle habits help.
Abstain from smoking. Eat a healthy diet that is low in fat and cholesterol, high in fibre and whole-grain foods, weight reduction. Take part in weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, jogging, running, or dancing, at least three days each week and get regular pelvic and breast exams, Pap tests, and mammograms.
1. Pal SC, Maiti AP, Chatterjee BP, Nandy A. Antibacterial activity of flowers & flower buds of Saraca indica Linn. Indian J Med Res. 1985 Aug;82:188-9.
2. Ghosh S, Majumder M, Majumder S, Ganguly NK, Chatterjee BP. Saracin: A lectin from Saraca indica seed integument induces apoptosis in human T-lymphocytes. Arch Biochem Biophys. 1999 Nov 15;371(2):163-8.
3. Rege NN, Thatte UM, Dahanukar SA. Adaptogenic properties of six rasayana herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine. Phytother Res. 1999 Jun;13(4):275-91.
4. Wiboonpun N, Phuwapraisirisan P, Tip-pyang S. Identification of antioxidant compound from Asparagus racemosus. Phytother Res. 2004 Sep;18(9):771-3.
5. Diwanay S, Chitre D, Patwardhan B.Immunoprotection by botanical drugs in cancer chemotherapy. J Ethnopharmacol. 2004 Jan;90(1):49-55.