In our culture, menopause is often considered a four letter word and instead of being discussed openly, many women suffer through the symptoms without much support. Medically, a woman is not considered to be in menopause until they have not had a period for 12 months. The process leading up to that milestone can be significant and can last anywhere from two to ten years starting as early as a woman’s mid-thirties. In the United States, it most commonly starts in the mid to late 40s with menopause in a woman’s early 50s. Perimenopause, as it is called, is when a women’s ovaries start decreasing hormone production. This fluctuation in estrogen and progesterone leads to a wide range of symptoms including:
Mood swings, extreme moods, anger, depression
Creeping weight gain. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is believed that a few extra pounds when going through menopause (and after) protects your bones from osteoporosis. If you are a healthy weight to begin with, gaining 5 to 10 pounds isn’t something to worry about. Our society puts so much pressure on looking young and skinny that we panic when that number starts to creep up.
Vaginal dryness. It’s okay if the frequency of intercourse changes, family pressures are necessary to accommodate. Sex should still be pleasurable and desirable, even with all the changes that your body is going through.
Insomnia, sleep issues
Irregular ovulation, menstrual irregularities.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the whole process is considered at least a decade long event and it is a time for a woman to reevaluate her life’s priorities. In TCM, the above symptoms may be perimenopausal but may be able to be managed with some simple lifestyle changes including improving one’s nutrition or getting more rest. In TCM, the most important rest to restore the Yin is any sleep prior to midnight. This doesn’t mean you need to go to bed at 9pm every night, but if you can move your bedtime up by as little as 15 minutes is makes a difference.
Symptoms may also be managed by supplementation using chi support herbs including Menopause Plus, Mega Ginseng, Eleutherococcus, Rhodiola rosea, Ashwagandha, Xiao Yao Plus (weepy, anger), Blessed Thistle (sex drive), Yoni Oil Joy Juice (vaginal dryness), as well as other chi support herbs.
Instead of picking just one or two herbs, it can be more effective to rotate through ones that work for you. Mix them up. One may work at one point in the process and be less effective at another point. Martha particularly liked using ashwagandha, rhodiola, and eleutherococcus when she was going through perimenopause and menopause.
Many of these symptoms can be managed by making sure your thyroid is functioning adequately. One thing to keep in mind that current “normal” thyroid ranges that MDs use to decide whether patients have low thyroid are outdated. If you have multiple low thyroid symptoms but your numbers are in the normal range, you may want to consider asking your doctor about the benefits of taking thyroid medicine anyway because this could still be an issue.
Obviously, most of us will be looking to avoid hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and even more so now that the side effects have been well documented. In addition to herbal supplements there are some lifestyle changes that can really help make a difference including:
Reduce or eliminate sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. Each of these may make you feel better in the moment but can exacerbate the symptoms you were looking to relieve in the first place. If you’re stressed and find yourself turning toward a glass or two of wine in the evening to relax, try taking even 15 minutes to clear your mind and relax. Find a way to center yourself, whether it is a walk, a bath, meditation. I have even been known to lock myself in the bathroom for three minutes when I need a moment away from my kids. If you’re tired, try moving your bedtime up by 15 minutes and see how you feel. As I mentioned earlier, you should be looking to restore your Yin energy and sleep before midnight is how that is accomplished.
Increase bean and legume intake. This is especially important when you cook the beans and legumes for extended periods of time, with a minimum of six hours. The longer beans are presoaked and cooked, the higher percentage of protein they contain. They can be soaked anywhere from 12 to 24 hours.
Increase Omega-3 intake (GOOD quality fats) coconut oil, butter, 100% EVOO, peanut oil. Low fat and no fat diets are so ingrained in our culture that we easily forget the benefits of high quality oils. This isn’t an area of our diet to scrimp on! Look for free range organic eggs from a local supplier. The secret is the more orange the yolk is, the better. Also, smaller eggs are worth sleuthing out. Small eggs are laid by younger hens that have more life force.
Consider fermented soy (tofu, tempeh). Soy products of any kind are popular and trendy in our culture and it is easy for someone to automatically recommend adding soy to your diet. The issue with soy is that it is an estrogen binder and too much of it can upset your hormonal balance. Instead, consider fermented forms of soy like tofu and tempeh.