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Remedies for Menopausal Symptoms
The Menopause Self Help Book
by Susan M. Lark, M.D.,
Hot flashes are among the most uncomfortable symptoms that menopausal women complain about, reports Dr. Susan Lark. She goes on to say, "The most common medical treatment for this problem is estrogen replacement therapy" which may be effective in stopping the flashes, but is not curative.
Although the cause of the hot flash is unclear, hormonal changes involving elevation of the hormones FSH and LH during and after menopause are thought to be responsible. In an effort to elevate decreasing estrogen levels these pituitary hormones can be 1,300 percent greater during the menopausal years than before.31
Hot flashes are regarded by the medical profession as deficiency of estrogen and can be triggered by a variety of stimulants such as:
During a hot flash, flushes of heat sweep the body (and often the face), reddening the skin and promoting free perspiration. The reddening may be blotchy or even and the perspiration slight or copious. A hot flash may last from a few seconds to four or five minutes, occasionally fifteen minutes, and rarely more than an hour.31
If you begin to experience hot flashes, dizziness, heart palpitations, emotional uproar, sleep disturbances, night sweats, depression and/or headaches you may slip from feeling "in control" to the sense that things are beyond your control. The idea of controlling these unwelcome symptoms with drugs becomes very attractive, as we are conditioned to believe that menopausal changes are in some way considered an illness. It is possible to influence these changes more effectively with herbal alternatives that carry with them few, if any, side effects when considered carefully.31
A hot flash at night is called a night sweat, which may be accompanied by feelings of anxiety or terror. A solution may be to keep a glass of water and a bottle of motherwort beside you at night, and take 10-15 drops and a swallow of water if a night sweat awakens you. Not everyone experiences hot flashes, and only some of those who do also experience night sweats. Many women, however, experience both.31
Exercise directly decreases hot flashes by decreasing the amount of circulating LH and FSH, by nourishing and tonifying the hypothalamus, and by raising endorphin levels (which plummet with hot flashing). As little as 20 minutes three times a week may reduce flashes significantly.31 Other natural measures that address underlying reasons for hot flashes include diet, nutritional supplementation and plant-based medicines.
Herbal remedies for women with hot flashes include
Herbs and supplements found helpful by Dr. Susan Lark in her medical practice include dong quai, black cohosh, blue cohosh, unicorn root, fennel, sarsaparilla, red clover, wild yam root, yam, bioflavonoids and vitamin E. Dr. Michael Murray finds the four most useful herbs for treatment of hot flashes to be dong quai, licorice root, chasteberry (vitex) and black cohosh.
Hot flashes deplete vitamin B, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium. Frequent use of red clover or oatstraw infusions will help replace these needed nutrients,31 or these nutrients can also be found in food, or taken as supplements.
Dong quai is an emmenagogue that has been found very helpful for menopausal problems such as regulation of hot flashes, and it is reported to help relieve mental and emotional upset.35
Dong quai has been shown to both contract and relax uterine muscles in anaesthetized dogs, cats and rabbits. The contractive (excitatory) ingredient is felt to be a water and alcohol soluble, non-volatile oil component, whereas the relaxing (inhibitory) component is considered to be a volatile oil with high boiling point. This, not an estrogenic effect, is felt to be the mechanism underlying the effectiveness of dong quai in dysmenorrhea.34
The effectiveness of dong quai in treating hot flashes may be due to stabilization of blood vessels.19 However, if you feel hot much of the time dong quai may not be your ally.31
Chaste berry (Vitex) has been found to affect pituitary function and has many uses, particularly in regulating hot flashes and dizziness. Beneficial effects in menopause may be due to its role in altering LH and FSH secretion.19 Vitex lowers estrogen levels and increases progesterone levels, thus keeping bones and vaginal walls strong. Daily use enhances progesterone and luteotropic hormone but inhibits others such as FSH and prolactin. It also increases production of the brain chemical dopamine. It contains flavonoids, glycosides and micronutrients, but lacks phytosterols, making it a slow-acting tonic. Results become evident after 2-3 months of use, and permanent improvement requires a 1-year commitment.4
Black cohosh was widely used by the American Indians and later by American colonists for relief of menstrual cramps and menopause. Recent scientific investigation has upheld the effectiveness of black cohosh as a treatment for dysmenorrhea and menopause. Clinical studies have shown extracts of black cohosh to relieve not only hot flashes but also depression and vaginal atrophy. In addition to these vascular effects, black cohosh reduces LH levels; thus the plant has a significant estrogenic effect.19 The use of 10-15 drops once or twice a day for several months significantly reduces LH but not FSH. Black cohosh has also been found to aid digestion by increasing digestive juices; use 3- 5 drops with meals.31
Motherwort has been found to lessen the severity, frequency and duration of hot flashes, ease stressed nerves, relieve anxiety, and relieve insomnia. For best results with hot flashes, use this herb frequently for 3 months. A common dosage for hot flashes is 15-25 drops of tincture, 1-6 times a day. Do not use if you are experiencing menstrual flooding as motherwort can aggravate this.31
Licorice root contains a saponin-like glycoside, glycyrrhizin (glycrrhizic acid)33 and has historically been used for a variety of female disorders and also as an expectorant and antitussive in treatment of respiratory tract infections and asthma. It is believed to reduce estrogen while increasing progesterone and is used for this reason by Dr. Michael Murray in his clinical practice. Licorice has a steroid component that can change to the estrogen precursors estradiol and estrone, and it can therefore provide mild estrogenic properties. Glycyrrhizin has a regulatory action over estrogen metabolism, i.e. when estrogen levels are too high it inhibits estrogen action, and when estrogen is too low, glycyrrhizin potentiates it. This is a useful factor for many female hormonal problems, including PMS.33
Licorice is considered a powerful drug that is useful in treating a number of conditions, such as peptic ulcers, malaria, abdominal pain, insomnia and infection. This herbs uses have been substantiated by modern research, and it is generally considered very safe in moderate doses.33 German health authorities consider maximum doses of up to 100 mg of glycyrrhizin (the major active component of licorice) a day acceptable and safe. However, it should not be taken for more than 4-6 weeks without medical advice.23
Essential oils basil or thyme may ease hot flashes when inhaled or used in a bath or foot rub or mixed with massage oil. For a portable hot flash remedy, place a few drops of an essential oil or cologne on a tissue, or cotton ball and place in plastic wrap. It may provide instant relief when you open and inhale any time a flash strikes.31
Susun Weed writes that Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman, a naturopathic physician, finds homeopathic remedies effective 80 percent of the time in relieving menopausal symptoms. One of her favorite remedies for hot flashes is Lachesis. She describes these remedies below:
Lachesis: If your flashes emanates from the top of your head, are worse just before sleep and immediately upon wakening and are accompanied by sweating, headaches, or easily irritated skin
Sepia: if your flashes make you feel weak, nauseated, exhausted, and depressed
Pulsatilla: if you flash less outdoors, but your flashes are often followed by intense chills and emotional uproar
Valeriana: if your face flushes strongly during the flash, and you have intense sweating and sleeplessness
Ferrum metallicum: if your flashes are sudden; your general health is good but ordinary activities bring exhaustion
Sulfuricum acidum: if your flashes include profuse sweating and trembling, are worse in evenings or with exercise
Sanguinaria: if your cheeks are red and burning, feet and hands hot
Belladonna: if the flash centers on your face, which burns and turns bright red; you are restless, agitated and have palpitations
Researched and written by Joan McPhee, MH, WT, 2000
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