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By Nadia McMorran

Menopause is defined as the time in a woman’s life when her menstrual periods stop permanently, however peri-menopause, or the time leading up to this change can be equally as difficult with a range of unpleasant symptoms to contend with.

Symptoms during both menopause and peri-menopause may include hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, low libido, menstrual changes, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, mood swings, anxiety and depression, sleep problems, breast tenderness, weight gain, joint pain and irritability.

These symptoms are due to a natural decline in oestrogen as the ovaries slow down their production of hormones as we age. For some women, this can happen as early as in their thirties; however the majority of women will experience this between their late forties and early fifties.

At the time these symptoms can feel uncontrollable and difficult to manage, however it is possible to make the transition a little easier.

Tips for a comfortable menopause

Regular exercise keeps your metabolism functioning, boosts your mood and can help with weight gain. Regular weight bearing exercise will also help to prevent osteoporosis, which becomes a higher risk to post-menopausal women

Eat a nourishing anti-inflammatory diet rich in essential fatty acids. These help to support healthy brain function and memory, as well as helping to regulate oestrogen levels

Avoid unnecessary sugars, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol, which can all exacerbate menopause symptoms

Manage stress levels. Stress and poor adrenal health is a key indicator for a difficult menopause, so managing both physical and emotional stress is important

Good digestion and liver health ensure that hormones and nutrients are being metabolised efficiently

Herbal supplements to manage stress and other symptoms

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is occasionally prescribed by doctors for menopause, is being recommended less frequently than it used to be due to the increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and some forms of cancer to patients. Now, anti-depressants seem to be prescribed more frequently for management of menopausal symptoms, which comes with its own set of concerns.

Herbs for menopause

Shatavari is an adaptogenic herb (manages both physical and emotional stress) that is mainly used in ayurvedic medicine for women. It is known as ‘Queen of the Herbs’ and is used during menopause to provide support for symptoms such as vaginal dryness, temperature balance and sleep as well as promoting a healthy libido. It is also a wonderful herb for managing stress levels and maintaining good digestion.

Maca is also an adaptogenic herb and is particularly used to support balanced oestrogen levels in the body. It can be used during menopause to balance temperature and to help regulate emotions. It also helps to boost energy levels and reduce stress.

Studies show that black cohosh is effective at supporting symptoms such as temperature balance, sweating and mild mood balance. When coupled with St John’s wort, the combination had an even stronger effect on mood balance in a group of over 6000 women. Due to a large number of potential pharmaceutical interactions, St Johns’ wort should be used with caution. If taking black cohosh, it is important to get a high quality product from a naturopath or herbalist as some inferior products have reportedly caused liver damage in some consumers.

Everyone experiences menopause differently, and many contend with some symptoms but not others. If you are struggling through a difficult menopause, consult with a naturopath who will be able to get you on the right track and prescribe the correct herbs to give you relief.