Case studies from an herbalists notebook: holistic remedies for menopause.
Shortly after she moved to Santa Cruz, Sibyl was referred to my clinic by a friend. She planned to ease off hormone replacement therapy (HRT)—in her case a combination of synthetic estrogen and progesterone—and wanted to know which herbs and foods would support her through this process.
Sibyl seemed to be a “can-do” kind of person, asking a lot of questions and taking notes. She first noticed changes in her menstrual flow during her late forties when she began to experience hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and fairly dramatic mood swings.
When her menopausal symptoms began to develop, Sibyl read reports that estrogen helps prevent osteoporosis and heart disease. Estrogen is a class of sex hormones that helps the skeleton retain calcium stores and therefore fight osteoporosis. It also helps reverse the increased low density lipoprotein (LDL) and decreased high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol associated with menopause, decreasing the risk of heart disease. So her doctor put her on estrogen replacement therapy (ERT), using an oral synthetic estrogen replacement that mimics hormones in the body.
While this lessened her menopausal symptoms, after a few months Sibyl noticed breast tenderness, spotting, and water weight. After another month, she began to have regular periods again. At the same time, she began to take a closer look at estrogen research and found that studies clearly linked its use with an increased risk of breast cancer.
As a result, she decided to visit a holistic doctor, who recommended that Sibyl switch to a blend of estrogenic hormones and progesterone. The doctor told her that progesterone reduced the risk of cancer and the side effects she had been experiencing.
While this new blend was a definite improvement, Sibyl decided that she was ready to let nature take its course and for her periods to stop. But she was still concerned about her earlier symptoms associated with too little estrogen. She heard that certain herbs and foods might have an estrogenic effect without increased cancer risk and HRT-induced menstrual flow—which brought her to my clinic.
Based on my experience helping women “go natural” with hormonal health, I was able to recommend an effective program for Sibyl:
•Eat a daily serving of foods containing phytoestrogens, or plant estrogens, which have a structure similar to synthetic estrogens. These include the isoflavone genistein and other natural compounds that gently stimulate estrogen sites. Most beans are excellent sources of genistein. I prefer adzuki, mung beans, and soy products such as tempeh, tofu, and soy milk. The genistein in tempeh, a fermented soy product, is the most absorbable for humans. Genistein is also available in capsule or tincture form.
•Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus), or chaste tree, is the most commonly prescribed natural remedy in Europe for menopause. The normal dose is one or two droppers of the tincture, taken daily before breakfast, with a three- to five-day break between cycles if you have them, or once a month if you don’t.
•Other hormone-balancing herbs include black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), which helps reduce hot flashes during menopause, and dong-quai (Angelica sinensis), which increases blood flow to the uterus, improves nutrition, strengthens the reproductive organs, and helps counteract mild anemia.
I’m happy to say that Sibyl is looking and feeling great after several months on the program. Her periods have stopped, her menopausal symptoms are greatly improved, and she feels positive about what she has learned about hormonal health and the future.
Christopher Hobbs’s case studies are gleaned from his nearly thirty years of studying and practicing herbalism. Hobbs, a fourth-generation botanist and herbalist, is an Herbs for Health Editorial Advisory Board member and licensed acupuncturist.
“Case studies from an herbalist’s notebook” are not intended to replace the advice of your health-care provider.
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