For most women, the word “hormones” is synonymous with hot flashes, mood swings, weight gain, and brain fog. However, your hormones aren’t just involved in menopause. Your body actually manufactures dozens of different hormones that help to regulate a wide variety of physiological functions including digestion, metabolism, respiration, tissue function, sensory perception, sleep, excretion, lactation, stress, growth and development, movement, reproduction, and mood. For example, insulin is a hormone that's made by the beta cells in the pancreas. When it's released into the blood, insulin helps regulate how the cells of the body use glucose for energy.
Hormones usually silently go about their business without you having any awareness of them. But at times when their levels drastically change, especially at puberty and menopause, they can draw loud attention to themselves by causing dramatic physiological changes and symptoms.
Yes, it is normal for there to be rapid and remarkable changes at puberty, but is that also true for menopause? After all, some women seem to sail through this major transition time symptom free, while others suffer terribly with an assortment of uncomfortable symptoms. Why is that? Traditional systems of medicine including Ayurveda, tell us that menopause should be a time of gentle and easy transition. The hormonal changes at menopause are part of the natural progression of life. Symptoms appear only if you are out of balance—usually arising from poor diet and lifestyle choices.
Restoring balance naturally through diet and lifestyle is the best solution; suppressing the symptoms of imbalances with supplemental hormones is not. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is rarely needed and should be avoided. The Women’s Health Initiative, a large prospective study, along with several other studies found numerous serious side effects associated with HRT including an increased risk of heart disease, strokes, blood clots, gallbladder disease, invasive breast cancer (30-100% higher) and ovarian cancer (80% higher).
Begin by cutting out the junk foods especially processed foods, sugar, red meat and excess alcohol. Instead favor organically grown fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and omega-3 fatty acids. Also, it is important to
• Exercise regularly—even as little as 30 minutes of brisk walking every day can have profound benefits.
• Get the most out of your sleep by going to bed by 10 p.m. and getting up before 6 a.m.
• Minimize stress. Take an inventory of your life and identify everything that you find stressful. Make adjustments in those over which you have some control. For those you have no control over, it’s important to minimize the harm they can cause by practicing an effective stress-reducing technique every day such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing.
In addition to these healthy diet and lifestyle changes, there are a variety of herbs that can help to balance your hormones and alleviate uncomfortable symptoms. Here are the top 10:
1. Black Cohosh This root was discovered centuries ago by Native Americans to help improve menstrual cramps and menopausal symptoms. A member of the buttercup family, the German Commission E has approved it for menstrual discomfort, as well as the physical and psychological symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, vaginal dryness and sleep disturbances.
2. Maca Grown in the high plateaus of the Andes, maca comes from the root of a cruciferous vegetable. For centuries it has been used by the people of Peru for hormonal imbalances, menstrual irregularities, fertility, and menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, depression and loss of energy and libido. Maca contains no plant hormones, but works by helping the endocrine system maintain hormonal balance.
3. Chaste Tree Berry Also known as vitex, the Germen Commission E has approved its use for irregularities of the menstrual cycle, premenstrual disturbances, and breast tenderness (mastodynia). Research shows it may also help with anxiety, hot flashes, and night sweats and improve sleep quality.
4. Don Quai Used in Asia for thousands of years as a tonic for the female reproductive system, modern research shows that this member of the celery family promotes uterine health and regulates the menstrual cycle. Best used in combinations with other herbs, don quai has been shown to help with depression, hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness
5. Flax Lignans Lignans are plant compounds found abundantly in a variety of fruits and vegetables. Flax seeds contain 100 times more lignans than any other known edible plant. A subject of hundreds of studies, lignans have been found to have many health benefits including balancing feminine hormones. In a clinical trial, 100 women given flax lignans reported improvement in PMS and perimenopausal symptoms including breast tenderness, bloating, hot flashes, mood swings, and “brain fog.”
6. Red Clover This wild plant, belonging to the legume family, has been found to contain isoflavones which help to regulate estrogen. Research shows that red clover may help alleviate hot flashes and may support cardiovascular and bone health.
7. Schizandra Berry Produced on a woody vine, this red berry has been revered in China for thousands of years because of its many health benefits. Widely known as a longevity herb and aphrodisiac, research shows it may also be beneficial for menopausal symptoms by reducing hot flashes and night sweats, improving depression, fatigue and insomnia.
8. Shatavari Considered one of the most powerful rejuvenating herbs in Ayurveda, this member of the asparagus family is commonly used in India for conditions affecting the female reproductive system. Shatavari may also help mood swings and irritations associated with PMS and menopausal hot flashes, insomnia and osteoporosis.
9. Ashwagandha Also called Indian ginseng, this important Ayurvedic herb has been prescribed for over 3,000 years. Ashwagandha grows as a small woody shrub and is considered an “adaptogen,” because it helps to protect against stress. Research shows it may also be of benefit for anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue; and may stimulate libido and cognitive function.
10. Shilajit Prized by both traditional Indian and Chinese medicines, the Chinese consider it a Jing tonic, or a tonic which aids physical energy and sexual drive. It’s formed from organic compressed plant material from the Himalayas. The compound is then concentrated and purified to create a high-potency extract. Packed with nutrients, amino acids, and antioxidants, its fulvic acid passes easily across the intestinal barrier which expedites antioxidant availability. It also promotes vitality by stimulating cellular ATP production. ATP is the molecule that fuels life. It is where our cells get the energy needed to perform its tasks. Shilajit is also known to alleviate anxiety, lift mood, and stimulate overall health.
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