Herbal medicine has been used throughout the centuries to ease menstrual and menopausal problems. Much of our knowledge has been passed down through midwives, and particularly through the North American native peoples who developed a deep understanding of plant remedies. This traditional use of plants, coupled with our modern understanding of active plant constituents, provides the medical herbalist with a wide range of herbs to support the female system.
Pre-menstrual syndrome is a cluster of symptoms experienced by many women in the build-up to their period each month. Symptoms include breast tenderness, bloating and fluid retention, mood swings, depression, food cravings, fatigue and headaches. These symptoms can last from a couple of days to two weeks prior to menstruation, and for some women can seem to be a part of everyday life. No two women experience the same set of symptoms each month, which is why an individual approach with herbal medicine can often bring significant benefits.
Fluctuations in mood from feelings of depression and weepiness, to being short-fused and bad tempered, are common experiences of women during this phase of the month. This is particularly the case when women have to hold down busy demanding jobs and also look after the home and family. If you are not getting quality time for yourself then that is when emotions can snap. Herbal support can help to balance out the emotions and bring a sense of calm and relaxation. It is also important to strengthen the liver when dealing with pre-menstrual symptoms.
Menstrual discomfort can be a result of hormonal imbalance or emotional tensions, and often needs to be addressed on an individual basis. Herbal and nutritional treatments can help to reduce muscular spasm and ease any associated inflammation, reducing the need for strong pain-killing medication. Patients with specific menstrual problems such as endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome should consult a qualified medical herbalist, and not try to self-treat.
Menopause occurs naturally in women between about 40 and 52 years of age. During the menopause the level of ovarian hormones declines, leading to a variety of symptoms, both physical and emotional. Many women expect hot flushes to occur, but are often surprised at how they feel emotionally at this time, with symptoms such as loss of confidence, nervousness and mood swings being extremely common. Symptoms can precede the cessation of a regular period, often presenting as a marked increase in pre-menstrual symptoms.
As more is understood about H.R.T. and its potential side-effects, many women prefer to use natural therapies at this time.
Herbs can provide a gentle and effective approach to the menopause, supporting the hormonal and nervous systems. Many medicinal herbs and foods contain ‘phyto-oestrogens’ which can be used to enhance the body’s hormonal status. These phyto oestrogens provide the body with their starting point for manufacturing its own hormones, helping to balance fluctuating hormonal levels. The herbs employed by medical herbalists when working with individual patients help to maintain a healthy hormonal system.