I’m in my mid 50s now, and menopause is a reality! There is a lot of literature available regarding menopause at the moment. It’s become quite a topical subject on social media,  TV and in the newspapers and magazines. Women are starting to talk about it and break the taboo. This can only be a good thing, and I do wonder how much I would actually know about menopause if I wasn’t a herbalist?  I think we tend to assume that other people know what we know and I have always thought other women must know all about menopause simply because they are women. Not so!

I’ve met many women who really don’t understand what is happening to them during this transition, and it’s because as a society we’ve never really spoken about it. So the current menopause chat is very helpful.

Herbalists and menopause

Herbalists are not shy to discuss intimate matters of any kind, so talking about menopausal issues such as hot flushes, changes to sexual desire or vaginal dryness are very matter of fact in our world! However, like anything else, it is not until you experience something for yourself that you really understand it! And now I’m starting to understand menopause.

Something I have noticed though, is the emphasis on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) as a treatment, particularly now there is a national shortage of it! I’ve highlighted the word treatment because that word is usually applied to something you seek out if you are ill and suffering from a disease. Menopause is not a disease. Menopause is completely natural, although for some women it can occur at an unexpected time or due to medical or surgical interventions.

Hormone Replacement Therapy

The medicalisation of this natural stage of life annoys me a bit. A couple of weeks ago I mused over the idea that HRT might be worthwhile for me. Some unpleasant menopausal issues had come on quite suddenly and with some vengeance. Finally I understood why women would choose that option. So I got busy with my herbal medicines and started making myself some fairly simple potions. I’m drinking chilled herbal infusions daily, taking a nice tincture twice a day designed to help with my own specific needs, and some relaxing capsules for night time. I’m delighted to report I feel a lot better. I don’t want to use the word ‘symptoms’ here because again, that sounds like it’s an illness!

And now the HRT shortage is becoming a problem for many women and I’ve spoken to women who found HRT did not work for them anyway! That surprises me because I sort of assumed it would always work. If we replace the diminishing hormones, the problems will go away, right? Well you would think so but on further reflection I realised I was never able to tolerate the oral contraceptive pill without gaining weight and becoming depressed, so why would I be able to enjoy another hormone treatment with no side effects?

My understanding is that HRT is less dangerous than previously thought and in fact you can stay on it for the rest of your life. But why would you do that? If, by evolution or design, depending on your beliefs, we are meant to have a cessation of periods and alteration of hormones, why would we change that? It’s confusing because the issues of menopause can be so unpleasant.

Herbs

And what about herbs? Don’t they alter hormones too? Well not really. Some of the herbs are phyto oestrogenic which means they bind (weakly) to oestrogen receptors in the body. Soya is a common phytoestrogen.

But some herbs I’m using are simply cooling, relaxing and nourishing. And then there’s the pretty cheeky herb Shatavari that has a remarkable effect on mucous membranes including intimate tissues!  I think the relaxation effect is particularly helpful. I noticed recently that during a stressful episode while driving, I had a massive hot flush. It dawned on me that adrenaline can trigger a flush in a similar way to alcohol, coffee (eek!) and spicy foods. So I’m aiming to reduce adrenaline surges and it’s definitely working. Reducing coffee is tougher, but I’ve been using half and half caffeinated and decaff.

And today another report about the dangers of HRT, and an increased risk of breast cancer that does not diminish for 10 years after the medication has been stopped! Although it sounds alarming, there is new research almost daily and I expect something else will be reported soon.

But in all honesty, in most circumstances I would recommend herbs, nutrition and lifestyle strategies to support our wonderful midlife selves.

Spaniels 

And why is there a picture of me with spaniels? Well I like spaniels, and we went for a fabulous charity spaniel dog walk in Keswick over the summer in aid of PDSA. And getting out and about doing what we love is mighty good for us!