There is now a growing body of medical evidence to add to the folklore supporting the use of certain popular herbs to help women through menopause. The following is a list of the best documented of these remedies:
Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)
The standardized 27-deoxyacteine herbal extract exerts its benefits in menopause due to its estrogenic effects. It should be noted that estrogen is really 3 different hormones (estradiol, estriol, and estrone). While estradiol is the estrogen thought to increase the risk of breast and uterine cancer, estriol is the estrogen thought to be the one preventing these cancers. Black cohosh extract is estriol-like in its behavior, making it a safe supplement for women with a high risk for breast and uterine cancers. No studies have ever reported side effects with black cohosh extract. Both human and animal studies have shown that black cohosh, unlike synthetic estrogens (mainly variations of estradiol), does not produce endometrial thickening or tumors.
This estrogenic stimulating effect of black cohosh has been an issue with many mainstream doctors who have erroneously warned women with breast cancer and other hormone-dependent cancers to avoid black cohosh. This is nothing more than unsubstantiated superstition. No study supports this view and women fighting breast, ovarian and uterine cancer should have no fears in using this herb to control unwanted symptoms during menopause.
Black cohosh extract is the most widely used herbal approach to menopause. In Germany (since 1956), Scandinavia and Austria, it is, in fact, the number one remedy for menopausal discomforts. The current Commission E, the world standard for regulating herbs, recommends using black cohosh extract for 6 months, although most women have used it safely for years on end. What I usually recommend for women is to try going off the herb from time to time to see what happens. While some women will experience no adverse effects after stopping black cohosh extract after 6 months, this response is not universal.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Aptly named because of its traditional ability to improve brain function and memory. Its use in menopause, however, is for its benefits in relieving hot flashes and excessive sweating, especially at night. Its mechanism of action in this area is as an estrogen booster.
Sage, however, has many other important benefits. While not a panacea, sage has been used to help reduce excessive perspiration by as much as 50%. In fact, there are many sage-based deodorants sold in health food stores. Sage also soothes digestive problems and sore throats, premenstrual cramps and high blood sugar. Sage has anti-microbial activity and is added to some natural mouthwashes for its ability to prevent gingivitis.
Other sage applications include canker sores, bleeding gums, tonsillitis, and laryngitis. Any of you folks out there remember the 60s Simon and Garfunkel song, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme”? I think they were singing about sage as a culinary herb but if you can’t remember that song, at least you should know that sage protects the nervous system from being depleted of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter crucial for good memory. This is something that can get impaired during menopause and sage is the ideal herb for this menopausal discomfort.
Sage relaxes muscle spasms and cramps in the gastrointestinal tract and helps reduce excessively high blood sugar levels in diabetics when taken on an empty stomach. Side effects of sage use are extremely rare. Extremely concentrated forms of the herb in tea extracts can cause inflammation of the lips and lining of the mouth. Sage has also been traditionally used to promote menstruation and may stimulate uterine contractions. As a precaution, pregnant women should not use concentrated forms of sage despite the fact that the culinary use of the herb has no effect on pregnancy.
Which has antioxidant actions and is commonly used in cosmetics and sunscreens. Studies indicate that gamma-oryzanol can boost testosterone levels and stimulate lean muscle production and release pain relieving and mood-enhancing substances called endorphins. Bodybuilders are familiar with its steroid-like benefits without the steroid side effects.
Gamma-oryzanol has been reported to relieve all menopausal discomforts in up to 85% of all women who use the supplement for 2 months or longer without side effects. It also has benefits in controlling high blood cholesterol levels, healing gastrointestinal problems such as the leaky gut syndrome and has been reported to be 10 times stronger than vitamin E as an antioxidant.
Gamma-oryzanol has very rarely been reported to cause side effects but massive dosages (600 mg daily taken for months) can cause dry mouth, drowsiness, hot flashes, irritability, and dizziness. Pregnant women should avoid it as a precaution.
Chaste Berry (Vitex Agnus)
This herb appears to work by stimulating the pituitary gland to manufacture more progesterone and less estrogen. Chaste berry is a very effective remedy for problems women encounter in PMS, heavy menstrual periods as well as most of the usual discomforts of menopause.
Chaste berry is also used to enhance fertility, relieve breast area tenderness just before and during periods, relieve period related headaches, depression, irritability, and fluid retention. Endometriosis pain, as well as acne, can be helped by chaste berry mainly because of its ability to normalize hormone levels. Of interest is also the fact that chaste berry has been documented to lower cholesterol levels.
Women who have been using natural progesterone cream for hormonal imbalance symptoms related to periods or menopause may find similar relief from a chaste berry that comes without a doctor’s prescription. Not only is this a safer way to deal with menopausal discomforts but also it is also considerably less expensive than filling hormone prescriptions month after month.
Is a unique cruciferous vegetable of the mustard family, related to radishes and
turnips, that grow at altitudes of 14,500 feet in the Andean mountains of Peru. It grows where no other plant can survive. Maca is rich in numerous medicinal compounds including alkaloids, amino acids, glucosinolates, and sterols. Maca is an energy booster but also relieves menopausal hot flashes, insomnia, stress, and depression while increasing libido. It is regarded as an adaptogen. It elevates pituitary and adrenal hormones when they are too low and reduces them when they are too high.
The benefits of maca in both men and women are:
- Aphrodisiac effects
- Enhanced libido, improved potency and erectile dysfunction
- Increased energy and well-being
- Improved depression
- Increased stamina and endurance
- Reduced stress
- Relieved hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms
- Balanced adrenal and gonadal hormones
- Relieved PMS
- Increased DHEA levels (if they are too low)
- Increased seminal volume, sperm count and motility
- Better athletic performance
- Increased testosterone levels
- Fertility enhancement
Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis)
Like black cohosh extract, dong quai has mild estrogenic (estriol-like) effects as well as the ability to stabilize blood vessels. Dong Quai has a very good reputation amongst herbally knowledgeable women as a very effective premenstrual syndrome treatment as well as painful menses (dysmenorrhea) remedy.
Dong Quai has also been referred to as “female ginseng” but it has benefits in both men and women as a fertility enhancer. It contains ferulic acid, an antioxidant shown to improve sperm quality. It basically works as a hormone balancer, reducing estrogen levels when they are too high and boosting estrogen levels when they are too low. Consequently, it is effective for treating virtually any gynecological problem including PMS and menopausal hot flashes.
Dong Quai is often used as a tonic because of its vitamin and mineral content. It is a source of vitamin B12, folic acid, biotin, and other B complex vitamins. Dong Quai is also well known as an anti-stress and anti-anxiety agent. It reduces the severity of mood swings and generally has a calming effect on the nervous system. is used worldwide as an anti-aging herb because of its ability to improve circulation and detoxification. It can improve or eliminate skin conditions such as eczema, hives, vitiligo, and rosacea and reverse some cases of hair loss.
There are warnings about using Dong Quai during pregnancy, breast cancer, other female cancers, endometriosis and in men with prostate cancer. These are all theoretical concerns and have yet to be proven.
Schisandra Berry Extract (Schisandra chinensis)
Menopause threatens a woman’s beauty, sexuality, and youthfulness. Schisandra is what can help women in these areas mainly because it is primarily an adaptogenic, anti-ageing tonic. Rather than some cosmetic that is slathered on the skin, Schisandra works to enhance beauty from the inside out. It increases stamina and mental clarity while fighting stress and fatigue. It also works as an anti-depressant and sexual enhancer. Schisandra also has applications in reversing many liver disorders including hepatitis and can be found in most formulas touted as liver cleansers or detoxifiers.
Schisandra can act as a uterine stimulant and should be avoided during pregnancy for that reason. People who have high blood pressure should also be cautious in using Schisandra.
Photo credit: Pixabay
Source: Best Menopausal Herbs and Whole Foods by By Dr. Zoltan P. Rona