by Claudia Ward,
L.Ac, Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist
"You're never too old to
- Mae West
a text written in the early nineteenth century menopause was
a more or less extended, frequently quite troublesome but
rarely lethal period in the life of women. It was
also remarked, that “simple country women suffered few
or no complaints compared to upper-class urban women, who
constantly exposed body and mind to all kinds of disturbances
and irritations. The demands of social life, loose sexual
morals, the reading of bad novels, the unnatural state of
excitation caused by concerts and theater, dances and gambling,
and overly rich and spicy food, the abuse of coffee, tea,
tobacco, wine and spirits - all this created an unrelenting
state of over-stimulation. It was made even worse by a life
of idleness spent reclining on cushions and chaise lounges
instead of attending to domestic duties, by an unwillingness
to breast-feed, and by the bad air in overcrowded salons."
While our mothers endured virtually in silence
the hot flashes, mood swings and other unmentionable symptoms
of "the change," today's unprecedented millions
of baby boomers are bringing their mid-life menopause concerns
into the open and are researching treatment options. Lately
bio-identical hormones have been suggested as alternative
hormone replacement therapy for women, but in actuality, no
one knows if bio-identical hormones carry the health dangers
of hormone replacement therapy, or not. They are called bio-identical
because the molecular structure of the hormones is identical
to a woman’s own. They are probably safer than conventional
HRT, but no studies concerning long-term use have been done.
Contrary to what some people think, not
all of a woman’s hormones are produced by the ovaries.
Some are produced by the adrenals. Some are produced from
cholesterol. Some are created from other hormones. The alternative
hormone replacement therapy for women that consists of bio-identical
hormones may have shortcomings in that hormonal levels can
vary from day to day and week to week. So, while the compound
created may be correct on one day, it may not be on the next.
Low estrogen is part of the healthy, natural state of postmenopause,
and it may reduce one’s cancer risk (estrogen is linked
to some types of cancerous cell growth).
When resolving hormonal problems, women
are led to believe that all that is required is tweaking their
hormonal function. However, hormonal imbalances are, in fact,
symptoms of deeper root cause issues such as exhausted adrenals,
low thyroid function, candida or congested livers.
Prolonged stress, whether as a result of emotional, environmental
or physical causes, is disastrous for the adrenals. Initially,
it results in chronically elevated cortisol levels, resulting
in weight gain (especially around the midsection), blood sugar
imbalances, thinning skin, memory loss, high blood pressure,
dizziness, hot flashes, night sweats, and excessive facial
hair. Overworked adrenals eventually crash, leading to adrenal
exhaustion, where the body is unable to maintain adequate
adrenal hormone production. Symptoms of overtaxed adrenals
include extreme fatigue, irritability, inability to concentrate,
frustration, insomnia, addictions to either sweet or salty
foods, allergies, nervousness, depression, anxiety, PMS, diabetes
and headaches. Since the adrenals contribute to about 35 percent
of pre-menopausal female hormones and almost 50 percent of
postmenopausal hormones, compromised adrenal function profoundly
affects hormonal balance. Restoring adrenal function is a
pre-requisite for hormonal balance. An Ayurvedic lifestyle
combined with the use of Ayurvedic herbs can effectively strengthen
the adrenal function.
A congested liver can be the cause of many chronic
health problems. Muscle and joint pain, constant fatigue,
migraines, nail fungus, fibroids, sleep disorders, heart palpitations,
poor memory, skin problems, allergies, arthritis, sinus problems
and poor eyesight are a few examples of what may result when
the liver is stressed. Regular Ayurvedic Panchakarma cleanses
detoxify the liver and strengthen its function.
Low Thyroid Function
Overtaxed adrenals can lead to hypothyroidism, which
has a direct effect on women’s hormonal health. By age
50, one in every twelve women has a significant degree of
hypothyroidism. By age 60, the numbers jump to one woman out
of every six. The thyroid, which regulates metabolism, may
turn down its hormonal activity in an attempt to reverse adrenal
overdrive. Some symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue,
weight gain, fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, heavy
bleeding, depression, PMS, migraines, lack of concentration,
cold hands and feet, menopausal symptoms, miscarriage and
Birth control pills and estrogen increase
thyroid-binding proteins in the bloodstream. This means that
thyroid blood test results may be unreliable. Even though
they may show normal thyroid hormone levels in the blood,
there may be insufficient thyroid hormone in the tissues.
The Candida-Hormone Connection
Yeast overgrowth is caused by eating large amounts
of sugar and/or prolonged or repeated use of antibiotics,
birth control pills, estrogen therapy, and cortisone. A long
list of potential symptoms associated with candida overgrowth
include depression, anxiety attacks, mood swings, lack of
concentration, drowsiness, poor memory, headaches, insomnia,
fatigue, bloating, constipation, bladder infections, menstrual
cramps, vaginal itching, muscle and joint swelling, pain,
hypothyroidism, and skin problems. However, it is rarely understood
that candida also contributes to hormonal problems. One candida
waste product produces a false estrogen, which tricks the
body into thinking it has produced adequate levels, signaling
a reduction of its own estrogen. Estrogen will literally feed
candida growth, which is why birth control pills and estrogen
replacement therapy put women at a greater risk of developing
balanced, or overall healthy you and your lifestyle are when
you reach menopause largely determines how smooth your transition
will be. If you are "burning the candle at both ends"
in your 30's and early 40's, you are more likely to have mood
swings, sleep problems and troublesome hot flashes when your
hormones start to change. Whereas if you have healthy lifestyle
habits and are managing your stress effectively, you are likely
to breeze through menopause without any major problems.
Menopause symptoms are nature's wake-up call
to let you know you need to start paying more attention to
your health. Age forty-five to fifty-five is a critical decade,
according to Ayurveda. Making lifestyle changes now is critical
to ensuring that you age gracefully without the burden of
chronic health problems.
While eating a healthy diet and getting
enough exercise provides the foundation of good health for
everyone, each woman's menopause experience is unique. Symptoms
vary from woman to woman. Ayurveda describes that the symptoms
you have depend upon which body dosha is out of balance in
your mind/body system.
Vata imbalance: Anxiety,
panic, mood swings, vaginal dryness, loss of skin tone, feeling
cold, irregular periods, insomnia, mild or variable hot flashes,
constipation, palpitations, bloating and joints aches and
Ayurvedic Tips: Increase
warm food and drinks, regular meals, early bedtime, oil massage,
meditation, yoga, walking and spices such as fennel and cumin.
Decrease caffeine and other stimulants, refined sugar, cold
Pitta imbalance: Anger,
irritability, hot flashes, night sweats, heavy periods, excessive
bleeding, urinary tract infections, skin rashes and acne.
Ayurvedic Tips: Increase
cooling foods, water intake, sweet juicy fruits (grapes, pears,
plums, mango, melons, apples,) zucchini, yellow squash, cucumber.
Go to bed before 10 PM. Decrease excessive sun and overheating,
hot spicy foods, hot drinks and alcohol.
Kapha imbalance: sluggishness,
lethargy, weight gain for no reason, fluid retention, yeast
infections, lazy, depressed,lacking motivation, slow digestion.
Ayurvedic Tips: Increase
exercise, fruits, whole grains, legumes, vegetables, spices
such as black pepper, turmeric and ginger. Get up early (by
6AM). Decrease meat, cheese, sugar, cold foods and drinks.
Rest and Relaxation Techniques
Yoga, pranayama (yogic breathing), meditation,
adequate sleep, Ayurvedic massages and shirodhara (warm oil
poured over the forehead are wonderful relaxation techniques
for combating stress.
was the last time you had a vacation?
Daily exercise (gentle for Vata and not too
overheating for Pitta) is also important for keeping all doshas
in balance and alleviating menopausal symptoms.
The Ayurvedic Panchakarma treatments thoroughly
cleanse and purify the physical and mental impurities from
the body and mind. Panchakarma detoxification is perhaps the
"missing link" to restoring optimum function of
our cells and tissues in peri-menopause and menopause. Whether
undertaken to prevent or treat disease, most women who avail
themselves of authentic Panchakarma cleanses once or twice
a year will feel physically and mentally revitalized while
greatly relieving many of the symptoms of menopause and premature
Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb that supports
the adrenal glands, it has the added benefit of helping to
balance hormones by counteracting the effects of cortisol
(a stress hormone). Many women report that it buoys energy
levels, improves sleep, and assists in managing hot flashes,
night sweats and mood swings.
Shatavari has been used in Ayurveda as general
woman’s tonic for thousands of years because of its
natural affinity for the uterus and its ability to counteract
symptoms of the menopause. The cooling qualities predominant
in this herb help reduce the fire principle (pitta) and thus
cool and moisten the body’s tissues. This enhances women’s
ability to cope with the major changes taking place during
the menopause and helps combat hot flushes, mood swings, dryness,
weight gain and night sweats.
Triphala is recommended and used more than
any other Ayurvedic herbal formulation. Popular for its unique
ability to gently cleanse and detoxify the system while simultaneously
replenishing and nourishing it, this traditional formula supports
the proper functions of the digestive, circulatory, respiratory
and genitourinary systems.
Besides its use as a general memory aid, gotu
kola has become popular in the Western world for its calming
effects as well as for improving concentration. It relaxes
the nervous system while stimulating the brain to focus better.
Women around the world are now living approximately
one third of their lives after they reach menopause. Every
woman can benefit during these years from a balanced diet
tailored to her specific constitution, an appropriate form
of regular exercise, and intelligently selected plant-based
Ayurvedic preparations, Most women will also derive great
benefit from Panchakarma therapies followed by Rasayana (rejuvenation)
therapies once or twice a year.
Ward, L.Ac, Dipl. C.H., CAS
a Licensed Acupuncturist
and Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist in Santa Barbara,
She specializes in nutrition based on the principles
of Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine and Western medical
research. Her treatments focus on Ayurvedic
women's health, and chronic
combines acupuncture, therapeutic massage, cupping,
Ayurvedic therapies, reflexology,
essential oils, and herbal recommendations in her
the article "Oh Baby! Prenatal and Postpartum the Ayurvedic
- by Gina Tolleson, Santa Barbara News-Press, July 31, 2006