Menopause and natural treatments – so you can return to homeostasis without adverse side effects. This article is frequently updated with more information about menopause. Read below for info on menopause age, signs of menopause (scanty menses and simple tips to manage that), perimenopause and more. We cover menopause symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, natural treatments for menopause and Ayurvedic medicine. Plus, learn how to prepare for menopause in your thirties and forties!
Menopause Age: When Does Menopause Start?
Menopause age varies from woman to woman. Women typically enter menopause in their late forties and early to mid fifties.
Menopause is the natural cessation of ovarian function and is identified by the loss of the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen supports the maintenance of the tissues of the body and prepares the body each month for pregnancy. Progesterone prepares the uterus for the implantation of a fertilized egg, and if that doesn’t happen, its diminishment triggers the onset of menstruation. That is the function of these two hormones; they are reproductive hormones and the only symptom of this menopausal shift could be no more menses.
In our youth-loving culture, is there any other word that strikes the same level of apprehension in women over thirty-five as the word menopause? Its onset is dreaded and delayed as long as possible. The ticking of the biological clock is the precursor to the alarm that is menopause.
When we live in alignment with nature, we do not need to fear this shift. We have the ability to reframe our relationship with our own aging and joyfully embrace this time of our life.
For women in their forties and fifties, menopause could be looked at as the ultimate freedom. Childbearing behind them, they can focus now on projects, not progeny, and devote their time and attention to those aspects of their lives that they find fulfilling.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is the natural cessation of menses due to a lack of viable eggs in the ovaries. The ovaries become non-responsive to their trigger hormones and women experience a drop in estrogen and progesterone. The menopausal woman is no longer capable of childbearing and she will no longer menstruate. But, if she has taken care of herself during the years of menstruation, those may be the only shifts that occur due to menopause.
If you are “a woman of a certain age”, you may have come to suspect that you are perimenopausal. Perimenopause is the time period, usually about four years prior to menopause, when women experience most of those symptoms that we have come to identify as the hallmarks of menopause. During menopause, the ovaries stop producing estrogen. During perimenopause the ovaries respond less to their hormonal triggers and this often leaves women with a variety of symptoms around their menstruation. It is common for women to experience irregular menses, scanty menses and even long duration menses. Less than 10% of women get through menopause without experiencing some significant shift in their monthly cycle.
The physiological cause behind each of these is hormonal, of course. The endometrial lining that is sloughed off each month is produced in response to estrogen, prior to ovulation, and progesterone, after ovulation. In a woman of reproductive age, the ovarian follicular cells produce these hormones cyclically during the month. For perimenopausal women, the cycle is disturbed.
With irregular menses, we have irregular ovarian response. During those months when ovulation occurs, we will experience menstruation. During other months, when the ovaries are less responsive to the hormones of the pituitary gland, there will be no egg released and menstruation will not occur.
Signs Of Menopause: Irregular Menses
Scanty menses is driven by a decrease in the production of progesterone. When progesterone is present, the endometrial lining thickens and when its production ceases, menstruation occurs. If levels of progesterone are low, little endometrium is produced, so the menses is scanty.
Long duration menses is caused, to an extent, by irregular menses. When the cycle becomes irregular and ovulation doesn’t occur the endometrial lining continues to build up due to the presence of estrogen. When an ovarian follicle eventually responds to the pituitary hormones and goes through its entire cycle, the ensuing menstruation will slough off the lining that has been formed during the subsequent months, leaving the woman with long duration menstruation that can leave her feeling depleted.
These hormonal shifts are natural, and our diet and lifestyle will help determine how our body regulates itself in the face of the shifts in these reproductive hormones.
According to Ayurveda, menopause is a time of Vata dosha aggravation. Irregularity and underproduction of tissue are sure signs that Vata dosha is involved. The long duration menses may look, on the surface, to be more closely related to Pitta or Kapha, but the causative factor, the irregularity, is still Vata dosha.
This lets us know that it is imperative that Vata dosha be managed in order to manage these symptoms of menopause. Stress, poor nutrition, and caffeine use are three lifestyle triggers for irregular menstruation that we can address via diet and lifestyle. Living the Ayurvedic lifestyle, with regular routines and appropriate self-care, will minimize the impact of the menopausal years. Stress reduction practices including daily exercise, time in nature, and meditation will set the stage for better food choices. Better food choices and healthy eating habits will correct the poor nutrition. Time in nature, exercise, and pranayama practice will reduce the need for stimulants throughout the day.
As the familiar Ayurvedic adage states, “If diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. If diet is right, medicine is of no need.” By making simple dietary and lifestyle changes, we can support the switching of our body’s dependence on estrogen for balance to the other body systems; this will decrease the severity of the symptoms we experience due to the sudden reduction in estrogen in the system.
Always, if you suspect that your symptoms may be indicative of a deeper health challenge, seek medical attention.
Menopause + Ayurveda
Ayurveda is the ancient natural medicine of India and the sister science to yoga. According to Ayurvedic theory, the 5 elements (Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth) manifest within us as well as around us as 3 doshas, or mind-body principles.
When these 5 elements or doshas are imbalanced, either in excess or in lack, the disease process sets in.
The Different Doshas
You’ll have some combination of Vata, Pitta and Kapha Dosha within you. We all do, just in different ratios.
- Vata Dosha is formed of Air and Space. It’s movement, creativity and agility.
- Pitta Dosha is formed of Fire and Water. Pitta is the intelligence, metabolism and temperature of the body.
- Kapha Dosha is formed of Water and Earth. It’s the structure and glue of our bodies and expresses as love, compassion and solidity.
Ayurveda recognizes the effects of the doshas on the stages of life. What does that mean?
Childhood and early adulthood are characterized by certain qualities we refer to as Kapha Dosha. Growth for example is indicative of Kapha Dosha. Adulthood is governed by Pitta Dosha qualities like productivity. Elder years are governed by Vata Dosha qualities like diminution.
During the latter part of each phase, the coming phase is gathering energy. This would mean that during early adulthood, Pitta is increasing in the body and mind of all of us, not just those with Pitta constitution. You can see this in the Pitta rebellion shown in adolescents.
As women age, the Vata begins to accumulate in their thirties and forties. The body is still in Pitta time of life and actively productive, even fully capable of reproduction, but the Vata dosha is slowly creeping in. We can see this in subtle changes in the body, shifts in metabolism, and fluctuations in energy.
If we address this subtle, gathering storm of Vata dosha we can pacify the Vata before it moves in and wreaks havoc on our bodies, minds, and emotions. When we do this, we may experience menopause as the natural shift it is, rather than the dramatic cataclysm that it has become.
We pacify Vata through routines, especially those routines we have around our food, sleep and energy as we move throughout the day.
Natural Menopause Treatments With Ayurveda: Food, Sleep, Energy
These recommendations may look no different than other Ayurvedic advice. It is true that when we live in alignment with these principles, we delay the accumulation of Vata dosha. When we manage Vata dosha, the shifts in our life occur as slow, natural changes that we can adapt to rather than the sharp, overwhelming changes that impact us so negatively. There is no magic pill to prepare you for menopause, just as there was no magic pill to support you through puberty. Life is life. Ayurveda literally means the knowledge of life. When you recognize what is coming and take the steps to support the body to be prepared for the coming change, you are well prepared to glide through that change effortlessly.
The following recommendations on Food, Sleep and Energy are wise living tips that will positively impact your experience of daily life.
Pay special attention to your diet. Make sure your foods are whole, fresh, and organic.
Limit processed foods or non-organic foods as these may contain compounds that lead to estrogen-dominance. Estrogen-dominance causes a host of symptoms in your body.
Avoid storing foods in plastic containers or drinking out of plastic bottles. Plastics mimic estrogens and interfere with normal hormone balance.
Savor your foods and your ability to spend time nourishing yourself. This increases the nutritional value you gain from the food and calms the nervous system.
Listen to your body.
Eat when you are hungry and only until you have satisfied your hunger. Ayurveda recommends that you eat until you are about 75% full.
Your metabolism is subtly shifting. Watch for indicators that your old portion sizes have become larger than your body wants and adjust accordingly.
Drink water during the day.
Start your day with 12-16 oz of warm water. Add a little squeeze of lemon if you like.
Sip water during the day. Aim to take in about one half of your body weight in ounces of water each day.
Take food moist and only a small amount of warm water or tea with your meals.
Get enough sleep.
Go to bed early enough to get a full night’s sleep.
Turn off electronics at least one full hour before attempting to sleep so that you have the support of melatonin when you want to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and comfortable. This allows for restful sleep.
Avoid stimulants such as coffee and sugar, as well as depressants such as alcohol. These interfere with the nervous system and may negatively impact sleep.
Get some exercise during the day, preferably out of doors.
If you are having trouble sleeping, listen to a guided meditation or Yoga Nidra CD to supplement some of the missed hours of sleep.
Initially when you are active, you draw energy from the food you have eaten. When that energy is spent, you draw energy from your own stored resources. When you feel fatigue, you have exhausted these resources. If you continue to spend energy, you deplete ojas, an Ayurvedic term for your vital reserves.
By becoming aware of how you spend energy, you can assure that you are always storing a little more than you’re spending.
If you are burning the candle at both ends, put one of the ends out.
Take on only what you can do with the energy reserves you have. When you feel fatigue, stop.
If you need some form of stimulant to make it through the day, your vital reserves are depleted.
Begin your day with routine
Start your day with a beneficial routine including cleansing, stretching, breath work and meditation.
Balance active times during your day with restful times.
Incorporate exercise into the flow of your day.
Notice when you are fatigued and take rest and nourishment, rather than stimulation.
If you notice your energy flagging in the afternoon, take a short walk and breathe deeply. Take nourishing food such as a piece of fruit or nuts.
Hot Flashes + Night Sweats
Even if you think you know everything there is to know about potential menopausal symptoms, your first hot flash still surprises you. It is estimated that up to 85% of women will experience hot flashes during perimenopause and these can continue through the first few years of menopause. For some women, these are an infrequent event that can be a mild annoyance. For others, though, these hot flashes may interfere on a daily basis with their lives and activities for years.
Why Hot Flashes Occur
Though they are common, they are still a bit of a mystery to medical science. The current theory is that they are triggered by a decrease in estrogen that is misinterpreted at the hypothalamus as an increase in body temperature. This triggers a homeostatic response in which the superficial blood vessels dilate and sweating is triggered. If you were really overheated, this would bring welcome relief. Because you are not overheated, it floods the body with excess heat and you experience a “hot flash”.
As your body adjusts to the lower estrogen levels, the hot flashes generally diminish in both frequency and intensity. During perimenopause, some women have fluctuating levels of estrogen and this leaves them in a perpetual state of “decreasing estrogen levels” triggering the occurrence and reoccurrence of hot flashes.
The same factors are to blame in conditions of menopause-related night sweats.
Night sweats occur when the menopausal woman is sleeping and may result in her waking in damp pajamas and bedding. Night sweats may lead to interrupted sleep that will further induce anxiety that can be a causative factor in both hot flashes and night sweats. This vicious cycle is experienced by a huge percentage of the menopausal population in the US and in other developed nations of the world.
Interestingly, hot flashes and night sweats are not experienced everywhere in the world and not every menopausal woman will experience them. When we begin to tease out what is happening differently in those places where women suffer from these symptoms, we can begin to unravel the causes and eliminate these from women’s lives.
The Ayurvedic Perspective
From an Ayurvedic perspective, these symptoms are caused by a Vata dosha imbalance and the imbalance of the agni of the body. The shift to menopause is the hallmark of entering the Vata time of life. The hot flashes and night sweats are signs that there is a misinterpretation of the signals and this is often caused by Vata dosha. Pitta, though often associated with heat, will not flash. Pitta imbalance gets hot and stays hot. In some women, there may be Pitta held deep in the tissues, but the symptoms of hot flashes are surges rather than sustained heat and that is our indicator that Vata is largely to blame.
Agni is often termed our digestive fire, but in this case it refers both to the agni of the digestive system and the agni of our metabolic home, the liver. When the digestive system agni becomes variable we have difficulty digesting food and ama forms. Ama is the term used for a toxic byproduct of improper or incomplete digestion. There is no easy western counterpart, but ama is often the cause of hormonal irregularities and damage to tissues, organs and systems of the body.
This ama is carried from the digestive system to the liver along with the nutrients from our food. The liver is responsible for many, many jobs in the body and helping to rid the body of ama is one of them. The liver is home to the five elemental agnis and their job is to convert the foods we ingest into a form that is usable by the body.
When ama forms in the digestive system and is carried to the liver, it impairs the liver’s ability to do its myriad jobs. This results in ama finding its way into the blood and eventually, to the cells and tissues of the body. At the cellular level, this ama can interfere with the body’s ability to recognize and respond appropriately to the hormones of the system.
When faced with hormonal imbalance, it is most likely that ama blocking cell receptors is a primary factor in the imbalance. When this occurs, we look at the health of the liver. When looking at the health of the liver, we must address the health of the digestive system. Ayurveda, at this point, becomes simple but not easy. It is simple to say, “Just change your diet and lifestyle and you will, eventually, clear all ama out of the system,” but this is not an easy thing to do.
How Digestion Affects Menopause Symptoms
Everything that enters your body through the digestive system, lungs or skin must be processed through the liver. If what is taken in is pure, of the highest quality, and at quantities that are appropriate to the state of digestion, then you will usually have an easier time in creating balance in the digestive system and at the liver. However, if what is taken in is impure, low quality or of excess quantity, then the liver struggles. If foods are rich in xenoestrogens, chemicals that the body mistakenly responds to like estrogen, then further problems can result.
Your digestive system is impacted by what you eat, when you eat and how you eat. When foods are fresh, organic and taken when seasonally available, you have a better opportunity to convert that food into high quality tissue. When you eat according to your energy output and during times of day when your agni is strongest, you form less ama. By dining consciously in a calm state of mind you support your body in full digestion of food.
You can see why so many women in the US struggle with menopausal symptoms. Stress also disturbs digestion. Foods may not be fresh and organic. You have the luxury of eating foods out of season that have been imported for your consumption. There is a large quantity of food available, but you often are less active than you should be. Distracted eating is also common, with one hand on the phone or an eye focused on a nearby screen.
In order to address menopausal symptoms, you must balance your digestive fire, support your liver to process out toxins more efficiently, and remove any ama that is circulating through the blood and lymph. That is a tall order, but not an insurmountable one.
Best Diet For Menopause Symptoms
Starting with digestion, look at your food choices and eliminate foods that may cause imbalance in your system. Xenoestrogens may be found in inorganic fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy. Buying organic is a good way to limit your exposure to pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that can disturb your hormonal balance.
Eat according to your energy output. Consume only a quantity of foods that you can process during the day to limit your conversion of excess foods into fat. The fat cells of the body produce estrogen and may lead to the long duration of estrogen imbalance driven effects. This means on days when you are doing a lot of physical exertion, you take in more calories. On days with less physical exertion, you take in fewer calories. Without the metabolic drive provided by estrogen, a menopausal woman will typically spend 500 calories per day less than when she was regularly menstruating. This means, a menopausal woman should decrease her daily intake by 500 calories. That alone can go a long way in easing up the burden on the liver.
Remedies That Support Liver Function
By dining consciously with awareness during meals, you support the body to fully digest your food. Ayurveda has many guidelines for healthy eating that all come down to being aware of yourself and staying present during the eating process. By doing this you will naturally avoid overeating and suppressing the digestive fire.
To support the liver, consider how and what you are “feeding” it. By using organic and natural products on your skin, you avoid introducing chemical products into your system that the liver will need to remove. When you dine as described above, you avoid overloading the liver. Other things you can do to support the liver are to take in adequate water during the day, while avoiding heating and acidic beverages such as alcohol or excessive amounts of coffee or sugared drinks. You can also eat your main meal during midday and avoid eating after sundown. This gives you plenty of time to digest your food before you go to bed. Think of nighttime as “Liver Time” and let it get its work done in peace by assuring that no new digestive demands are placed on the liver at night.
To further support liver function, take aloe vera gel with turmeric at bedtime. Consider taking about 2 Tbsp aloe vera gel with ¼ tsp turmeric in 4-8 oz of water. This helps reduce liver heat and may have the effect of reducing the experience of hot flashes.
To remove ama from the blood and lymph, you need to sweat. By increasing daily exercise while drinking pure water, you support the body to clear toxicity from the channels naturally. You can further support this with a tea that is both nourishing to the fluids of the body and cleansing at the same time.
A tea made with equal parts fennel, cumin, cardamom, and coriander seeds will support this process. Mix the seeds together and then take 1 Tbsp of the blended seeds into two cups of water. Boil for 5 minutes and remove from heat. Let steep until cool, then strain and drink. This will support the process of removing ama from the blood and lymph.
No herb is a substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle. Shatavari and vidari kand are often recommended as they provide phytoestrogen and progesterone; in these cases, the plants provide some degree of hormonal support. You will find products that include these herbs and other Ayurvedic herbs to give you short-term symptomatic relief. These herbal treatments may reduce hot flashes, but when you realize the cause lies in the digestive system and the liver, you know that full treatment will address those systems directly and support the removal of ama from the system.
Want to learn more? Bookmark this post to stay tuned as we update this article with more information about menopause.