For most women, menopause occurs between the ages of 50 and 52. In the lead-up come the hormonal changes of perimenopause, which often last between four to ten years.
Though some women sail through these hormonal shifts, many experience symptoms that come and go or occur daily.
In the perimenopausal phase when progesterone is starting to lower, many women experience a shorter cycle that has menstruation coming every 21 days. Not only are cycles shorter but they can have much heavier bleeding.
These lower progesterone levels can also cause issues with falling asleep and create more anxious feelings. Progesterone is the hormone that makes us feel grounded and keeps a hold on anxiety, without it we can feel edgy, anxious, and foggy. When you start to skip cycles and the sleep disturbance changes to waking up at 2 a.m., that’s when you know your estrogen is starting to decrease.
Additional symptoms at these phases range from hot flashes, weight changes, sleep issues, vaginal dryness and itchy skin to breast tenderness, loss of libido and mood swings.
Migraines can be triggered more in either phase, perimenopause or menopause, because both high and low levels of estrogen can be a trigger.
During this time most women feel they are chasing their tail as symptoms come and go, but herbal medicine is a great support during this transition.
The right choice of herbs, plant roots and seeds can be used as natural treatments for some of these symptoms and help to reduce their severity. Here’s a rundown of potent therapeutic plants to use to address top health issues for women related to menopause and perimenopause:
1. Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Research shows around 85% of women experience hormone symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats in the first year or two of perimenopause. These occur due to estrogen levels dropping. Up to half continue to have them regularly, even after menopause.
Why? Falling estrogen levels cause a woman’s ‘thermoneutral’ zone to narrow—this can trigger sweating at lower temperatures and dilation of the peripheral blood vessels, which also increases heat. When anxious or stressed, peri and menopausal women also release slightly higher amounts of the stress hormone noradrenaline, which increases body temperature and hormonal hot flashes.
Chaste tree: Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus), also known as Monk’s Pepper, was named for the anti-aphrodisiac qualities of the plant. Monks used to chew the berries and leaves of this plant to reduce urges. When used in large quantities some may experience a reduced libido.
Chaste tree works by increasing luteinizing hormone which helps to raise progesterone levels so that estrogen levels are not so dominant. It can improve issues such as short and heavy cycles, falling asleep, painful, lumpy breasts, bloating, depression, headaches, and constipation.
Black cohosh: This plant has long been used in Europe for treating hot flashes. Researchers from the University of Illinois have found that black cohosh appears to act on human opiate receptors, which play a role in regulating the body’s temperature.
Dong Quai: Known as ‘Female Ginseng”, this fragrant herb is used to treat period pain, amenorrhea (absent periods), Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS), and symptoms of peri and menopause, such as hot flashes and lack of libido.
Red Clover: This is rich in phytoestrogens called isoflavones, which help to combat the intensity and frequency of hot flashes. Research from Aarhus University Hospital has shown that daily intake of red clover can reduce menopausal hot flashes, particularly when combined with probiotics.
2. Anxiety and Low Mood
Many women find they feel substantially more anxious, low, or wired during perimenopause and menopause. The hormonal changes during this time can affect brain structure and function, impacting memory and concentration. Hot flashes may also cause temporary memory dips.
Ashwaganda: A powerful adaptogenic herb used in Ayurvedic practice, it helps to promote mental calm, reduce anxiety, depression, and insomnia. In one study, Ashwaganda was shown to increase serum DHEA levels by 13.2%. DHEA is the “mother” hormone because it is the precursor of other hormones like estrogen and testosterone, which can be helpful at this time. (Auddy B, Hazra J, Mitra A, Abedon B, Ghosal S. A standardized Withania somnifera extract significantly reduces stress-related parameters in chronically stressed humans: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. JANA. 2008;11(1): 50-56). NOTE: if you are sensitive to the nightshade family, which includes foods like potatoes, eggplant, and peppers, ashwagandha may not be a suitable choice.
Passionflower: Is a calmative that promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety. Research shows that it can be effective in easing anxiety symptoms.
Maca: This ancient Peruvian women’s tonic can help increase energy and mental clarity. Choose the gelatinized (but not raw) Lepidium Peruvianum Chacon variety. The powder can be added to smoothies, lattes and tea or coffee. Research from Brazil suggest that the flavonoid maca contains, called apigenin, may benefit brain cells and ward off depression. To learn more about the other benefits of maca take a look at my post.
3. Heart Health
Many women mistakenly think that heart disease is a man’s condition, but heart disease is one of the top killers of women. A woman’s risk dramatically increases at menopause due to a drop in estrogen—leading to your heart and blood vessels stiffening and ultimately less elastic. As a result, your blood pressure rises, which can put a strain on your heart. Issues like Atrial Fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythms) may also occur.
Flaxseed is rich in:
- Healthy omega-3 fatty acids
- Soluble fiber: this binds to cholesterol and removes it
- Lignans: plant compounds with antioxidant and estrogen-like (as well as estrogen-detoxing) properties.
Flaxseed can be as effective as estrogen for combatting some of the adverse blood lipid changes that occur in menopause, shows research from the Canadian Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences. The study found that flaxseed can retard the growth of plaques that block arteries, increasing the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Motherwort: This herb has been used since ancient times to treat high blood pressure, racing heart, and angina (mild chest pain). Enjoy it as a tea and combine it with hawthorn to help stabilize erratic heart rhythms.
Fenugreek: Research from the University of Queensland shows that fenugreek works like a natural form of HRT because it can boost sexual arousal and desire in women and raise estrogen levels. Fenugreek also helps lower cholesterol and contains steroidal saponins that prevent your body from absorbing harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Plus it contains potassium levels, which can balance levels of sodium and stabilize heart rate and blood pressure.
To learn how to balance your hormones with supplements (and which to take), you can download our FREE Supplement Guide here.
4. Bone Health
It is important to note that as women approach menopause, they will see a drop in estrogen, which happens as bone cells break down faster than new ones can form.
Dandelion: Long used as a tonic and diuretic, dandelion is rich in Vitamins A, E, C, K and B2 (riboflavin) and contains potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and phosphorus—minerals that are great for building strong, healthy bones. Be mindful that dandelion root is high in polysaccharides, so it should be avoided if you are sensitive to FODMAPs (carbohydrates that can cause digestive problems).
Camellia Sinensis: This is the plant you enjoy when you savor a cup of green or black tea. Research from the University of Western Australia not only shows that women who drink this tea have higher bone density, but it also promotes a more alkaline balance in the body. Note, be careful as a more acid state can lead to minerals like calcium being leached from the bones.
Alfalfa, Nettles, and Horsetail: These are rich sources of nutrients including calcium, magnesium, silica, and boron which are also pivotal to building new bone and maintaining bone density and strength.
These herbs can be used in easy-to-make salves, tinctures, and infusions. If you would like to learn more about how natural herbs can help rebalance your hormones, join our online workshop Herbs for Balance.
In this online workshop you will:
- Get our recipe book with 140+ simple and delicious herbal recipes to restore and rebalance your hormones.
- Access to our instructional video library so you can follow along while making our recipes.
- Hormone-Balancing Food & Herbs Wheel Poster
- Learn how to identify common chemicals found in everyday skincare and house cleaning products that disrupt your hormone.
- Discover which herbs are best for your individual needs
Join Herbs for Balance here.