Growing up I associated being female with an underlying feeling of shame and guilt. One of my first bedtime stories was the story of Adam and Eve - teaching me how we, as a gender, are at the root of the world's pain and suffering… I was concerned to say the least.
There followed many moments in my life where these feelings of guilt and shame were reinforced. But, this perception of females always conflicted with my ferocious inner belief that being a woman was something quite magnificent.
Over the past few months there has been a paradigm shift in this perception - feminists have been standing up and creating change. It’s a century since the beginning of the suffragette movement and we are still fighting to change perceptions. But, lately, no subject is off limits, shame has left the building... or at least it has its coat on.
In the shop, many women have sought advice on the menopause; usually in hushed tones. And it struck me that until then it had been a subject I’d never really heard openly discussed. Why not? Should I be ashamed too? The only mention of the menopause I’d really heard before was as part of casual joke, or a remark intended to create shame. What did my closest friends know about it? It even seemed an uncomfortable topic to mention around them.
It has been a breath of fresh air hearing celebrities like Yasmin Le Bon, Meg Mathews and Angelina Jolie sharing their transformations honestly. More women openly discussing the menopause, making it normal, it creates more compassion and respect - a deeper knowledge and understanding about it for everyone.
Before writing this, I spoke to many women about their experiences. My mum first. Luckily she experienced nothing, no hot flushes, mood swings or forgetfulness (this seems to be the reason she sported so many polo necks in her fifties… barely worn hand-me-downs from friends who broken into a sweat at the very sight of them!). Similarly with my grandmother, it was also a breeze. I was feeling confident that this was my path too. But, then I did more research, which shows it’s not always a breeze...
Step one in assisting your body during the transition is to support liver health, .of the liver’s functions is to process old hormones. In traditional chinese medicine the liver is the body's main heat producing organ. Excess heat in the body is a yang energy - productive, dynamic and forceful. In western society, if you are sometimes a little irritable and prickly - you would be called liverish. If (like me) you have these tendencies, then you are more prone to suffer hot flushes during the menopause. But reassuringly, if you start to look after you liver early, you can reduce the severity of these symptoms. If you are already experiencing them, focus on protecting your liver now!
Firstly reduce liver aggravators - processed, high-sugar foods, spicy foods, alcohol and (dare I say it…) coffee. I am not sure I will ever cut out my one cup of coffee a day, but perhaps if you are drinking four you could consider lowering your intake. Support your liver with herbs such as milk thistle, dandelion and burdock.
Nettle is fantastic from an energetic standpoint and it also reduces the high histamine levels brought on by hormonal fluctuations during the menopause. And, it is an adaptogen, one of my favourite types of herbs like rhodiola, it helps your body and mind adjust to pressures (such as the hormonal stress response brought on during menopause) and reduce latent anxiety. They also both help to stabilise our blood sugar levels. The reduction of heat caused by histamine spikes, along with lower stress and anxiety levels, means that these adaptogenic herbs can help you sleep better too.
In addition to herbs, we can help combat hot flushes by eating liver loving and mineral-rich foods such as cold pressed olive oil, green leafy veg, nuts and whole grains. Sea vegetables are recommended to replace electrolytes, as well as cooling foods like aloe vera and coconut. Sage tea can be very helpful in reducing any tendency to over heat.
Linseeds are key - they are high in phytoestrogens, lowering the risk of many menopausal symptoms, as well as having a cooling effect. (Precautionarynote: while many plant foods contain phytoestrogens such as linseeds, garlic, parsley and soya, we would caution women with a genetic predisposition towards oestrogen-driven cancers (such as breast cancer), not to over-consume these foods.
Garlic (and garlic capsules) contain cysteine which provide the building blocks for glutathione, the most powerful antioxidant your liver produces, helping it to expel waste hormones.
As always, probiotics have a positive effect, here they help by cooling the gut. And the reishi mushroom (another one of my favourites!) helps divert heat away from the liver.
Last but not least in this section - don’t forget to keep hydrated. With the increased loss of bodily fluids, replenishment with plenty of water is a must.
Based on many interviews and detailed research, it’s clear that exercise is a significant help to many; this makes so much sense! It is a metamorphic personal experience, a rebirth - and exercise allows you to focus on yourself. It’s a form of meditation, stimulating endorphins (the pleasure hormones), flushing out waste hormones (through sweating) and encouraging lymphatic drainage.
Exercise helps maintain a healthy blood sugar balance. Many of us experience erratic moods due to our fluctuating sugar levels, giving us a further loss of self control. Eating protein with fibre at every meal will help stabilize the release of sugar from your food.
Liver cleansing herbs (like burdock and dandelion) also have blood cleansing properties and we recommend the blood tonic Flor.Essence, a beautiful and powerful blend of herbs.
Sleep deprivation is serious. It aggravates your organs and your mind., frequently increasing anxiety levels. Combined and left untackled this can rapidly descend into a negative and damaging downward spiral. Studies show that people sleep significantly better when they include 150 minutes of moderate weekly exercise in their lifestyle - that’s around 22 mins per day! It’s a wonderful natural sleep remedy!
You can also supplement with lemon balm tea and magnesium, and either of the wonderful adaptogenic herbs Rhodiola or Ashwaganda.
I find mindful colouring for half an hour before I go to bed puts me into a nice meditative state, creating the necessary digital detox before bedtime too!
I’m not sure why with all the other symptoms of the menopause, vaginal dryness had to be thrown in there too, along with a loss of libido. Maca powder (add it to your smoothies) and Damiana are exceptional supplements - not only do they balance hormones, but are also natural aphrodisiacs. Foods high in zinc, such as pumpkin seeds, bee pollen and spinach help to increase your libido. Eating juicy foods like cucumbers, watermelon and pears helps to naturally lubricate (as well as hydrate). Invest in a high quality olive oil as this is rich in oleic acid - perfect for promoting lubrication and can be used as a massage oil too [winky face]. Fair Squared Green Tea Lube & Massage Gel or Sylk natural intimate moisturizer are other alternatives and a worthwhile investment.
Advice on how to combat the menopause has certainly changed throughout the ages, cannabis and opium were once a suggested remedy (not so bad). But, some women would have lived during a time where pulvarised cow ovaries or testicular juice were the fashionable alternative!
When I speak to ladies in the store, it’s important to ensure that as well as recommending foods, herbs and supplements for lessening the physical symptoms, we also encourage them to remember to look after themselves emotionally. It was interesting to read studies on how women experience the menopause differently around the world and how personal and social perception play a part in the physical symptoms. In many countries the menopause is embraced by all, as women no longer need to deal with the social taboos that come with the childbearing years - it’s an empowering time for them. They find themselves in a ‘renewed and glowing state, a virgin again’. Their husbands no longer need to deal with the worry of fathering another child. In some cultures, women can experience little apart from the ceasing of the menses and an odd ache or pain. What’s certain is that throughout the world each personal experience will be unique and we must choose for ourselves how we see it and how we deal with it.
My instinct is always to recommend herbs that create an inner sense of wellbeing, ones that heal energetically, allowing us to gain love and protection from the inside. Passionflower stands out, known as ‘a hug in a bottle’. And Pukka ‘Love Tea’ is filled with rose and chamomile. Rose is known specifically to nurture women and helps ease transitions. It’s a time to flourish, direct emotions inward, to focus on what you want rather than the expectations of you as a mother or woman of a childbearing age.
Include also more grounding foods, herbs and spices in your diet, such as ginger and sage. These have the added benefit of helping to cool the body and stave off hot flushes. Interestingly, all root vegetables (such as carrots and parsnips) have a grounding effect on the body and spirit too.
One thing I’m sure of, is that whatever your choice of remedy, whatever your experience, it’s personal. You alone decide what’s best for you. Who am I to write on this subject? I have no hands on experience... well, I do feel sympathy - for my friends who feel shame, for all the beautiful ladies seeking help in the store who feel the need to speak in hushed tones and for my peers who are often ridiculed for being a female and ageing. I embrace ageing and maturity, and with every feminist who sheds their cloak of shame, we are increasingly empowered to feel free of society’s shackles and loaded cliches.
After all of my conversations with women and reading many stories, it has come down to this. Be prepared, be aware, be empathetic and remember in your heart that each day a stronger, wiser and more liberated you is emerging.
Lead image article by Timo Vijn.
Please consult your doctor before taking supplements or changing your diet, especially if you are taking any medications or have a medical condition. Some supplements and medications can interact with lethal results.