I think there is a place in life for everything—in healing and certainly in menopause. When it comes to menopause, hormone therapies have their place and, yes, we will talk about that soon. But today, I want to talk about plants.
When I was in naturopathic medical school, my required curriculum included not only many classes in pharmacology, but also a course in pharmacognosy—the study of medicinal plants. It was called botanical medicine.
Medicinal plants have very powerful properties and have been used for centuries to help heal conditions ranging from migraines to high blood pressure. For a smooth transition into menopause and beyond, here are just a few of my favorites.
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)
Black cohosh, the most widely used and most thoroughly studied natural supplement for menopausal symptoms, has been clinically proven to reduce hot flashes and night sweats. While black cohosh’s exact mechanism of action is unknown, compounds in the herb appear to bind to estrogen receptors without changing hormone levels in the body. Because black cohosh does not have estrogenic action, it is safe for use in patients with a history of breast cancer. My usual recommendation is 40 mg of black cohosh, standardized to 2.5% triterpene glycosides, daily. Please note, while some women experience a decrease in hot flashes almost immediately, maximum benefit may not be apparent for as long as 12 weeks.
Often, women going through the menopausal transition experience a lack of energy due to fluctuations or depletions in reproductive hormone levels. Panax ginseng to the rescue! In fact, a double blind, placebo-controlled study of postmenopausal women showed overall symptom relief and improvement in mood and well-being after ginseng supplementation. I’ve found great success using a product called Ginseng Phytosome—ginseng formulated with a patented process that results in superior absorption. It contains one part Panax ginseng extract standardized to contain 37.5% ginsenosides, bound to two parts phosphatidylcholine—a source of the nutrient choline that serves as a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important for nerve and muscle function.
Green tea (Camellia sinensis)
Green tea is a rich source of flavonoids and polyphenols that have been studied for their support of immune system health. Green tea also contains small amounts of caffeine, which supports stamina and reduces fatigue. There is some evidence that green tea supports daily energy expenditure and may be beneficial in weight management. An effective dose for women is 250mg of green tea leaf extract standardized to contain 35mg of caffeine.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
While somewhat new to American practitioners, rhodiola has been used to support healthy energy levels for centuries in Russia, Scandinavia, and Iceland.
Animal research demonstrates that rhodiola reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and boosts adenosine triphosphate (ATP) synthesis, a coenzyme important for energy production. For women struggling with energy drain related to menopause, rhodiola may support mental concentration and alertness and support healthy endurance levels.
Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
Vitex has been widely used for the management of menstrual disorders, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and hot flashes in menopause. The key actives in chaste tree fruit seem to support the pituitary gland’s regulation of ovarian hormone production, directing menstruation, fertility and other processes.
Women have used Vitex preparations for menstrual difficulties for at least 2,500 years. In a double blind, multi-center study, 175 female patients were randomized to receive either chaste tree extract or pyridoxine (vitamin B-6) for relief of PMS. Using self-report and physician assessment to determine results, the women in the Vitex group had significantly reduced breast tenderness, edema (swelling), tension, headache, constipation and depression.