I’ve just been to a seminar giving updates on the latest thinking about female hormones, and what we can do about it when things do not run smoothly.
One of the useful things about these updates is the salutary reminder that our hormonal feedback systems are very sophisticated and finely balanced. All of our glandular tissue, from the hypothalamus and the pituitary to the thyroid, gonads and adrenals, responds to signals from all the other sites, and affects them in turn. And that includes adipocytes or fat cells, which are both sensitive to hormonal messengers, and can hold them in storage too.
It’s far too simplistic to think, for example, that painful periods can be ‘cured’ by going on the pill, or menopausal hot flushes can be magicked away by taking hormone replacement therapy. Yes, it can ease the symptoms, but it doesn’t address the reasons why one woman might suffer from period pain or pre-menstrual tension or hot flushes, while another woman does not.
And the same applies to taking Black Cohosh or Red Clover or Sage for menopausal symptoms. They do help, but you can do a great deal more by looking at the bigger picture. By the time we reach the menopause, we have had a long working life, most of us have had children, and a good many will be caring for elderly parents, dealing with marital breakups, and handling all the many stresses of modern life. It takes it out of you.
Combine that with not eating well, poor sleep, weight issues and feeling tired most of the time, and it’s not surprising that when it comes to the change of life, it turns out to be a far from smooth ride.
Often, when I’m prescribing for menopausal women, I don’t use the hormone balancing herbs at all. Your hormones are not the problem; long term stress leading to a state of depletion is at the root of the trouble, and that isn’t going to be solved by tinkering with hormone levels. This is where herbal adaptogens come into their own: herbs like the ginsengs, ashwagandha and shatavari, some of the mushrooms, vervain and oat straw and liquorice. And, above all, the willingness to say no, sometimes, to the demands that are made of you.