Alternative Approaches: Natural remedies for a woman's new stage of life

Alternative Approaches
Natural remedies for a woman's new stage of life
Editor's Note: "Alternative Approaches" is a new monthly series.
by Jennifer LB Leese

More and more many women are realizing that prescription and over the counter drugs are not the only answers for easing the discomforts of menopause.
Menopause varies considerably from woman to woman, ranging anywhere from early/mid 40s to late 50s/early 60s. For many women this duration constitutes the menopausal years, popularly known as the Change of Life. This Change includes three stages: before menopause, during menopause, and after menopause.
Premenopause is usually a gradual process, so women may not know exactly when it begins.
Diet, lifestyle changes, and Alternative Medicine have been proven for centuries throughout the world to benefit a woman's overall health.
Although menopause is one of the greatest physical milestones in a woman's life, many women lack concrete information about what is taking place and what are their options. Here are a few tips to get you started...

ALTERNATIVE ACTIONS:
Nourish and tonify your entire hormonal system. Menopausal changes occur not only in the ovaries, but also in the adrenal, thyroid, pancreas, pineal, and pituitary glands. Herbal allies are remarkably safe and effective glandular nourishers.
Increase the number and amount of calcium-rich foods you consume. No single effort will repay you more richly. High levels of calcium in the diet protect you from osteoporosis, heart disease, and emotional swings. Green leafy vegetables (herbs and weeds) are exceptional sources of calcium.
Find some regular physical activity to fall in love with. Even gentle exercise, done regularly, helps maintain peak bone mass, strengthens the cardiovascular system, and insures deep sleep.
Gain up to a pound a year for ten years. Thin women have more hot flashes and an altogether more difficult menopause than heavier women. Fat cells produce estrone, a kind of estrogen.
Take time for solitude. Although many women feel enormous satisfaction in tending and nurturing others, as our reproductive years come to a close, it is appropriate to turn away from care-taking. Hot flashes, sleeplessness, moodiness, and the like are easier to recognize as allies of wholeness when you are free to follow your own needs without concern for others. Take one day to be totally by yourself.
Experiment with eggs, meat, and butter in your diet. Some women find these foods, especially if from organic sources, decrease menopausal symptoms. Some practitioners insist they increase menopausal distress, especially when from commercial sources.
Spend time with a journal. Buy a blank book and write in it, draw in it, paste articles in it. Visions and dreams are particularly vivid and intense in the menopausal climax years; keep your journal handy so you can record them. Your emotional energies are readily available during the menopausal climax years; draw them in your book. Memories abound during these years; cherish them in your journal.
Yoga techniques. Yoga postures, yoga breathing, and quiet, focused meditation are excellent ways to tonify (and soothe) the sympathetic nervous system. Regular practice alleviates anxiety, often permanently.
Specific dietary and nutritional changes with nutritional and herbal supplements have been shown to alleviate the discomforts of menopause. Natural therapies avoid side effects and the risks of prescription hormone replacement.

HERBAL REMEDIES:
The information available to date suggests that menopausal symptoms may be alleviated for some women by using herbs, particularly black cohosh. Symptom improvement is different for each woman.
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)
Black cohosh is used to relieve symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, irritability, mood swings, and feelings of depression. This herb is considered a safe and effective alternative to estrogen when hormones cannot be used.
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis)
Dong quai, in combination with other herbs, has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese Medicine to relieve symptoms of menopause. While there continue to be reports of improvement in symptoms using this herb, the effect of using dong quai by itself varies from woman to woman. Clinical studies comparing dong quai only to a placebo do not confirm a specific benefit of this herb. In general, however, dong quai is thought to be safe for relief of menopausal symptoms, particularly if hormones cannot be used.
Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
Red clover contains high quantities of plant-based estrogens called isoflavones that may improve menopausal symptoms, reduce the risk of bone loss, and lower the risk of heart disease by improving blood pressure and possibly by increasing HDL cholesterol (the "good" kind of cholesterol).
Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)
Menopausal women may use Asian ginseng to reduce stress, improve general well being, decrease feelings of depression, and enhance memory. This herb is thought to have estrogen-like activities, although not all studies support this assertion.
Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa)
Many women claim that wild yam (when used as a cream) improves menopausal symptoms, particularly vaginal dryness. While this extract has been converted to progesterone in laboratory test tubes, the value of wild yam for menopausal symptoms has not yet been fully evaluated in people or even in animals.
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis)
Some women report that evening primrose oil diminishes the frequency and intensity of their hot flashes, but these claims have not been proven by scientific studies.

RECIPES:
Herbal Tea for Menopausal Symptoms
6 tbsp. Chamomile flowers
6 tbsp. Lemon balm leaves
6 tbsp. St. John's wort, tops
3 tbsp. Lavender flowers
2 tbsp. Orange flowers
2 tbsp. Rose hips, skin only
1 tbsp. Valerian roots
Blend the above and store in an airtight container in a dark space. When ready to use, pour 1-cup of boiling water over 3 tsp. of this blend, steep for five minutes; strain and drink 2-3 cups daily for four weeks.

Strong Bone Stew
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Saute in the warm oil 1-cup organically grown chopped onions, 1-3 cloves chopped garlic, and 1 cup quartered mushrooms. When onions are soft, add 1-quart vegetable stock (or water), and bring to a boil.
Then add 1 cup each of at least four of these organically grown vegetables, cubed, unpeeled: sweet potato, carrot, turnip, winter squash, potato, parsnip, burdock/gobo. Also add 1/2 cup dried wakame seaweed, cut small. Simmer for 45 minutes, adding more water or broth if needed.
While the stew simmers, mix together in a large measuring cup or bowl: 2 tablespoons miso, 2 teaspoons tamari, 1/3 cup tahini, 2 tablespoons peanut or almond butter, 1 tablespoons cronewort vinegar.
Just before serving, ladle enough hot broth into the measuring cup or bowl to make a mixture thin enough to pour into the stew. Add this mix and 1 cake tofu, cubed, to your stewpot. Continue to cook on very low heat for 5 minutes. Serve hot with whole grain bread or brown rice.

Springing Soup
To 8 cups water or vegetable broth, add 2 cups of fresh nettle greens and one handful of fresh horsetail. Chop 4 potatoes then add to liquid. Bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are done. Garnish with finely minced wild onions.

Garden in a Cup
2 oz. rosemary herb
2 oz. sage leaf
1 1/2 oz. wild yam root
1/2 oz. licorice root
Six ounces of this mixture will last three weeks. Combine these herbal extracts. Take 1/2 teaspoon in 1-cup water, juice, or any herb tea five to thirty minutes before meals.

HERBAL TRANQUILIZERS:
Herbal tranquilizers are safer than prescription tranquilizers, but are best reserved for occasional use. Valerian is the best known. Because its action can be quite strong, it is best to begin with a five-drop dose, which can be repeated every 10-15 minutes until you are calm (and probably asleep). To avoid addiction, use valerian root as a tea or a tincture, not in capsules, and take it for no more than three weeks.
Conventional and alternative medicines have the same goal: to relieve a woman's discomfort during the transitional years of menopause and to help her achieve optimal health during menopause and in her later years. The difference between conventional and alternative medicines is the approach taken.
Be sure to consult your doctor before taking any herbal treatments or dietary supplements for signs and symptoms of menopause. Herbal products can interfere or interact with other medications you may be taking.

Source: "Menopausal Years: The Wise Woman Way" by Susun S. Weed, "The Herbal Menopause Book" by Amanda McQuade Crawford, Health and Age.com, and Herbal Medicine in Holisticonline.com.