Ayurveda and menopause: how to sail through it and enjoy vibrant health and ageless beauty (part 1)
Author: Dr Nancy Lonsdorf
In a two-part article, Dr. Lonsdorf, an award-winning integrative and Ayurvedic physician, explains menopause and how to best manage it according to the Ayurveda practice. On this first part, Dr Lonsdorf covers the Ayurveda approach to menopause, the three imbalance types and some Ayurvedic tips for each of them.
Menopause: It’s About Balance
We’ve come a long way in our understanding of menopause. I recall a conference I attended in the 1990s at a major university, which presented all the ills that women face during and after menopause, and offered bandaid “cures” of hormone therapy and even various surgeries. The experts, all male physicians, purported that, after all, menopause is an oestrogen deficiency disorder, most properly treated with ‘replacement hormones,’ in the same way that hypothyroidism is a ‘thyroid deficiency disorder.
Knowing better, as I’d practiced Ayurveda along with conventional medicine for 10 years by that time, I must admit this kind of conviction on the part of conventional doctors got my emotional “pitta” (Ayurvedic for “fire”) cooking!
The problem was they totally missed the fact that menopause is a natural transition, designed by nature to be best for our health and that of the next generation. Moreover, women are inherently designed to go through that transition smoothly and be healthy for decades afterwards.
Fortunately, this is now the common understanding that even the medical community holds today, thanks to the multi-million dollar Women’s Health Initiative study that showed in the early 2000s that taking hormones isn’t the automatic fountain of youth it had been promoted to be, but carries risks that must be weighed against the potential benefits on an individual basis for each woman. i.e. HRT is not a necessary “replacement” of hormones to make up for a mistake of Mother Nature, but rather a medical therapy that must be considered in the light of each woman’s unique needs.
Shocking and novel as these concepts were to the medical community, they are nothing new to Maharishi Ayurveda, a consciousness-based natural medical system from ancient India. For over 5000 years, Ayurveda has acknowledged menopause as a natural transition, not a mistake of Mother Nature’s that requires hormone replacement therapy. Maharishi Ayurveda reassures us that menopause can be health-promoting, spiritually-transforming and free of troublesome symptoms.Experts today affirm this positive view of menopause, stating that it is not natural to get weak bones, heart disease and rapid aging after menopause. Rather, osteoporosis, heart disease and other chronic health problems develop over a lifetime, resulting largely from poor diet, stress and lack of physical exercise. And hormone replacement therapy (HRT,) once heavily promoted as the medical solution to these problems, is no longer recommended for their treatment or prevention.
Menopause: A ‘Balance Deficiency’
What is recommended for staying healthy and youthful after menopause is a healthy diet and lifestyle. According to Ayurveda, how balanced, or overall healthy you are when you arrive to menopausal age largely determines how smooth your transition will be.
If you are burning the candle at both ends in your 30s and early 40s, you are more likely to have mood swings, sleep problems and troublesome hot flushes when your hormones start to change. Whereas if you have healthy lifestyle habits and are managing your stress effectively, you are likely to breeze through menopause without any major problems.
According to Ayurveda, health problems at menopause represent imbalances in the body that were already growing in the body for years and are unmasked by the stress of shifting hormones. Menopause symptoms are ‘nature’s wake-up call’ letting you know you need to start paying more attention to your health.
Age 45-55 is the most critical decade, Ayurveda tells us. It provides the foundation for your later health. Just like putting money in your retirement account, timely investing in your health can dramatically increase your ‘yield’ of healthy years at midlife and beyond.
If you haven’t been taking care of yourself in your 30s and 40s, it’s still not too late to make meaningful lifestyle changes that will help you transition through menopause gracefully and live a long time without the burden of chronic health problems.
What You Can Do Now to Get ‘In Balance’
While a healthy lifestyle is helpful for all, each woman’s menopause experience is unique. Knowing precisely how your body is out of balance can guide you in selecting the key lifestyle changes you should make to relieve your symptoms. Ayurveda describes that the type of symptoms you have depends upon which bodily principle or dosha is “out of balance” in your mind/body system.
There are three bodily principles: movement and flow (vata or airy), heat and metabolism (pitta or fiery), and bodily substance (kapha or earthy), along with three corresponding imbalances relating to each of these three principles (doshas).
Easing your menopause transition can be as simple as “reading” your dosha symptoms and taking measures to get your doshas back in balance. The following symptoms and lifestyle prescriptions are indicated for each of the three imbalance types:
AIry-Type- Prone To Nervousness: anxiety, panic, mood swings, vaginal dryness, loss of skin tone, feeling cold, irregular periods, insomnia, mild or variable hot flushes, constipation, palpitations, bloating and joints aches and pains.
Ayurvedic Tips: Increase warm food and drinks, regular meals, early bedtime, oil massage, meditation, yoga, walking and spices such as fennel and cumin. Decrease caffeine and other stimulants, refined sugar, cold drinks, salads.
FIery-Type- Prone to Hot Temper: anger, irritability, feeling hot, hot flushes, night sweats, heavy periods, excessive bleeding, urinary tract infections, skin rashes and acne.
Ayurvedic Tips: Increase cooling foods, water intake, sweet juicy fruits (grapes, pears, plums, mango, melons, apples,) zucchini, yellow squash, cucumber, organic foods. Go to bed before 10p.m. and try to wind down earlier in the evening. Decrease excessive sun and overheating, hot spicy foods, hot drinks and alcohol.
Earthy-Type- Prone to Weight Gain: sluggishness, lethargy, weight gain for no reason, fluid retention, yeast infections, lazy, depressed, lacking motivation, slow digestion.
Ayurvedic Tips:Increase exercise, fruits, whole grains, legumes, vegetables, spices such as black pepper, turmeric and ginger. Get up early (by 6a.m.). Decrease meat, cheese, sugar, cold foods and drinks.
About the Author
Nancy Lonsdorf M.D. is an award-winning integrative and Ayurvedic physician recognised by the Chicago Tribune as “one of the nation’s most prominent Ayurvedic physicians.” Dr. Lonsdorf received her M.D. from Johns Hopkins and did residency training at Stanford. She has seen over 20,000 patients in the past 30 years and currently has a private practice in Fairfield, Iowa, in the US, along with Wellness Consultations and Coaching with women around the world over phone and video conference. To discover your own personal ‘Stress Type’ or ‘Digestive Type’ and receive weekly tips by email to balance your mind-body health, check out her website at www.drlonsdorf.com. You can contact Dr. Lonsdorf via email firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling +1-641-469-3174.
Dr. Lonsdorf has authored two books on Ayurveda and women’s health:
1. A Woman’s Best Medicine (Penguin/Putnam 1995); describing the Ayurvedic approach to the major issues in women’s health at all ages.
2. The Ageless Woman: How to Navigate the Transition Naturally for A Long Life of Vibrant Health and Radiant Beauty (MUM Press 2016); Read our review here