Ayurveda approach to managing menopause symptoms
Author: Dr Nancy Lonsdorf
In this second article by Dr. Lonsdorf, an award-winning integrative and Ayurvedic physician, she explains how internal cleansing through the Ayurvedic practice of “panchakarma” and lifestyle can help relieve menopause symptoms.
Your Hormonal ‘Backup System’
Ayurveda believes that hormonal changes at menopause will be smooth and easy if three factors are in place:
– Your mind/body system (consisting of three doshas) is in “balance”
– Your diet is wholesome and rich in phytoestrogens, and
– Your body is “clean” and uncluttered inside so your hormones and body can “talk” effectively.
Did you know that your ovaries and adrenal glands continue to produce oestrogens and ‘pre-oestrogens’ after menopause, providing your body with its own hormonal backup system? Ayurveda describes that this hormonal production after menopause works best when your mind and body are ‘in balance’, providing just the right amount of oestrogen to prevent hot flushes and keep your bones, skin, brain, colon and arteries healthy without increasing the risk of breast or uterine cancer.
Balancing your doshas ‘Ayurveda and menopause, part 1‘, is the first approach to ensuring optimal hormone production after menopause, but Ayurvedic herbs can also help. Indian asparagus root (shatavari; asparagus racemosus), thick-leaved lavender (chorak or “angelica glauca” related to the Chinese female tonic Dong Quai,) licorice root, sandalwood, pearl, red coral, rose and others are used by skilled practitioners in balanced, synergistic combinations to help relieve hot flashes, libido problems, irritability, mood swings and other menopausal symptoms.
Hormonal help from plants – it’s not just soy!
Diet also plays a key role in balancing hormones during and after menopause. It is well known that Japanese women rarely experience hot flushes, probably because their diet contains large amounts of soy, a food rich in certain plant oestrogens called “isoflavones.” Soy products are not the only source of plant estrogens, however. Another equally healthful source of phytoestrogens are “lignans,” compounds found in a variety of whole foods including grains and cereals; dried beans and lentils; flaxseed, sunflower seeds and peanuts; vegetables such as asparagus, sweet potatoes, carrots, garlic and broccoli; and fruits such as pears, plums and strawberries. Common herbs and spices such as thyme oregano, nutmeg, turmeric and licorice also have estrogenic properties.
It turns out that if you simply eat a varied diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dried beans you will be ingesting a rich phytoestrogen feast in your daily cuisine! Variety and moderation are important because just as too much estrogen is unhealthy after menopause, too much phytoestrogen may also be dangerous. This danger can be avoided by getting your phytoestrogens naturally from a variety of whole foods, rather than from supplements or concentrated tablets.
When You Can’t Stop Flashing, Get The “Lead” Out!
More serious symptoms, such as frequent hot flashes, continual sleep disturbance, and moderate to severe mood swings, are signs of deeper imbalances that, if left untreated, will persist to set the stage for later disease, according to Ayurveda. For these more troublesome symptoms to manifest, the tissues of your body–your bones, muscles, fat, organs, skin, and blood–must be disturbed in some way. Ayurveda describes that stubborn symptoms are usually due to the buildup of wastes and toxins, referred to as ‘ama,” in your body’s tissues.
For example, hot flashes that won’t go away despite herbs, diet, exercise, and perhaps even HRT usually represent a problem with ama. One of my Ayurvedic mentors explained it this way: When your body’s channels are clogged with wastes, the heat from metabolism builds up in your tissues. Hot flashes result from sudden surges in blood flow as the body tries to clear the channels and dissipate the heat build-up quickly. A similar phenomenon occurs when you have a heater set on high in an overheated room with all the windows and doors closed. To cool down the room, first you must turn down the heater, but you also need to throw open the windows and doors (as in removing the wastes or “ama”) so the heat can flow out.
We can understand this analogy medically in terms of hormone receptors. No matter how much estrogen or phytoestrogen you have floating through your bloodstream, it does you no good unless it connects with your body’s estrogen receptors, the tiny “keyholes” on your cells. Estrogen and phytoestrogens fit these keyholes like minuscule keys and through them gain entry into your cells. When the receptors are clogged with debris or “ama,” your hormones cannot get into your cells to do their work. Then bothersome menopause symptoms may persist despite a variety of attempted therapies.
In this case, a traditional Ayurvedic detoxification program referred to as “panchakarma,” may be needed to clear the body’s channels and gain relief. This internal cleansing approach is also the treatment of choice for more serious problems such as osteoporosis and high cholesterol. A study published in a recent issue of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine confirmed that this ancient technology of herbalized oil massage, heat treatments and mild internal cleansing therapies does indeed reduce toxins in the body. Hormone disrupting PCB’s and pesticides such as DDT were reduced by approximately 50% after just 5 days of treatment. Other studies have shown overall reduction in health symptoms, a rise in “good cholesterol,” and reduction in free radicals from panchakarma.
In my clinical experience, panchakarma can be very transforming, eliminating symptoms while at the same time dramatically reducing stress and fatigue. After a week of treatment, my patients not only report feeling much better, they radiate health and youthfulness and many experience a profound sense of well-being and inner peace.
It’s Not Too Late
The important point to remember at midlife is that health problems don’t pop out of nowhere when your estrogen levels start to fluctuate and fall off. Rather it is the cumulative effects of damaging lifestyle habits–late nights, fast food, eating on the run, lots of stress, too little exercise–over decades that set in motion chronic disease and aging well before menopause. Your symptoms are simply telling you just how out of balance you are. The good news is that with a few basic lifestyle changes, and the healing power of Maharishi Ayurveda when needed, underlying imbalances can be resolved, paving the way for a smooth menopause transition and great health in the years to come.
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 videoconference. 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); www.mumpress.com and I Tunes e-book at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1244230967