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Herbs - Managing the Menopause

Friday, 23 October 2009

October 18th was World Menopause Day and The International Menopause Society announced that October is the first ever World Menopause Month.

This day has been set aside for health professionals around the world to learn about menopause affects women. In some cultures and countries, women's issues are very rarely discussed and consequently are ignored. But women everywhere can feel overwhelmed with menopause and find their doctors are not taking them seriously. World Menopause Day is an opportunity to recognize why keeping silent is no longer an option

Ciara O' Meara
From a young age Ciara found herself allergic to antibiotics, this prompted a proactive approach to preventative medicine, ensuring that through diet and exercise she was always doing her best to stay healthy.
Ciara is a practicing Medical Herbalist. Ciara completed an Honors Science degree in University College Dublin in 1997 followed by an MSc in Medical Genetics at Aberdeen University. She spent a number of years working in the field of academic research in areas such as The Human Genome Project at Oxford University, UK, and on Cancer research at Cancer Research UK.
It was during this time that she took up a yoga practice and further cultivated an interest in natural medicine. She also completed a four year honours degree in Herbal Medicine at Westminster University in London. This University has a long established centre for excellence in the training of medical herbalists and encompasses a walk in training clinic in the heart of London.

Ciara O' Meara has clinics in Thurles, Co. Tipperary and Rathangan, Co. Kildare.

For further information and contact details please see her website:
For information on the professional body of medical herbalist in Ireland (The Irish Institute of Medical Herbalists) please see

According to the Women's Health Council The top four menopause symptoms experienced by women in Ireland were hot flushes, night sweats, irritability and mood swings.

Almost one in five Irish females are aged over 40, and the average life expectancy of women is now at 80 years. Therefore when women reach menopause, they still have one-third of their lives remaining and should look forward to many more healthy years.

It's important to remember Menopause is not a disease that needs to be treated; it's a transition that requires facilitation

Dietary Hints and Tips

Plant oestrogen foods: soya beans, fennel, celery, parsley, lentils, barley, mung beans (these are the bean sprouts you find in Chinese food), split peas, alfalfa (sprouted alfalfa seeds available in your health food store, they are a super food!) fenugreek seeds and red clover tea.

Suggestions: Soya can be cooked as the whole bean in soups and stews
The next best is Tofu which is a block of soya curd. It resembles a block of cheese and has a very neutral taste. Use small amounts to start with and put it in lots of things. The simplest is mixed into a stir fry, use about the same amount as you would like to find mushrooms in your meal!. A meatier version is Tempeh which is a more mature tofu, this may appeal to those who find the tofu texture difficult to swallow.
Pearl or soup barley and lentil and split pea soup mix are available in every supermarket and can be added to soups and casseroles. As always start with a little to gradually get used to the texture.

Whole grains; whole wheat, buckwheat, oats, barley etc

Vegetables and fruit: A wide variety, include a range of all colours and textures, these contain a variety of helpful substances to keep you healthy.

Cold Pressed oils: (These are full of essential fatty acids) especially Hemp and Linseed oil. Use these on salads, or drizzle over a stir fry, Mash into potatoes. Do not cook them they lose their goodness and are too expensive to waste.

Essential Fatty Acids:

Nuts: (except peanuts and pistachios), almonds, brazils, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pine nuts etc

Seeds; sunflower, pumpkin (especially good for men), sesame, alfalfa, fenugreek (add to homebaked bread).Total nuts and seeds per day 2-3 tsps.

Oily fish: Sardines in oil or tomato, mackerel (fresh, tinned or vacuum packed), wild salmon (fresh in season, tinned or smoked), fresh tuna.Take 2-3 portions per week.

Avocados: enjoy half to one per week.

Calcium-Good sources include all dairy products, tinned bony fish, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables
(Including broccoli, spinach, cabbage, lettuce) blackstrap molasses, dried figs and prunes, green tea, legumes (bean/pea family).
Try to avoid artificial sweeteners particularly those containing aspartame, these are generally products labelled, sugar free, or low calorie, aspartame is 180 times sweeter than sugar and has been found to lead to weight gain, and low mood.

Vitamin E: Has been found to reduce hot flushes and vaginal dryness, both topically and internally.

Exercise: Research has shown that women who do just 30 mins a day of exercise have significantly less hot flushes.

General hints:

Keeping the bowels clear is important so that the body does not recycle hormone waste products eliminated in bile. Ground linseeds can help (also providing Essential Fatty Acids and minerals-3 for the price of 1).

Water is important particularly so if you are taking linseed.

Weight Bearing exercises and a little sunshine helps strong bones.


. Restless legs can often accompany insomnia; in menopause this can often be associated with lack of magnesium which can be lost from the body during times of stress.
. Solution: 250mg of Magnesium citrate at bed time.
. RLS may have a family link in 30% of cases where it is associated with a higher need for folate in the form of folic acid. Solution : get blood tests before supplementing
. If RLS is ongoing throughout the day it may also be associated with low iron stores, this can be checked by assessing the serum ferritin levels in the blood, and this type of RLS can be especially common in the elderly who may not absorb iron well.


(if you are taking prescribed medications or any type of hormonal treatment it is always best to see a medical herbalist to ensure safe effective treatment)


Sage can be taken as a cold tea or as a tincture for hot flushes; the quantity required can sometimes depend on the severity of the flushing. If a larger quantity is required then a tincture may be more suitable. Most herbalists will use sage in combination with other hormonal herbs to treat menopausal symptoms; however some women find that if the flushing is mild a tea can be enough to control them.

As a tea:
. Take 5-10 sage leaves chop up finely
. Pour boiling water over the leaves and cover them
. Allow to infuse for at least 15 mins
. Allow to cool and drink through the day, add to daily drinking water or sip as required.

Black Cohosh:

Black Cohosh has an oestrogenic like activity in the body, however it does not exert any of the harmful oestrogenic effects on the uterus or the breast.
Black Cohosh is effective on its own or in combination with other herbs for combating hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms associated with oestrogen decline.
Black Cohosh can be taken as a tincture or as a tablet as directed.

WILD YAM (Dioscorea villuosa)

Taking this herb internally is markedly different form taking it as a 'cream', no evidence exists that wild yam cream is of any use in reducing menopausal symptoms even though it is marketed as a progesterone cream.
When taken internally this herb is thought to act as an oestrogenic herb by influencing the hormonal feedback system in the body. Due to this in the low oestrogen environment of pre and post menopause. Wild Yam is an ideal herb where there may be pain or cramping with the periods accompanying the transition to menopause as it also has anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties.


Proper bowel function is important in maintaining hormone balance in the body.
Psyllium husks are a bulking laxative which will provide a source for soluble fiber which can help maintain regular bowel function.
Linseeds provide a source of fiber and are broken down by the gut micro flora into phytoestrogens.
Both can be purchased in a local health food store

St Johns Wort

Many women may experience depression, anxiety or insomnia for the first time around the menopause. Both observational and clinical studies have found that such symptoms improved in menopausal women taking St Johns Wort. Furthermore when taken in combination with Black Cohosh these mood symptoms were found to improve even more than taking Black Cohosh on its own.
St Johns Wort is on prescription only in Ireland this means it can be dispensed by a qualified medical herbalist or general practitioner. It is a very safe herb to use long term but can interact with certain medications therefore it is important that you obtain it from a professional source