What person has not heard of the dreaded phrase “female complaints”. The phrase seems to talk of dark mysteries and things hidden. Likewise the term menopause in past times seemed to have acquired almost a moral dimension as something that was never discussed except in female society. Fortunately in today’s society the closet seems to have opened and menstrual problems of any sort can be more openly discussed.
It would not be unreasonable to question whether our new found openness has generated more complaints or if complaints in the past were evidently less. I suspect that for some reason we do have more complaints or disorders today than we did in historical times. For example references in historical literature to the menopause scarcely exist. Talking to grandmothers and great grandmothers would suggest from their anecdotes that it not just a question of more openness but indeed more problems seem to exist.
Everybody agrees that these time of life changes are as a result of a shift in hormone activity. Our openness may lead us to conclude that the menopause is almost like a disease that should be treated. Pregnancy too is often treated in a similar way. However both these circumstances are perfectly normal and adapted to. The symptoms at the time of the menopause include depression, heavy bleeding, hot flushes or flushes, libido loss, low oestrogen, osteoporosis, stress, night sweats and vaginal problems. This can all add up to a sorry tale of woe. A key factor that is often overlooked is also changes that go on in the physiology of the skin, which affects looks. None of these are small issues yet it would appear that our ancestors coped better than we do today.
Before considering the subject as a whole all of us need to understand a basic flaw of present day medicine, especially in the NHS. The problem is an individual one. Mass medicine and medication might well fit the situation of killing a specific bacteria but it does not fit illness. In other words if you are going through the menopause it is your menopause, no one else’s. Your pain or distress is no one else’s. What may suit you may not suit another. Try different remedies. If something seems off the wall and it works for you then just accept it. Mass medicine cannot cope with individuals.
Plants that are associated with the menopause include Hops which have oestrogenic actions. One of the big problems for orthodox medicine is that so much that is to do with plants and herbs seems hocus pocus. Indeed the herbal industry itself, under pressure from a non understanding and unsympathetic government, seeks to standardise herbal remedies and preparations. I quite understand that sleeping on a Hop pillow should not in theory have any effect whatsoever but for many people it does. So why be so concerned about what something is supposed to do – just try it. Hop pillows have been well known for years as something that will induce sleep.
Just a little science would suggest that the female hormonal system is influenced by the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is heavily influenced by smell and smell triggers a variety of hormonal activities. This is one of the reasons why Aromatherapy works. So, yes it is possible to change body function by small alone. Incredible but true.
Other herbs that contain substances that are useful at this change of life are Sage, Calendula, Fennel, Gin Seng and even Liquorice. Even some foods contain hormone like substances. For example celery, products that contain Soya, even oats. Some people have found that supplementing their diet with Evening Primrose oil or Borage oil has been of value. These oils contribute valuable essential fatty acids which once utilised by the body have beneficial effects upon our nervous system, perhaps our behaviour or view of the world, often dismissed as of no consequence by sterile orthodox medicine.
Changes occur in the skin. At the time of change, the skin often becomes coarse and loses its underlying structure. Recourse is not always found in over advertised and highly expensive pots of material. Simple remedies can also contribute a great deal. For example it is known that a fatty acid called Palmitoleic acid is substantially reduced at the time of the menopause. This fatty acid is very necessary for skin function. The body’s metabolism can be replenished by macadamia oil, which is rich in Palmitoleic acid. Buying the real stuff, genuine and unadulterated, is not that easy but specialist suppliers, usually mail order, can give the right material. It bears quite a healthy price tag but is very economical to use. In fact, many vegetable oils can contribute to skin care more than we realise and unfortunately the term oil itself is not valued by customers. At this time of the change the skin needs more oil. A good body oil massage once a week will do wonders for skin care.
Self esteem is very important at this time of life and a good skin care regime is fundamental to well being and should not be minimised by high blown ideas of what is medicine and what is not. Aromatherapy would be my preferred treatment route. Smell alone can do wonders, so too can massage. Essential oils that particularly beneficial at this time are Geranium, usually referred to as a hormone balancer and Rose, which helps tome and cleanse the uterus and also helps regulate the menstrual cycle. Antidepressant oils such as Bergamot, Jasmine, Lavender, Neroli, Sandalwood and Ylang Ylang can all be very helpful.
Osteoporosis is expected to be a likelihood or a problem and calcium in the diet is imperative. But of course we must remember that to be absorbed, calcium needs plenty of magnesium and the best place to obtain this is from vegetables, nuts, seeds, milk, eggs and even hard water, with which the supermarket shelves are laden. Don’t forget, however, Vitamin D – found in sunshine. Sunlight does you good and you need Vitamin D, produced by sunlight, in the skin for proper calcium absorption.
© Jan Kusmirek 2004 first published for print in Aromatherapy Today