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Secret Women’s Business

Women are complicated. Ask any man! But the truth is - well - it’s complicated - particularly when it comes to reproductive and hormonal health issues. Naturopath, Nic Mason investigates the use of herbal medicines to relieve common female problems including PMS, menstrual issues, menopause and fatigue.

It’s no surprise women today have busier, more stressful lives than their grandparents, with little time out to slow down or find a balance. Add to those stresses the many life-cycle events that can compromise a woman’s health from puberty to menopause, and it is easy to see why women of all ages are seeking relief for their PMS, heavy bleeding or menopause symptoms. In my practice I see many women who have these reproductive problems and in most instances their problems are aggravated by acute or long-term adrenal stress and fatigue. For these women, I have a series of effective herbs that I often recommend:

 

  • Asparagus (Asparagus racemosa)

In Ayurvedic medicine, one herb outshines all others when it comes to women’s health: asparagus root, or Shatavari. Translated from Sanskrit it means ‘she who possesses 100 husbands’. Due to its rejuvenative effect upon the female reproductive organs, asparagus root has traditionally treated almost any reproductive disorder.

Known for cleansing, strengthening and nourishing reproductive organs, and normalising hormones, asparagus root promotes fertility and has the unique potential to be used safely at any stage of a woman’s life-cycle. In Ayurvedic medicine, asparagus root treats an excess of vata (which leads to symptoms like dryness, anxiety, constipation, digestive dysfunction, poor circulation, palpitations, insomnia and fertility problems).

 

An excess of vata disrupts the adrenal glands by overstimulating the stress hormones, adrenalin and cortisol in a flight or fight response. When the body is in this ‘survival’ mode, it speeds some things up such as heart rate, and slows down less critical systems of the body like digestion and reproductive function.

 

Traditionally, asparagus root has been used to treat numerous reproductive conditions such as PMS, heavy bleeding, painful periods, an absence of menstruation, infertility, low libido, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, adenomyosis, and the various symptoms of menopause. This wonder herb also helps to build blood and tone the uterus in preparation for conception, and may assist women after birth by normalising hormones and increasing milk production. It is useful during menopause and after a hysterectomy as it boosts female hormones, soothes vaginal dryness and improves libido.

 

Apart from reproductive benefits, asparagus root nourishes mucous membranes in the digestive and respiratory systems, improves digestive function, is very beneficial for stress and anxiety, and improves energy levels and immunity.

 

  • Chaste tree (Vitex agnus castus)

Another one of my favourite herbs is chaste tree, the best known herb for balancing progesterone in the body. Perhaps most commonly used in formulas for PMS, it is also very useful in treating irregular cycles, erratic ovulation, acne, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), uterine fibroids, infertility caused by low progesterone levels, dysfunctional uterine bleeding, insomnia and benign breast growths.

 

As women today are often not in a position to change their life circumstances due to the demands of family, work and household responsibilities, they may experience acute stress as well as chronic adrenal exhaustion. When it comes to women, my favourite herbs for treating stress associated with hormonal disruption are rhodiola, rehmannia and zizyphus.

 

  • Rhodiola

Rhodiola is known as an adaptogen, which means it helps the body (via the adrenal glands) cope with the physical effects of stress. What makes this adaptogen different from others is its ability to act fast and target an acute stress response such as anxiety and panic attacks. It also improves mental fatigue, energy levels, physical performance, concentration and memory, especially when under stress, and improves the depth and quality of sleep. Not only great for busy women, it may also assist with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic immune deficiency, chronic debility and post-viral syndromes.

 

  • Rehmannia

Rehmannia is another herb that treats excess vata to the adrenal glands, and supports and restores the adrenal cortex responsible for the hormonal secretion of cortisol and DHEA. It’s beneficial for all stages of adrenal dysfunction including chronic depletion, which results from prolonged periods of stress. With chronic adrenal dysfunction, cortisol levels are overstimulated until they also decline, as does the precursor to oestrogen, DHEA. As a result oestrogen production is lowered leading to infertility, irregular cycle lengths, an absence of menstruation, vaginal dryness, hot flushes, night sweats, mood changes, irritability, anxiety, depression, insomnia, memory lapses, sore joints, dry skin, weight gain, and may certainly worsen existing menopausal symptoms.

 

Rehmannia is also useful as an anti-inflammatory for conditions such as auto-immune disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and kidney inflammation, and assists with heavy bleeding disorders including heavy menstruation and nose bleeds.

 

  • Zizyphus

Used to treat symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, palpitations, emotional stress and night sweats, this herb is of great benefit to menopausal women who are anxious, have disturbed sleep and recurrent hot flushes. Of course, you don’t have to have menopause to benefit from this herb. It is useful for any woman having difficulty sleeping, or who is anxious (with or without sweating).

 

For many menstrual and menopausal issues I would generally recommend a premium multivitamin containing asparagus root and rhodiola, as well as grape seed for strengthening the immune system. This combination is suitable for women of all ages and life cycle stages (except for pregnant women), and can be taken with the contraceptive pill. It will help women, even those free of reproductive illness, to function better in their lives and restore energy and calm. For more complicated hormonal issues, I recommend a combination of asparagus root, rehmannia, zizyphus and chaste tree. This combination will assist women with almost any reproductive problem without worsening pre-existing conditions like fibroids or being contraindicated in depression.

 

A word of warning if you are taking the self-help approach, as it can be hit or miss, and what looks like an appropriate product may inadvertently worsen a condition. For example taking oestrogenic herbs can be detrimental if undiagnosed fibroids are present. For specific information relating to your own health problems, talk to the naturopath at your local Go Vita health shop.

 

Types of menstrual problems

Amenorrhoea

Absence of menstrual periods

Dysmenorrhoea

Period pain

Menorrhagia

Recurrent heavy bleeding during menstruation

Oligomenorrhoea

Irregular or infrequent periods

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

The physical and emotional changes that occur around the time of your period including acne, backache, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, headaches, sore breasts, irritability, anxiety and fatigue

Symptoms of menopause

  • Hot flushes and night sweats
  • Irregular, slight or heavy periods
  • Dry / itchy skin
  • General aches and pains
  • Insomnia, tiredness and fatigue
  • Bladder problems including cystitis and stress incontinence
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability and tearfulness
  • Panic attaches
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Reduced libido

Nic Mason is a naturopath currently working at Go Vita Park Beach Plaza, Coffs Harbour, where she runs a clinic offering naturopathic consultations.

 

This article originally appeared in the May edition of Go News published by Go Vita


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