HERBAL ALLIES FOR MENOPAUSEVitality Magazine June 1, 2004
The following article is an excerpt from Susun Weed’s book, New Menopausal Years: The Wise Woman Way, published by Ash Tree Publishing; Woodstock, New York, 2002.
Here, without further ado, are ten herbal allies for women in the midst of Change: black cohosh, chasteberry, liferoot, kava kava, sage, red clover, motherwort, ginseng, dong quai, and wild yam.
(Editor’s Note: Due to space constraints, we have included only four of these.)
(Cimicifuga racemosa; Schwartze Schlangewurzel, Cimicifuga
Chinese herbalists use Sheng Ma: C. foetida, C. dahurica, and others.)
Native Americans have long considered this a powerful ally for women — especially during menopause — and science agrees. Numerous studies show black cohosh tincture to be as effective as ERT in relieving common menopausal problems such as hot flashes, headaches, joint pain, water retention, and fatigue. Recent analysis finds black cohosh does not suppress luteinizing hormone, has no estrogenic effect, and contains no compounds related to estrogen, thus making it safe, perhaps even helpful, for women with a history of breast cancer.
Use black cohosh during your menopausal years to:
• Calm hot flashes, reduce night sweats
Black cohosh supplies an amazing array of micronutrients that help you produce and use all kinds of hormones. Try 10-15 drops once or twice a day for 2-6 months.
• Counter menstrual pain, regulate menses
• Relieve headaches
• Ease joint pain, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and rheumatism
Black cohosh contains antispasmodic factors and aspirin-like salicylates that dilate the blood vessels (constricted blood vessels are a common reason for headaches) as well as constituents that slightly depress the central nervous system. A dose is 15-25 drops as needed.
• Increase energy, calm the nerves, ease agitation, bring sleep
Black cohosh invigorates chi and helps balance the nerves. It has long been praised as a remedy for hysterical women. Try 5-10 drops a day for 1-3 months as a long-term tonic; use a dropperful/1 ml as a sedative.
• Alleviate water retention and breast tenderness
• Treat incontinence
Black cohosh tonifies the kidneys and adrenals, eliminating fluid buildup. It treats incontinence by stopping spasms in the urinary system. Use 15-25 drops as needed
• Relieve heart palpitations and angina pain
Black cohosh lowers blood pressure, improves circulation, causes dilation of blood vessels, and thins the blood. For acute use, try 25-30 drops as needed. As a cardiotonic, use 10 drops daily for 3-6 months.
• Increase vaginal lubrication, counteract prolapses
Black cohosh is the herbalists’ favorite for helping women with weak pelvic muscles, uterine and bladder prolapses. Try a dropperful/1 ml a day for 1-3 months.
• Improve digestion
A 3-5 drop dose of bitter black cohosh tincture with meals improves digestion and increases digestive juices. Use of the powder in capsules may do the opposite.
Pungent, bittersweet, fall-dug black cohosh roots are so popular the wild population cannot keep up with the current demand. Please buy only cultivated roots/products. This stately and striking perennial plant of the hardwood forest has been so overharvested that I can now walk for an entire day in its prime habitat and see only a few small groups of it. (Most of the harvest is shipped to Germany and formulated into Remifemin.)
Dosage: Infusion of dried root, up to a teacup a day, by the spoonful. Tincture of the fresh rhizome/roots, 10-60 drops, daily.
CAUTIONS: Do not use black cohosh if you have menstrual flooding, suspect pregnancy, or are breast feeding. Large doses can cause flushing, low blood pressure and depressed heartbeat. Side effects — headache, dizziness, visual disturbance, nausea — are more common, and more severe, with preparations made from dried roots.
This beautiful shrub with heart-shaped leaves has powerful effects on alertness, memory, and emotional balance. Kava kava easily induces tranquility, with no sedation and no addiction, and brings deep restful sleep. But it can also be used to focus energy.
Traditionally used as a social lubricant and a spiritual connector, kava kava is a sacred plant whose consumption is surrounded by ritual and myth. It produces a gentle joy that allows one to feel at ease in almost any situation.
South Sea Islanders chew the juicy fresh rhizomes and roots (to activate the hypnotic lactones), mix this mass with water, ferment it for a few hours, strain it, and ingest it as a community event. Uri Lloyd comments: “This is the ‘Intoxicating Long Pepper,’ from which a disgusting drink is prepared by the natives, and even by the whites, of those islands.” Everyone participates in the kava kava ceremony, including individuals who conservative modern herbalists believe should avoid it: pregnant and lactating women, children, infants, and elders.
Menopausal women love kava kava because it helps them:
• Relieve anxiety, ward off depression
• Loosen up, chill out
• Remember, focus
Kava kava acts on the amygdala region of the brain to modulate fear and anxiety, while increasing mental alertness. Noticeable results occur within a week of using tea or tincture daily. Those taking prescription antidepressants or sedatives, and those with a tendency toward thoughts of suicide, do best with very small doses or none at all.
• Cool hot flashes
Kava kava has a reputation for being an antipyretic, that is, an herb that puts out fires. A small (20 women) double-blind study found significant improvement in patients’ well-being and reduction of hot flashes when 100 mg of dried root was taken three times a day.
• Sleep deeply
After the gentle warm bubbly feeling and mental stimulation of kava kava wear off, one is left pleasantly tired, free of thought, worry, doubt, or stressful memories. Yaaaaaawn…time for bed, or a nice nap.
• Be free of muscle and joint pain, relieve menstrual cramps
Kava kava is one of the most powerful muscle relaxers known. the Herbal PDR lists it as antispasmodic and anticonvulsive. The infusion or tincture (as needed) helps those with problems like fibromyalgia, whiplash, muscle spasms, and restless legs syndrome. Regular moderate use (3-5 times a week) releases soft tissue tension and increases flexibility. For strongest effect, let the infusion ferment at room temperature in a loosely capped jar until bubbly. A cup, sipped slowly, begins to work in fifteen minutes and continues to relieve pain for 6-10 hours.
• Stay unbothered by urinary and vaginal infections
• Counter bloat (water retention)
• Avoid (or correct) incontinence
• Increase sexual interest
Kava kava soothes, tones, cools, and clears infections from mucus tissues, easing bladder infections, urethritis, UTIs, gout, vaginitis, and interstitial cystitis. By cooling inflammation in the neck of the bladder, it eliminates incontinence. Twice daily use brings results in a day or two.
Kava kava is not native to North America, nor is it grown here. Dried rhizomes may be infused in water or alcohol (tinctured). To test for activity, chew the dried herb and note how quickly the mouth becomes numb. Daily use is best restricted to 3-4 months. Irregular use can continue indefinitely.
Dosage: Tincture of rhizomes, one dropperful/1 ml, 1-4 times daily. Infusion of dried rhizomes, 1-4 cups/250-1000 ml, daily.
CAUTIONS: Side effects from normal use of kava kava are restricted to mild gastrointestinal disturbances. Prolonged ingestion of excessive amounts can lead to skin discoloration, a dry scaly rash (even lesions), dizziness, muscle weakness, and vision impairment.
(Trifolium pratense; Rotklee, Trèfle rose, Triphyllon)
Even finding a four-leaf clover isn’t as lucky as finding out about red clover. It’s everything you thought soy would be, with none of soy’s drawbacks. Instead of leaching minerals from the bones, red clover contributes generously to bone health. Instead of disturbing the thyroid, red clover helps normalize it. And red clover has an iron-clad reputation for preventing and countering breast cancer. So do miso and tamari, but not other soy foods.
Red clover contains more active phytoestrogens in greater quantity than soy. Strong infusions of the blossoms are thoroughly safe to use and highly effective. Countless women who have wanted to become pregnant have succeeded after drinking red clover infusion for 3-18 months.
Whether you are still longing to be a mother, or yearning to be done with your childbearing years, red clover is an ally you will lean on for the rest of your life. It is a subtle, complex herb, mild yet deep, superbly nourishing and wonderfully grounding.
Use red clover before and during your menopausal years to:
• Keep yourself hormonally fit
• Reverse premature menopause
• Improve your chances of having a child after the age of 40
Red clover flower heads contain many hormone-like flavonoids, including isoflavone, daidzein, genistein, formononetin, biochanin, sitosterol, and coumestrol, a particularly strong phytoestrogen (six times more active than the one in soy). Red clover contains all four major estrogenic isoflavones; soy has only two of them. A cup of red clover infusion (not tea) contains ten times more phytoestrogens than a cup of soy beverage, is richer in calcium, has less calories, and contains no added sugars.
• Moderate the intensity of your hot flashes
Women who took powdered dried red clover in capsules had as many hot flashes as those taking a placebo. Not surprising, but misleading. Red clover blossoms need to be infused in water to liberate their minerals and phytoestrogens. Women who drink red clover infusion have high urinary excretion of phytoestrogens, and that correlates strongly with easier hot flashes — and less breast cancer.
• Prevent and reverse breast cancer
Red clover strengthens the immune system, improves lymphatic functioning, repairs damaged DNA, turns off oncogenes, reverses pre-cancers and in situ cancers, and has been used for hundreds of years by those who wish to become very old women. To promote breast health, I drink 1-2 quarts of infusion a week.
• Improve memory, clear confusion, increase energy
Red clover infusion is rich in iron, chromium, B vitamins and other trace nutrients necessary for good mental and physical functioning.
• Ease your anxiety
• Relieve muscle and joint pain, diminish headaches
The tincture of red clover is a profound relaxer and soothing calmative. Its salicylic acid content (similar to aspirin) makes it an excellent pain reliever, too.
• Keep your skin supple and healthy
• Increase vaginal lubrication
• Ease incontinence, relieve cystitis
Red clover infusion nourishes and soothes the mucous surfaces of the lungs, throat, bladder, and vagina, countering inflammation and relieving dryness. Regular use relieves skin rashes and may reduce wrinkles.
• Prevent osteoporosis
• Prevent strokes
Red clover’s minerals build strong bones twenty ways. And its blood-thinning coumarins help prevent strokes.
Sweet, bland red clover blossoms are welcome in salads, a nice addition to a pot of rice, and tasty steeped in vinegar. I like to add a pinch of mint to my red clover infusion to counter its black-tea taste.
Dosage: Infusion of dried flowers, 1-4 cups/250-1000 ml per day. Tincture of fresh blossoms, 15-25 drops, 1-4 times a day.
CAUTIONS: Overconsumption of red clover’s coumarins can lead to a breakdown of red blood cells and increased risk of hemorrhage. Excessive use might increase uterine weight in females who no longer have their ovaries; at least, that’s what happens to sheep.
“The highly processed soy foods of today are perpetuating…nutrient deficiencies all over the world.”
— Sally Fallon
Like red clover, soy is a member of the bean family. All beans contain generous amounts of phytoestrogens, those wonderful substances that help menopausal women take heart, stand tall, and stay gutsy. Since I wrote the first edition of Menopausal Years, the world seems to have become saturated with articles and ads advising all menopausal women to eat soy.
Is there something wrong with this picture? I think so. Soy has a dark side. It all has to do with how seeds protect themselves. All seeds (beans are seeds) contain substances — such as phytates and trypsin inhibitors — that interfere with our ability to liberate, utilize, or create key nutrients, such as calcium, zinc, vitamin B12, and thyroid hormone. These substances are known collectively as anti-nutritional factors.
In most instances, soaking and cooking are sufficient to remove the anti-nutritional factors, making beans generally safe to eat. But not always. Some types of beans retain their anti-nutritional factors unless treated in severe ways. Soy is one such bean.
Fermentation destroys soy’s anti-nutritional factors and increases its mineral availability. Miso, tamari, tempeh, and natto are fermented. Tofu, soy beverage, soy nuts, soy granules, and fake soy foods (soy-burgers, soy dogs, soy cheese, and so on) are not. Tofu is the only unfermented soy used consistently in Asian cultures.
Traditionally tofu is eaten with seaweed (to offset its thyroid-damaging effects), and miso (to offset its B12-disrupting effects). When unfermented soy is eaten frequently in a diet low or lacking in animal protein (as is the case for many vegetarian and all vegan women), the anti-nutritional factors can create havoc: brittle bones, thyroid problems, memory loss, vision impairment, irregular heartbeat, depression, and vulnerability to infections.
Unfermented soy is high in hemoglutin, which causes clumping of red blood cells and may increase risk of stroke. It is also impressively rich in aluminum (up to 100 times more than is found in the same amount of real milk).
“Soy did me in.” — Michael Moore, PhD herbalist
What can soy do during your menopausal years?
• Reduce hot flashes? – So true, so true. UP your intake of plant hormones and you will have fewer hot flashes. Study after study has looked at this effect and it is quite strong.
• Protect against breast cancer?
Fermented soy foods (such as miso and tamari) clearly protect against breast cancer. But tofu, soy “milk,” and other soy products expose breast tissues to extra estrogens which may increase breast cancer risk especially during and after menopause. And when women take hormones isolated from soy, the risk increases even more.
Eating soy all your life is vastly different than eating a normal American diet for fifty years and then supplementing with isolated isoflavones. To protect your breasts, use miso and tamari, both proven anti-cancer champions, lavishly.
• Prevent heart disease?
Soy lowers total cholesterol and increases HDL. In monkeys without ovaries, soy isoflavones dilated blood vessels as much as estrogen did. While we know that lower cholesterol and more relaxed blood vessels are signs of health, we don’t know that soy actually prevents heart attacks or stroke.
• Help your bones?
Rats without ovaries who eat soy have thicker bones. Real-life women with their ovaries find the opposite to be true. Soy is not a good source of calcium. Tofu and soy beverages are supplemented with calcium, true: calcium carbonate. That’s chalk, and chalk is brittle.
• Improve your memory? – Soy is deficient in fats needed for healthy brain/memory functioning.
Soy protein isolate, texturized vegetable protein, isolated isoflavones — processed soy foods come in more forms than I can list. I eat miso and tamari freely, tofu and tempeh occasionally, and other soy products not at all.
Dosage: 50-200 grams of isoflavones per day, preferably from food.
CAUTIONS: Excess soy can cause liver damage and is said to feminize men. Soy may be difficult to digest, may cause allergic reactions.
The above material has been excerpted with permission from Ash Tree Publishing. The book is available at Wonderworks as well as bookstores across Canada. To contact the publisher, write to Ash Tree Publishing, P.O. Box 64, Woodstock, New York, 12498. To order the book go to www.ash-tree-publishing.com, or for information Visit www.ashtreepublishing.com.