In Ayurveda, we use a holistic mental, emotional and physical approach to the menopause. We think of the menopause as part of the natural cycle of life. It's seen as marking the transition into a period of grace and deeper knowledge. Women find it really helpful to see it not as a time of loss of fertility, but a time you no longer feel the need to achieve and strive and a time to share your wisdom. We've found that both Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle suggestions, along with herbal support, can really make a difference as to a woman's experience of menopause.
During menopause, the ovaries stop producing oestrogen and progesterone, halting the menstruation cycle. Oestrogen is a hormone that speaks to the brain, cardiovascular tissues, liver, breast tissue, bone tissues, as well as the reproductive tract. It is no wonder why menopause presents symptoms such as irregular periods, hot flashes, libido changes, vaginal dryness, insomnia, mood changes, osteoporosis, weight gain, depression, as well as the increase in symptoms from other disorders such as diabetes, depressive disorders or anxiety. Furthermore, oestrogen communication problems may be exacerbated by an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, excessive alcohol abuse, lack of sleep and smoking.
Can I use Ayurveda alongside HRT (hormone replacement therapy)?
If you're taking HRT, you can also use Ayurvedic herbs and techniques. Herbal formulas for menopause will treat any underlying deficiency and so won't interfere with HRT. In fact, as Doctors, Nutritionists and Ayurvedic practitioners, we've proved that a holistic diet, lifestyle and herbal approach can offer women a viable alternative to taking HRT.
There are not many 'quick fixes' in Ayurveda, so around three to six months is often needed to see sustained improvements. However, managing factors such as stress levels and supporting better sleep can have a noticeable impact sooner.
How can Ayurveda help reduce menopause symptoms?
Ayurveda gives you a personalised and practical way of looking at how you're experiencing the menopause. One of the key principles of Ayurveda is the way it divides people into three types or doshas, namely Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each dosha describes your body-mind constitution, although you can be a combination of two or all three doshas. This is particularly relevant at midlife because each dosha is likely to have different menopause symptoms, and you might experience a range across all the doshas.
In Ayurveda, the menopause is a transition into the Vata stage of life. The body feels dryer and rougher and may start to feel lighter. However, menopause can imbalance all the doshas, presenting the constellation of symptoms described above. Oestrogen is a pitta hormone, communicating and transforming tissues. In contrast, progesterone is a Kapha hormone that suddenly dissipates, leaving the body without the lubrication, as well as the solid structure that Vata uses to travel. Pitta uses to transform within the body.
Once you know which dosha (or a combination) you are, you can manage your symptoms by finding balance through diet, herbs and lifestyle change. Take our in-depth health and wellness assessment, so that we can look at your results with special emphasis on unfavourable dosha predispositions. We'll analyse the factors that most strongly affect your health and wellness, and use it to build your personalised wholesome strategy for remaining healthy, balanced and happy.
Anti-anxiety the Ayurvedic way
Stress is the one thing that definitely makes women's symptoms more severe. When you're stressed, the body's resources that should be used for making sex hormones, such as oestrogen, are diverted towards making stress hormones. To make things worse, the surge of adrenaline that comes with stress can directly trigger some of the unpleasant symptoms of perimenopause, such as hot flushes and irritability. We'll often treat a woman with as much emphasis on reducing her stress as we do on balancing her hormonal environment.
We've found adaptogenic herbs are the best way to balance mood and to reduce anxiety and stress. What are adaptogenic herbs? They do what they say on the tin: help your body adapt to both physical and emotional stressors as well as enhancing immunity.
Shatavari is a key herb. This is the number one Ayurvedic herb for menopausal symptoms. It's described as being naturally cooling and moistening to the reproductive organs, helping counter the hot, dry symptoms of menopause as well as boosting libido.
Ashwagandha is Ayurveda's supreme anti-anxiety remedy. It's an adaptogen and a tonic, as it both calms the stress response and builds energy. It's particularly helpful for mental strength and supporting restorative sleep.
The nervous system is also helped by licorice. It's an adaptogen and tonic. Licorice helps balance estrogen levels as well as strengthening and supporting the nervous system and adrenal glands.
Since oestrogen levels impact bone density, turmeric is also recommended. Herbs such as turmeric that boost circulation to the muscles are helpful to support bones.
Eat the Ayurvedic way
One of the staple sayings of Ayurveda is that "Food is medicine when consumed properly". During the menopause, when Vata increases, you can experience an erratic appetite with bloating, indigestion and sensitivities. You can help become more balanced by eating mainly warm foods with oil and earthiness, and avoiding heating, stimulating food. A good rule is to eat more cooked foods as they're more digestible. Choose foods that are warm, soupy, heavy and oily, like soups and casseroles. Choose porridge instead of muesli, a stew instead of salad. You can make a raw salad more easily digested by adding an oily dressing too.
As for healthy eating habits, Ayurveda recommends that you eat at the same time, three to four times a day. Try not to get distracted while you are eating. Instead, create a calm, relaxed atmosphere and concentrate on your food.
Foods to include
Ayurvedically, treating the symptoms of menopause starts with a whole foods diet. Foods rich in phytoestrogens (plant-based oestrogens) balance the oestrogen deficit in the female body. Tofu, tempeh, and soybeans are excellent sources of phytoestrogen and are delicious sources of clean protein. Women who have hypothyroid issues should consult their physician before consuming a lot of soy products. Nuts and seeds provide safe and well balanced essential fatty acids, promoting the healthy regulation of inflammation and supporting the nervous system.
Furthermore, nuts have large amounts of selenium, which helps with muscle health as well as fat metabolism. Whole grains such as Indian Basmati rice and quinoa provide fiber and essential micronutrients for energy production. Leafy greens provide nutrients for detoxification and optimise kidney health. Arugula, kale, collard greens, and spinach are easily found greens that can accompany any meal. Reducing meat consumption not only allows an increase in nutritious vegetables, but also reduces the exposure to growth hormones and antibiotic byproducts that are used to raise livestock.
Top fats to help you cope with menopause symptoms
It's good to increase your intake of quality natural oil because you need fat in order to make hormones. When you eat raw oil, choose hemp, sesame, olive and flax oils. Cook with butter, coconut oil or ghee but avoid fried, very greasy foods. Eat avocados and unroasted nuts and seeds (ideally after soaking). Avoid using vegetable cooking oils such as margarine as well as vegetable oil spreads.
The best fats are the omega-3 fats found in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout or herring. As well as being good for the heart and brain, they have an anti-inflammatory action so can help you manage joint pain and painful periods. Aim to eat oily fish three times a week, or take a good-quality omega-3 fish oil supplement daily.
The lifestyle changes Ayurveda recommends
Establishing a good routine is a key recommendation in Ayurvedic treatment. It's what you do every day, not occasionally, that will make the difference. Sticking to having meals and your bedtime at similar times each day is very helpful in keeping Vata dosha balanced, too.
Rest is also essential. Listen to your body needs, take notice of your energy levels and try not to overdo it. We suggest you try to delegate more – at home and work. Set aside an hour for yourself each day for relaxation, doing yoga, meditation or mindfulness. This will help minimise the Vata symptoms described above, in particular.
Strong, aging women tend to forget to rest and get adequate sleep. During this period in life, quality sleep is vital to allow the body to reset. Allow yourself to sleep before 11:00 pm and wake before 7:00 am, aiming for about eight hours of sleep. Ensure to have a winding down period before setting the body to rest and a wind-up period once awoken. Gentle yoga or breathing practices (such as alternate nostril breathing) before and after bed will settle the mind and body.
Metabolic disorders occur in menopause. These changes can affect mood, hormone production and could increase general stress. Getting moderate exercise (the exercise in which it is only slightly difficult to talk during activity) three to five days a week is key to keeping the internal digestive fires healthy and avoiding negative changes to the beautiful aging body. Walking, yoga, biking, or swimming are great ways to release endorphins. This release mediates healthy hormone production and relaxes the nervous system. We also encourage regular, more energetic workouts (swimming, cycling or running) and strength-based routines (weight training or bodyweight exercises). Some research suggests that testosterone levels go up after strength training, which will help support your libido.
What do I need to cut back on?
Though many things can go into the body to reduce menopause discomfort, some things should be avoided to increase health. Hair products and body cleansers contain chemicals that can alter estrogen signalings such as parabens and sulfates. Furthermore, facial cleansers, toners, and makeup may contain heavy metals for sun protection or weight. Such chemicals are not processed by the body yet easily absorbed by the various mucosal surfaces on the face. When using skin products, read the label to ensure the products are without parabens, sulfates, and heavy metals. If the label has something that is completely unreadable, avoid it.
This isn't news to most of us, but drinking less stimulants such as alcohol, coffee, black tea and fizzy drinks is a good idea. Take plenty of warm water and gently spiced and relaxing herbal teas instead.
Eat less of foods that are cold, dry and hard, such as crackers, rice cakes and crisps. And less foods that are very spicy such as chillis, as well as raw tomatoes and red meat. Try to avoid cold and frozen foods such as ice cream and iced drinks. And to help you sleep, drink hot milk (whole or almond) with a pinch of nutmeg and turmeric at bedtime.
Small but powerful changes can reduce the negative aspects of a beautiful time in life. Many of the details here can be applied to all women and can be practiced with every generation of women in a family.
However, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to health recovering and maintaining it balanced. Why not get started by taking our in-depth health and wellness assessment? This will help us understand a little bit more about you so we can ensure our experts design Your Personalised Health and Wellness eGuide to help you cope with the menopause symptoms.