Stress and the Menopause
In this article Rachel Morgan, owner of Brighton and Hove Herbalist, and Member of The Midlife Hub, shares with us her take on stress and the menopause.
The following is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice and diagnosis and does not constitute medical advice. Herbs should be used in a safe and nourishing way and not as a replacement for visiting your doctor. Always tell your doctor about any herbs or supplements you are taking.
We all suffer from stress from time to time. It is a normal part of life, and not necessarily a bad thing. However, too much stress over a long period of time can be detrimental to overall health and well-being and may contribute to some of the discomforts experienced at menopause. It is not uncommon for people going through menopause to experience mood changes, irritability, feeling anxious about things that may not have troubled them previously and losing confidence, in addition to experiencing physical issues such as hot flushes, night sweats and having trouble sleeping. Stress may be a contributing factor to these symptoms.
The adrenal glands are involved in the body’s response to stress and anxiety as they produce the hormones that enable us to respond to stress. It is important to take care of the adrenal glands going into menopause, as they are also involved in the production of oestrogen after menopause.
Too many stimulants such as coffee or caffeine containing drinks will increase your response to stress, so it may be worth trying to cut back on them if possible. There are also a number of herbs that may help reduce the impact of stress on your overall well-being. f you are pregnant or taking medication, please speak to your doctor before using herbs. (Although we don’t usually associate pregnancy with menopause, you can still get pregnant during perimenopause.)
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
This is a great herb to use if stress affects your digestion as Chamomile has an affinity for both the nervous system and the digestive system. It has a lovely calming effect but is not too sedative, so you can drink it throughout the day without getting drowsy. Using infused oil of chamomile for a massage or in the bath can be very relaxing. You can also use the flowers in a bath by tying them in a cloth bag or making some tea and adding it to the bath (I use a large saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of chamomile, leave it to steep with the lid on for 10 minutes and then add to the bath).
Chamomile is a member of the Compositae family – so if you are allergic to ragweed, you should avoid this herb.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
This is another herb that can gently calm the nervous system without causing drowsiness. It has been used by herbalists for hundreds of years. Culpeper reported that “it causeth the mind and heart to become merry…” and Arabian physicians reported its benefit for anxiety and depression. The herb is traditionally used to calm anxiety, as it has an affinity for the nervous system and the heart. Two of the common names for this herb are ‘Scholar’s Herb’ and ‘Heart’s Delight’ and there have been some small trials that indicate that Lemon Balm may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and insomnia and improve cognitive performance. It is a member of the mint family and is really easy to grow. The fresh leaves have a distinct lemony flavour and make a nicer tea than the dried leaves. Try adding fresh leaves to fruit smoothies or fruit pies.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
This herb has been used for hundreds of years to help reduce anxiety. It is one I think of for clients who suffer from circulating thoughts, particularly if those thoughts are keeping them awake in the middle of the night. There has been some scientific research investigating the anxiolytic properties of passionflower. Small trials have indicated that passionflower extract may be helpful in managing generalized anxiety disorder and that passion flower tea may help improve sleep quality. Obviously it is best not to drink too much just before bedtime as you want to avoid having to make a trip to the toilet in the middle of the night.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender is a good herb to try if your mind is so busy that it causes trouble sleeping. It is antispasmodic, so may also help relieve any tension, particularly tension causing headaches and tension in the neck and shoulders. A review of a number of trials on the effect of Lavender on anxiety suggests that ingesting lavender preparations may have a beneficial effect. If you like the taste of lavender, try mixing lavender and chamomile to make a nice relaxing tea or a night time milky drink. The essential oil is traditionally used in aromatherapy massage to help relieve tension and anxiety and a couple of drops of the oil on a pillow at night may help some people sleep. Some preparations of Epsom salts are also infused with lavender and adding them to a nice warm bath can be very relaxing.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
In the early 20th century, an American herbalist suggested that Valerian is useful for “nervous disturbances incident to menopause”. Traditionally it is used to help relax the nerves and relieve tension and insomnia. A word of warning about Valerian: it is not suited to everyone and in some people it can actually cause restlessness and wakefulness. It is best suited to people with a colder constitution (pale complexion, cold hands and feet). If you have a tendency to heat, you might find that Valerian is not very effective for you.
More about Rachel, Brighton and Hove Herbalist.
Rachel Morgan is a herbalist, naturopath and iridologist. She holds Diplomas in Herbal Medicine, Naturopathy and Iridology from the College of Naturopathic Medicine and am a member of the Association of Naturopathic Practitioners, the Association of Master Herbalists and the Guild of Naturopathic Iridologists.
She works with you, applying her training and knowledge to your individual circumstances to come up with a practical action plan that is realistic for you.
If you have any particular conditions you want to address or are feeling generally run-down and are wondering if herbs can help you, You can contact Rachel for a free 15 minute consultation.
More about Herbalists.
Herbalists treat the person rather than the symptom. They carry out detailed consultations to establish the underlying cause of symptoms and use plants whose traditional uses are often backed up by modern scientific research and clinical trials. Herbalists prescribe herbal remedies which can be used alongside other medication and treatments, although care must be taken to ensure that they do not interfere with any other treatment.
- Akhondzadeh, S et al (2002), “Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a double-blind randomised controlled trial with oxazepam”, Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, Vol. 26, Issue 5, pp 363-367.
- Cases, J. et al (2011), “Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances” Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, vol 4, no. 3. Pp 211-218.
- Ngan A., Conduit R. (2011) “A double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation of the effects of Passiflora incarnata (passionflower) herbal tea on subjective sleep quality”, Phytotherapy Research 25(8), pp 1153-9.
- Perry, R. et al (2012), “Is lavender an anxiolytic drug? A systematic review of randomised clinical trials”, Phytomedicine 19, pp.825-835.
- Scholey, A. et al (2014), “Anti-stress effects of Lemon Balm-containing foods”, Nutrients, Vol. 6, Issue 11, 4805-4821.
- Wood, M., (2008), The Earthwise Herbal, Volume 1, California: North Atlantic Books.