Avoid HRT With A Natural Menopause

Posted on: 25 March 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Medical herbalist Nicola Darrell explains which herbs help with the symptoms of menopause and PMS.

Many women assume it is to be expected that they will experience symptoms associated with menstruation and menopause, that this is ‘normal’ and that they just have to accept it.

However, in many other cultures around the world these syndromes are virtually non-existent until women move towards a Western pattern of diet and lifestyle, so perhaps we need to re-examine what we can do to relieve these problems.

PMS & Menstrual Problems

For some women this condition can lower life quality for a few days before menstruation and for others it can be a condition that really dominates their lives, as symptoms are present for two weeks every month.

Symptoms can include water retention and/or abdominal bloating (up to 7lbs may be gained), mood swings, irritability, low moods or energy, panic attacks, constipation, lower back pain, headaches or migraine or a variety of others.

These symptoms may be extremely debilitating.

Regular exercise can benefit by helping to regulate hormone levels and reduce stress. A proper fluid intake is important, especially to reduce water retention and headaches.

Caffeine intake should be kept to a minimum – no more than 3 caffeine containing drinks per day. Make sure that you are eating enough fruit and vegetables – fibre helps the body regulate hormone levels, particularly the fibre in linseed and in pulse and beans which have phyto oestrogens present.

Whole grains also contain phyto oestrogens and should be chosen in preference to refined carbohydrates. Keep sugar intake to a minimum and eat regularly during the day, this helps to ensure that blood sugar levels are stable, which helps to reduce mood swings.

Make sure that you are getting enough essential fatty acids in your diet – these are present in nuts and seeds and oily fish, or can be taken in the form of a supplement.

Make sure that your diet is not full of xeno-oestrogens (synthetic hormones or substances which mimic them – these include pesticide residues, hormones used to fatten intensively reared meat, plastic breakdown products which particularly leech into fatty foods from wrappings and packaging).

Make sure that you are not drinking too much alcohol, as this can also raise oestrogen levels in the body – for women this means 14 units or less per week (a unit is a glass of beer, a measure of spirits but a glass of wine may actually contain as much as 1.5 or 2 units). Get enough sleep and relaxation.


Although some women sail through the menopause many experience symptoms of the changes occurring in their bodies. These may be mild or severe and can include hot flushes, night sweats, disturbed sleep patterns, irritability, anxiety, depression, low energy, mood swings, panic attacks, abdominal bloating, effects on the memory or concentration, dry skin and hair, vaginal dryness, loss of libido, joint pains and stiffness. 

HRT is one alternative, but many have concerns about taking this medication.  All of the lifestyle and dietary advice for PMS also applies for menopausal symptoms.

If essential fatty acids and phyto oestrogen rich foods are included regularly in the diet before menopause then symptoms are less likely to occur, so even if you are only in your twenties consider starting this now.

The other good news is that herbs have been shown to be very effective in the relief of most, and probably all of these symptoms effectively and without side effect.

Herbal Healing

Vitex Agnus Castus is possibly the best known herb for helping with PMS and works on the pituitary gland to regulate hormone production, which means it can help with a wide variety of symptoms. It can also help with the symptoms of menopause.

Stress can make both PMS and menopausal symptoms worse, and anxiety can also be a symptom in both cases. If this is so then using valerian can greatly reduce stress and anxiety, helping you to function and cope better.

Black Cohosh has received a lot of attention in recent times as a treatment for menopausal symptoms, including hot flushes, night sweats, low mood, and joint pain associated with menopause. It can also help to reduce high blood pressure which develops in some women at this time.

In addition, it can be helpful in the treatment of headaches and migraine both associated with PMS and at menopause and with menstrual problems associated with excess progesterone.

Dandelion leaf can be used for water retention associated with PMS and menopause, but remember to drink plenty of water when taking it.

Milk thistle is a good liver tonic so that it can help the liver break down hormones in the body, so that circulating hormones are kept at a healthy level.

It is also a tonic to the digestive system so it can help with symptoms of abdominal bloating and wind. If these are occurring do consider the possibility of food intolerance.

Barleygrass helps to alkalise the system which can benefit the digestive system and reduce fatigue.

Chlorella contains useful amounts of B vitamins which can be helpful for PMS and is also a good source of dietary iron, which is useful for replenishing iron lost at menstruation.

Panax, Ginseng is particularly useful for symptoms of insomnia, decreased libido, lack of stamina or conc

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