For some women, just the thought of entering menopause conjures up fears of sleepless nights, hot flashes, weight gain and emotional swings. Hot flashes seem to be the most common symptom, affecting 75-85 percent of all menopausal women in America. (1)
Back in the early 90s, I was involved in hosting numerous Ayurvedic doctors from India here in the states. I remember, on a handful of occasions, how they expressed concern at the prevalence of menopausal symptoms here in America compared to what they saw in India.
After seeing patients around the US, a group of the doctors suggested that the underlying cause could be that women in America commonly work, exercise, compete and push themselves excessively during their menstrual cycles, much more than women in India. In India, it is traditional for women to rest and not schedule excessive activities during this time.
This is not to suggest that women are less capable or less productive than men. In fact, I think the contrary. I regularly marvel at how much women accomplish daily as moms, wives, partners, career professionals and social organizers while providing the essential glue that holds most families together. Men rarely take on half of these responsibilities.
According to Ayurveda, during the menstrual cycle, there is a downward flow of prana (life force). The menses phase is considered an introspective time for women, where they pull back the bow once a month to recharge the body, but more importantly, to re-establish a connection to their silent, intuitive, and spiritual center.
From this deep state of awareness and insight, they can better lead, govern, and love from a source of peace, wisdom, and calm. This connection to the lunar cycle is something men generally do not experience.
Routinely engaging in excessive activity during the menstrual cycle is said to direct the prana upward instead of downward in order to fuel the activity, instead of the menses and introspection.
With excessive activity, stress-fighting cortisol surges from the adrenals. This is at a time when the biological clock is encouraging an inward, rather than outward, stroke of activity.
Over time, this kind of adrenal stress during the cycle can compromise the efficiency of the menses, leading to more frequent PMS symptoms and difficulty during menopause.
The relationship between stress and a disruption of normal menses is well-documented. (5-8)
Stressful situations, due to physical, psychologic or metabolic stressors, are able to negatively affect the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian axis, causing a multitude of issues including moderate increase in PMS symptoms, late periods, longer periods, shorter periods, painful periods and even missed periods.
Stress-induced amenorrhea (no menses) is usually called hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA) and affects a consistent percentage of women regardless of age.
Other commons causes include undernutrition and excess physical training. If not addressed quickly, these underlying causes can lead to long-term and serious health concerns. (5-8)
If this stress is a re-occurring monthly during the cycle, it is more likely that a woman will experience increased symptoms and complications surrounding menopause.
It’s not unimaginable to believe that medical schools will soon be training young doctors in the specialty of Circadian Medicine—teaching their patients how to live in rhythm with their circadian rhythms. One of the most important rhythms that affect women the most, is the monthly lunar or menstrual cycle.
For women now entering menopause, these ancient principles now supported by modern science suggest that we may be able to help prevent menopausal concerns in women still in or just entering their reproductive years.
7 Herbs to Balance Menopause, Maintain the Liver, and Support Lymphatic Flow
According to Ayurveda, in regard to herbal support, the best way to support a healthy menopause is by introducing hormonal precursors and reproductive tonics to the body during menopause, when the ovaries are naturally dialing down their production of hormones.
The liver and skin of the body, among other sites, have to gear up and take over hormonal production—a process that may be linked to hot flashes and night sweats. Supporting the liver in this process is critical.
The lymphatic system is also important here, as it is the female body’s first pathway of detox. When congested, toxins default back to the liver—where most menopausal concerns arise from.
For a more detailed understanding of how a congested lymphatic system can aggravate menopausal symptoms please read my article, “Menopause and Menstrual Cycle Symptoms: It May Not Be Hormonal”
The following are my favorite seven herbs to support healthy peri-menopause, menopause, and post-menopause.
Cyperus rotundus (Musta)
Also called nut grass, and musta in Ayurveda, Cyperus rotundus is primarily used for liver and lymph stagnation, which can support the body’s menopausal detox through more appropriate pathways than through hot flashes or night sweats. (9)
It is also used to support the spleen (lymph), reproductive and liver congestion of prana or qi, according to Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine.
Musta has been traditionally used to support healthy reproductive function, such as addressing PMS symptoms and supporting regularity of the cycles in a circadian sense. (10)
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)
Shatavari, also known as wild asparagus, has been shown to be an effective reproductive tonic for women. Studies show it boosts sex drive in both men and women, while also combating vaginal dryness and balancing menstrual concerns such as heavy bleeding or discharge. (11)
In one study, shatavari was shown to enhance physical stamina and endurance, as well as increase the weight of fatigued adrenal glands after exercise stress, suggesting its adaptogenic support for adrenal health. Taking the stress off of the adrenals allows shatavari to effectively play its role as a reproductive tonic. (14)
This herb balances the production of adrenal cortisol, making it a natural adaptogen. (11) Shatavari contains steroid saponins such as sarsaponin, protodioscin, and diosgenin, which are the most likely estrogenic components extracted from asparagus roots. These compounds also act as a precursor of progesterone and increase secretion of this hormone.
In one study, the chemical constituents of shatavari positively affected the production of Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), estrogen, and progesterone hormones. (11-13)
Shatavari has been over-simplified to only support healthy estrogen levels, but clearly it supports healthy progesterone as well and acts as Ayurveda predicted—as a powerful reproductive tonic for women from adolescence to post-menopause.
Chaste Tree Berry (Vitex angus-castus)
Chaste tree berries are well-known to support female reproductive health and play a normalizing role on the hormonal footprint. (29)
Studies have linked both chaste tree berry and black cohosh (below) with supporting the following PMS and menopausal related concerns: (17, 18, 29)
- Mild headache
- Breast swelling
- Hot flashes
In addition to the findings above, other studies have found chaste tree berry to support menstrual cycle-related sluggish bowels and water retention. (19)
Chaste tree berry has a balancing effect on many of the hormonal changes associated with PMS and menopause which are: (20, 21)
- Elevated estrogen
- Decreased progesterone
- Elevated prolactin
- Stress-related dopamine imbalance
Because chaste tree berry has been shown to impact dopamine levels, it is thought to have a harmonizing effect on hormones released from the pituitary gland, suggesting higher brain center support. (16, 22)
Finger-Leaf Morning Glory (Ipomoea digitata)
As with musta (above), it supports healthy spleen (lymph) and liver function, which are challenged during menopause. (23)
It contains beta-sitosterol, a hormone-supportive antioxidant. (24) Ergonovine, an alkaloid also found in the herb, is used to balance menstrual bleeding and support healthy weight loss. (23, 25, 26)
During menopause, this herb supports the natural regulation of menses cessation. (25, 26)
Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
Once thought to be estrogen-supportive, recent studies show that it instead supports healthy dopamine and serotonin levels, which are linked to healthy management of mood, hot flashes, and night sweats during menopause. (29)
Numerous trials have found black cohosh to positively affect the frequency and severity of hot flashes associated with normal menopause. (28, 29)
Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa)
Since the 18th century, herbalists have been using wild yam to treat menstrual cramps and menopausal concerns. Today, dietary supplements containing wild yam extracts are popular among women for the support of menopausal symptoms. (1)
Due to a lack of in-depth research, modern science has yet to identify other constituents that may be responsible for wild yam’s hormone-supporting properties. However, new research has found it to contain diarylheptanoids, a plant metabolite chemically similar to curcumin. This may suggest support for healthy liver function as a potential benefit of this herb. (1)
Ashoka (Saraca asoca)
The bark of the ashoka tree has been used for thousands of years as a reproductive tonic. Studies have recently confirmed the presence of quercetin, beta-sitosterol, and luteolin, phytoestrogens that support healthy hormonal function during the transition into menopause. (30)
In a recent animal study, ashoka bark was shown to provide a balancing effect on artificially-elevated estrogen levels. (31) This suggests what Ayurveda calls herbal intelligence.
This is similar to shatavari, which can support the healthy production of estrogen and progesterone as needed, rather than only one.
Find these seven herbs in their whole, organic form in my Menopause Support formula.