Wellbeing for Women – Part Two

March 16th, 2012 - Uncategorized

In last week’s article, I wrote about some of the unique difficulties facing women as a result of their changing hormones. It generated a great deal of interest, which is not surprising really, when you consider that it’s one area where orthodox medicine really has very little to offer in terms of a safe or effective solution.

Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives available for women suffering from the effects of hormone imbalance, and in this week’s article we will take a look at how to improve your physical and emotional well-being in the face of changing hormones, and the stresses and strains of life as a woman.

For many women, the few days before her period are the worst days of the month. Pre-menstrual syndrome, or PMS is usually caused by a relative deficiency of the hormone progesterone in relation to the other hormones that govern the menstrual cycle.  This causes a wide variety of symptoms such as depression and irritability, sweet cravings, constipation, thrush, fluid retention, acne, and general aches and pains. There is often an additional sensitivity to the hormone prolactin, which is produced at this time of the month, causing symptoms such as fluid retention and breast tenderness.

The condition tends to become much worse in the years preceding the menopause, as progesterone levels begin to drop even further, leading to a relative excess of the hormone oestrogen. Many women also experience very heavy and prolonged periods at this time, together with other common symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, poor concentration, memory loss, and thyroid hormone imbalance.

The most useful herb for treating pre-menstrual syndrome is chaste tree (Vitex agnus castus).  This herb works on the pituitary gland to normalize hormone production and generally leads to increased levels of progesterone and decreased levels of prolactin.  When taken over the course of a few months it is extremely effective for reducing pre-menstrual symptoms, and also for balancing hormones in women in their mid to late 40’s who are approaching the menopause.  Of course this depends on the quality of the product and the dose taken.  Some over the counter preparations recommend taking the herb two or three times daily, however it is more effective to take the entire daily dose first thing in the morning (preferably between 6 and 7 a.m.) when the pituitary gland is most active.

A combination of herbs may be used to provide relief from stubborn symptoms.  For example, herbal diuretics such as dandelion leaf can help to reduce fluid retention and bloating.  Numerous herbs are also available which can treat other symptoms such as abdominal cramps, insomnia, fatigue, constipation, recurrent vaginal thrush, and migraines.  For symptoms which are numerous or severe it may be beneficial to consult a qualified practitioner of herbal medicine who can prescribe an individually tailored blend of herbs.

In addition there are a number of supplements available that can support herbal treatment. Magnesium and Vitamin B complex support the nervous system, and preparations containing high levels of vitamin B6 are particularly useful for pre-menstrual syndrome.  Essential fatty acids are also helpful for this condition, particularly brands such as EyeQ that combine Evening primrose and fish oils.

These supplements also help the body to cope with the effects of stress, which is a significant contributing factor in hormonal imbalance. Many women are trying to cope with children, while juggling a career and taking care of the home, often with very little support. Since the adrenal glands (which are responsible for secreting the hormones that help us to cope with stress) are also partly responsible for maintaining the balance of the female hormones, high levels of stress tend to make all these hormone fluctuations much worse. It’s not always just because of your hormones! Therefore, dealing with stress and other emotional issues with therapies such as massage, counselling or art therapy can be very helpful for improving your well-being.

Your diet can also have a surprising impact on your hormones. Hormone imbalance is exacerbated by exposure to oestrogen-like chemicals, which are found in meat and dairy products, food stored or heated in plastic packaging, and non-organic fruit and vegetables, which may contain traces of pesticides. It is therefore helpful to avoid these as much as possible, and to increase your intake of oily fish, wholegrains, and fresh, organic fruit and vegetables.

Excess oestrogen is broken down by the liver and removed from the body through the bowel. However, unfriendly bacteria in the bowel can reactivate the oestrogen, which may then be reabsorbed into the bloodstream. It may therefore be helpful to take a probiotic supplement, and avoid refined carbohydrates (such as cakes, biscuits sweets and white bread), which encourage a build up of unfriendly bacteria. Eating plenty of fibre helps to ensure that excess oestrogen is removed from the body and not reabsorbed.

For women who have reached the menopause, the picture is a little different, and in next week’s article, we will focus on maintaining your well being at 50 and beyond!