Before we start, this post is not a compilation of recipes and herbs for treating menopausal or associated symptoms. It’s a refreshing view which I believe is as important as the treatment. Read on/Share/Comment and Discuss to feel the fresh perspective..
In Indian philosophy, there is a popular saying which goes like “mata pita guru daivam” on translating means mata or mother is in front of father, teacher, and God in term of significance in an individual’s life. For most of us, women in our lives are nothing short of a superhero saving our world for us; in various ways each day. Every superhero needs a nemesis and unfortunately for women, it mostly appears from within themselves. The combined stress of work, family, physical and mental health, and changing social situations given very less chance for women in this generation to slow down and rest. Menopause in many ways is the converging point of various kinds of stresses like the demands of teenage children, children leaving home, aging parents, midlife spouses, and career changes. Considering the evolutionary biology and the importance women and her reproductive system has in sustaining human-kind (literally!), there must be an inbuilt mechanism to pause when it’s getting too much. Menopause is nature’s method to help women pause this high energy and high-intensity process of procreation in order to give importance to repair and nourishment functions necessary for their next superhero mission. Getting rid of that last egg may denote the end of one phase, but it surely is the beginning of a highly productive another.
The process of preparing the female body and mind for creating the most perfect environment to sustain a new life is extremely energy consuming process. In an ayurvedic point of view, in every menstrual cycle, the whole of the uterine reproductive system undergoes a reset and everything that remained unused in the last cycle in flushed out. Ayurveda considers this as a natural cleansing procedure that happens in a women’s body regularly each month. The significance of this cleansing is not just on renewing the reproductive function, but it is on the entire body. In different stages of the hormonal cycle, Ayurveda understands the influence of Pitta or the fire element and the effect this has on various other hormones, metabolism, skin, and mind. Hence a variation in the reproductive function is bound to have a cascading effect on all these body functions. We must be aware of various factors affecting hormones and impacting the healthy and natural transition to menopause.
a) The hormones we take – The effect of hormonal contraceptives on this mechanism is also something we must account. Most of these birth control pills give the body an extra supply of estrogen and/or progesterone hormones putting stress on the delicate feedback mechanism that controls the reproductive hormonal functions. The long-term side-effect of this is not believed to be a cause for significant problems. There have been studies which showed an increase in reports of cervical and breast cancer in women using birth control pills. There are also studies showing no significant relationship between both. More and more women are gradually adopting nonhormonal methods of contraception like managing intercourse according to body clock or barriers like condoms or diaphragms. It might be also important to think why the burden to prevent unwanted pregnancy is mostly placed on women than on men. Apart from these hormonal medications are also prescribed to address the symptoms of PCOS, PMS or cramps associated with periods. This should be only resorted to once other natural diets and lifestyle methods have failed to address the root cause or else may have long term ill effects.
b) The hormones we are exposed to – Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s hormonal system and produce adverse reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in human beings. A wide range of substances, mostly man-made, are thought to cause endocrine disruption, including pharmaceuticals drugs, various pesticides, and plastic. Endocrine disruptors may be found in many everyday products– including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides. Exposure to these is being studied for its connection with hormonal imbalances, early or delayed menopause/menarche, endometriosis, cancer, etc. Staying away from plastic packaging and buying more fruits and vegetables from small local producers should be the best possible way to reduce such exposure.
c) The effect of stress – Due to the imbalance in Pitta dosha, the signs of excessive heat imbalance will be visible like hot flashes, weight gain, water retention, systemic inflammation, and emotional symptoms during the phase of hormonal change. External stress factors will act like fuel on this fire creating symptoms of fatigue and frustration sometimes manifesting as anger. On the body signs of pitta can be the tendency of systemic inflammation and weaker metabolic rate. An appropriate diet that will be cooling and balancing the excess pitta rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and lentils will make sure the metabolic functions and any tendency for inflammation are addressed properly during this transitional phase. Substituting high-intensity activities like intense cardio workouts and running with gentle and relaxing yoga, Pilates, swimming will also help better stress management without aggravating pitta or body-heat.
d) The effect of stimulants – Recent studies do show that increased use of stimulants like coffee, soda, and alcohol will increase hot flashes and skin redness like symptoms in post-menopausal women. Ayurveda understands that most stimulants like coffee, cocoa, red meat and fermented preparations as warming. In increased quantity and frequency these can aggravate pitta imbalance symptoms especially during a phase of hormonal change. Coconut water, aleo-vera juice, licorice and fennel tea are recommended in Ayurveda as cooling and pitta balancing.
Menopause is nature’s guide to women to take a break and bring back the attention to one’s own health and balance. There is no better time to do a full health makeover. This is an appropriate time according to Ayurveda for doing a panchakarma deep cleanse and prepare the body to deal effectively with the changing hormonal function.
Women after menopause should feeling empowered, partly because of the biological changes that take place in menopause and partly because of the point in life at which menopause occurs. After 50 odd years of life experience, including twists and turns of relationships, and careers, women are finally free from child rearing responsibilities to go after what they want with a greater sense of confidence that they can handle whatever may come their way.