Archie: Edith, if you’re gonna have a change of life, you gotta do it right now. I’m gonna give you just 30 seconds. Now come on, CHANGE!
Edith: Can I finish my soup first?
– “All in the Family,” 1972
As the leading edge of the baby boom generation finds itself firmly entrenched in middle age we are witnessing perhaps the largest population of menopausal women in the history of the western world. In the United States alone there are currently 47 million women in the climacteric phase of life, with California representing more than 12% of them.
If this transitional stage in a woman’s life experience (moving from a reproductive to a non-reproductive phase) is a normal, physiological process, why do reference libraries list menopause under ‘women’s diseases?’ Because it is being dealt with by mainstream medicine as a deficiency disease, not unlike scurvy or rickets, with the missing ‘nutrient’ being estrogen rather than Vitamins C and D. This is not to say that this time of life does not present itself with its own special set of needs. The symptoms women experience may range from mildly inconvenient to severely incapacitating. How women approach the symptoms that may arise during this period, though, can have a dramatic effect on the rest of their lives.
Our society places such a premium on youth and beauty that many women fear their advancing years as a time with little or nothing to give. Of course, the reality is that this is a myth, perpetuated by the advertising and entertainment industries, backed up by the cosmetic and fashion industries and, most certainly, by the pharmaceutical industry. Cross cultural studies have shown that women’s reactions to menopause, both physically and psychologically, vary greatly around the world. The differences observed, however, seem to depend more on the status of post-menopausal women in each society than on other more superficial constructs.
Menopause is a complex phenomenon, involving many of the body’s systems. Homeopathy, being a comprehensive system of medicine which effects at once our physical, emotional and mental aspects, can readily deal with most, if not all of these. We shall discuss some of the more frequently prescribed menopausal remedies shortly. However, in addition to selecting the appropriate homeopathic remedy, we must also look to areas of lifestyle such as diet, exercise, medicines, social habits and the like. It is essential to address these areas if we are to eliminate as many ‘obstacles to cure’ (as we say in homeopathy) as possible. This will give the homeopathic remedy it’s best chance of effecting a deep and lasting change. I must emphasize here that it should never be our intention to delay or prevent the changes associated with the climacteric. Our goal should be to help ease those symptoms which are severe, allowing for a smooth transition on all levels, while at the same time helping to strengthen the body for a healthier future.
Before going any further, a brief overview of the physiology of menopause is called for. The entire climacteric period, with it’s associated cycle changes, can last for two decades or more. Most women, though, cease menstruating sometime between the ages of 45 and 55. During this time the ovaries gradually becomes less responsive to certain hormones secreted by the pituitary gland, specifically Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH.) As the ovaries begin to shrink, the levels of estrogen and progesterone in the blood fall, producing further changes in other tissues (breasts, uterus, vagina, bladder) that are also effected by these hormones. With the ovaries now failing to produce any appreciable amounts of estrogen, the adrenal glands become the major estrogen source in the body. By convention, menopause is defined by six months without a period. Artificial menopause occurs when this process is induced surgically or through other medical intervention. In this case the bodies ability to accommodate to these changes is lost symptoms will come on more suddenly and usually more violently.
Symptoms of pre-menopause and peri-menopause (the time periods leading up to and just preceding menopause) may include irregular menses, night sweats, insomnia, irritability and mood swings. Symptoms of the actual menopause, whether physiologic or artificial, may also include hot flashes, vaginal dryness (which may lead to painful intercourse,) vaginal bleeding, various bladder problems such as sudden urging to urinate, involuntary urination and painful urination, hair loss, memory loss and depression. Two other considerations of vital importance to menopausal women are the increased risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
Of course, there are symptoms many women have during their reproductive years which are alleviated by the drop in circulating estrogen. These include many of the symptoms associated with pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS,) breast tenderness and fibrocystic breast disease, the dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) associated with uterine fibroids, and endometriosis.
There are many useful remedies available to treat the menopausal woman. As a matter of fact, and in accordance with homeopathic philosophy, any remedy might be used to treat the menopausal woman, if it’s the right remedy for that particular woman. What this means is that the selection of a homeopathic remedy is always based on the person with the symptom, not on the symptom itself. There is no remedy for hot flashes, for night sweats or for urgency to urinate. But there is a remedy for a woman who has hot flashes, night sweats and urgency to urinate, and it will most likely be a different remedy than the one her friend will need for her hot flashes, night sweats and urgency to urinate. Take, for example, the following three remedies. The plant remedy Pulsatilla, the mineral remedy Natrum muriaticum and the animal remedy Lachesis all deal quite effectively with these three symptoms. But whereas the Pulsatilla woman tends to be a soft, timid, woman who is warm-blooded, aggravated by heat and craves butter, the woman with these same symptoms who would benefit from Natrum muriaticum tends to be more closed-minded, serious and responsible, warm or chilly and craves salt. And the Lachesis woman is an intense, passionate and jealous woman with a sarcastic side who’s hot, craves alcohol and can’t stand to have anything tight around her neck. So we see, different remedies are needed to treat the same symptoms in different people.
For the average person, choosing the right remedy from the thousands of homeopathic remedies available can seem a daunting task. It is better to consult with an experienced homeopath, who will know how to elicit the necessary information from you in order to make an appropriate remedy choice. However, there are also some more general homeopathic formulas on the market that are quite effective at targeting many of the symptoms associated with menopause. They work by helping to bring the body back into hormonal balance. One in particular is a formula of my own design, Dr. Garber’s Natural Solutions – FemCycle. Instead of adding potentially dangerous hormones from without, it stimulates the body from within to produce whatever the appropriate level of hormones happens to be for each individual woman. It does this without producing any unwanted side effects.
I briefly mentioned above the estrogenic role of the adrenal glands in and around menopause. I can’t overemphasize the importance of supporting adrenal function during this time. It is my firm belief that the reason we see menopausal symptoms in so much greater numbers and severity in urban, industrialized populations is due primarily to stress induced adrenal exhaustion. When the adrenal glands have been worn out by years of stress (environmental as well as from within) they just don’t have the ‘oomph’ they need to kick into gear in this new capacity. There are many ways to support adrenal function. Of course, the homeopathic remedy chosen will play a large part in this. Other options include nutritional and herbal. Vitamin C and Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) are important to the health of the adrenal glands. Adrenal glandular extracts can be useful in the short term to jump start very weak glands. Ribes nigrum gemmotherapy, made from the buds of the black currant plant, is an extremely effective adrenal gland support. (Gemmotherapy is a special type of homeopathic preparation made from the new growth parts of plants.) Licorice root, preferably taken as a tea, will also stimulate adrenal function.
One final note regarding obstacles to cure and health promotion. Genetic risk factors aside, there are many aspects of lifestyle that can contribute to the number and severity of symptoms during the climacteric. Ensuring adequate intake of macro nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and “healthy” fats,) supplementation of micro nutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, etc.,) reduction of alcohol and caffeine consumption, cessation of smoking, exercise (to include both aerobic and anaerobic types, with and without impact,) reducing emotional upsets, etc. The list goes on, and all need to be addressed.
Menopause should be, and can be, an empowering and enriching time in every woman’s life. With adequate understanding and proper management, this can be the case, without resorting to the use of potentially harmful drug therapies.