Ayurveda is the traditional system of medicine that developed in India over 5000 years ago. For many women, Ayurvedic medicine is a way to help and manage their menopause symptoms. So can Ayurveda help menopause symptoms?
“We think of the menopause as part of the natural cycle of life,” says Jo. “It’s seen as marking the transition into a period of grace and deeper knowledge. Women find it really helpful to see it not as a time of loss of fertility, but a time you no longer feel the need to achieve and strive and a time to share your wisdom.
“I’ve found that both Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle suggestions, along with herbal support, can really make a difference as to a woman’s experience of menopause.”
Can you use Ayurveda alongside HRT?
If you’re taking HRT, you can also use Ayurvedic herbs and techniques. “Herbal formulas for menopause will treat any underlying deficiency and so won’t interfere with HRT,” says Jo Webber. “But it’s worth asking your Ayurvedic practitioner. As an Ayurvedic practitioner, I have found that a holistic diet, lifestyle and herbal approach can really offer women a viable alternative to taking HRT.
Herbal formulas for menopause will treat any underlying deficiency and so won’t interfere with HRT
“There are not many ‘quick fixes’ in Ayurveda, so around three to six months is often needed to see sustained improvements. However, managing factors such as stress levels and supporting better sleep can have a noticeable impact sooner.”
How can Ayurveda help menopause symptoms?
Ayurveda gives you a personalised and practical way of looking at how you’re experiencing the menopause. One of the key principles of Ayurveda is the way it divides people into three types or ‘doshas’.
Each dosha describes your mind/body constitution, although you can be a combination of two. This is particularly relevant at midlife because each dosha is likely to have different menopause symptoms, and you might experience a range across all the doshas.
Once you know which dosha (or combination) you are, you can manage your symptoms by finding balance through diet, herb and lifestyle change. Find out which dosha you are by taking this quiz.
What your dosha says about you
If you’re Vata…
Slim body type. Lots of energy but tires easily, cold hands and feet, sleeps lightly, tends to anxiety.
READ MORE Menopause and anxiety, the lowdown.
Vata-type menopausal symptoms include mood swings, anxiety, memory loss, insomnia, constipation, reduced bone density, dry skin and mucous membranes (including vagina).
Vata dosha starts to increase in all women after the age of 50, whatever their primary dosha. So, it’s important for all women to balance this dosha at this stage of life. However, their primary dosha may influence what sort of menopause symptoms they get.
Ayurveda gives you a personalised and practical way of looking at how you’re experiencing the menopause
If you’re Pitta…
Muscular body type. Tends to be hot, irritable when hungry, perfectionist, good skin.
Pitta-type menopausal symptoms include heavy bleeding during perimenopause, anger, high blood pressure, excessive irritability, skin rashes and hot flushes.
If you’re Kapha…
Heavier body type with strong muscles, sleeps heavily, high stamina.
Kapha type menopausal symptoms include weight gain, fluid retention, high cholesterol, depression, lethargy and feelings of mental and physical heaviness.
READ MORE Why does menopause make you bloated?
How can Ayurveda help reduce menopause symptoms?
“Stress is the one thing that definitely makes women’s symptoms more severe,” says Jo. “When you’re stressed, the body’s resources that should be used for making sex hormones, such as oestrogen, are diverted towards making stress hormones.
“To make things worse, the surge of adrenaline that comes with stress can directly trigger some of the unpleasant symptoms of perimenopause, such as hot flushes and irritability. I’ll often treat a woman with as much emphasis on reducing her stress as I do on balancing her hormonal environment.”
The lifestyle changes Ayurveda recommends
Establishing a good routine is a key recommendation in Ayurvedic treatment. It’s what you do every day, not occasionally, that will make the difference. Sticking to having meals and your bedtime at similar times each day is very helpful in keeping vata dosha balanced, too.
Rest is also important. Listen to what your body needs, take notice of your energy levels and try not to overdo it.
“I suggest you try to delegate more – at home and work,” says Jo. “Set aside an hour for yourself each day for relaxation, doing yoga, meditation or mindfulness. This will help minimise the Vata symptoms described above, in particular. It’s been very encouraging to hear talk about the idea of a ‘menopause sabbatical’, time to rest and renew so women can then resume their career in good health.”
Rest is also important. Listen to what your body needs, take notice of your energy levels and try not to overdo it.
Another key lifestyle habit is the importance of movement. Jo recommends daily gentle exercise like walking, yoga, tai chi and swimming. It also encourages regular more energetic workouts (swimming, cycling or running) and strength-based routines (weight training or bodyweight exercises). Some research suggests that levels of testosterone go up after strength training, which will help support your libido.
Your Ayurvedic herbal prescription
“I’ve found adaptogenic herbs are the best way to balance mood and to reduce anxiety and stress,” says Jo. What are adaptogenic herbs? “They do what they say on the tin; help your body adapt to both physical and emotional stressors as well as enhancing immunity.”
Shatavari is a key herb. “This is the number one Ayurvedic herb for menopausal symptoms,” says Webber. “It’s described as being naturally cooling and moistening to the reproductive organs, helping counter the hot, dry symptoms of menopause as well as boosting libido.
Shatavari is the number one Ayurvedic herb for menopausal symptoms
“More research is needed to fully understand how shatavari works, but it seems to have a hormone-balancing effect similar to other phyto-oestrogen-containing herbs.
“In a survey of 95 women (taking no other medication), they were first asked to describe their menopause symptoms, then given two capsules a day of Pukka’s Womankind Menopause – the key ingredient is shatavari – for three months. The women reported an average 45% reduction in hot flushes, a 61% reduction in low mood, tearfulness and mood swings, and a 57% reduction in vaginal dryness.”
Anti-anxiety the Ayurvedic way
“Ashwagandha is Ayurveda’s supreme anti-anxiety remedy,” says Jo. “It’s an adaptogen and a tonic, as it both calms the stress response and builds energy. It’s particularly helpful for mental strength and supporting restorative sleep.”
One that will be more familiar to many of us is chamomile. “This is a good all-rounder, as it’s relaxing both for an anxious mind and tense muscles,” says Jo.
Other herbs to consider
“Aloe vera juice is a key women’s reproductive tonic,” says Jo. “It’s soothing, cooling, moistening and healing, so I recommend it for hot flushes.”
The nervous system is also helped by licorice. “It’s an adaptogen and tonic,” says Jo. “Licorice helps balance oestrogen levels as well as strengthening and supporting the nervous system and adrenal glands.” Since oestrogen levels impact bone density, turmeric is also recommended. “Herbs such as turmeric that boost circulation to the muscles are helpful to support bones,” says Jo.
Enjoy an Ayurvedic oil massage
Massage is an effective way to reduce anxiety and stress, increase circulation, as well as reducing pain. In Ayurvedic massage, you use cold-pressed, organic oils such as sesame oil, warmed by putting the bottle in hot water for a few minutes.
“It’s best to massage yourself first thing every morning, for 10 to 15 minutes, but the evening is fine, too,” says Jo. “If time is short, focus on your head and soles of feet. Don’t massage when you’re not well, have a full stomach or during your period.”
First, cover yourself in around 50ml of oil, top to toe. Then, using the open palm of your hands and the flat surfaces of your fingers, work from the centre outwards. Use linear strokes on your arms and legs, and circular ones around your joints, scalp and navel. Be gentle on your chest and stomach, but you can be more vigorous on your limbs.
When you’ve finished, leave the oil on your body for 10 minutes, then wash off in a hot bath or shower. One tip, dry yourself with an old towel, as you’ll likely still be a little oily.
Eat the Ayurvedic way
One of the staple sayings of Ayurveda is that, ‘food is medicine when consumed properly’. During the menopause, when vata increases, we can experience an erratic appetite with bloating, indigestion and sensitivities.
READ MORE Five great recipes for menopause.
“You can help become more balanced by eating mainly warm foods with oil and earthiness, and avoiding heating, stimulating food,” says Jo. “A good rule is to eat more cooked foods as they’re more digestible. Choose foods that are warm, soupy, heavy and oily, like soups and casseroles. Choose porridge instead of muesli, a stew instead of salad. You can make a raw salad more easily digested adding an oily dressing too.”
As for healthy eating habits, Ayurveda recommends that you eat at the same time, three to four times a day. Try not to get distracted while you are eating. Instead create a calm, relaxed atmosphere and concentrate on your food.
Food to include
“Include foods in your diet that are rich in natural phytoestrogens,” says Jo. “There are plant-based oestrogen-like chemicals in soya, tempeh, lentils, linseed, sesame seeds, fenugreek and other wholegrains and seeds.”
Ayurveda recommends that you eat at the same time, three to four times a day
There are also herbs that will help digestion: cumin, fennel, dill, black pepper, saffron, asafoetida, turmeric, cardamom and cinnamon. Use them in your cooking, or enjoy in a cup of Pukka Feel New tea.
“Foods that taste sweet, sour and salty are the most nourishing right now,” says Jo. “Sweet doesn’t mean refined sugar but foods considered energetically sweet such as rice, spelt, kamut, oats, quinoa, root vegetables, sweet fruits and organic dairy. In fact, eat less sugar, replacing it with honey, molasses, barley malt or maple syrup.”
If you want to cool down, eat a pomegranate or drink the juice. Or you can try fresh lime juice with water, or cooled peppermint tea.
The best fats to help menopause symptoms
“It’s good to increase your intake of quality natural oil because you need fat in order to make hormones,” says Jo. When you eat raw oil, choose hemp, sesame, olive and flax oils. Cook with butter, coconut oil or ghee but avoid fried, very greasy foods.
Eat avocados and unroasted nuts and seeds (ideally after soaking). Avoid using vegetable cooking oils such as sunflower oil, margarines as well as vegetable oil spreads.
“The best fats of all are the omega-3 fats found in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout or herring),” says Jo. “As well as being good for the heart and brain, they have an anti-inflammatory action so can help you manage joint pain and painful periods. Aim to eat oily fish three times a week, or take a good-quality omega-3 fish oil supplement daily.”
What you need to cut back on
This isn’t news to most of us, but drinking less stimulants such as alcohol, coffee, black tea and fizzy drinks is a good idea. “Take plenty of warm water and gently spiced and relaxing herbal teas instead,” suggest Jo. “Ginger tea is good.”
Eat less of foods that are cold, dry and hard, such as crackers, rice cakes and crisps. And less foods that are very spicy such as chillis, as well as raw tomatoes and red meat. “Try to avoid cold and frozen foods such as ice cream and iced drinks,” adds Jo. “And to help you sleep, drink hot milk milk with a pinch of nutmeg and turmeric at bedtime.”