Apr 232017
 

Medical herbalist Deanne Greenwood gets cross about HRTHOW EXCITED I was to discover that there was going to be a documentary style programme about menopause on prime time TV, led by notable journalist and current affairs broadcaster Kirsty Wark. HOW DISAPPOINTED I was to discover that the programme was little more than an acknowledgement that the menopause is something all women go through, that it isn’t talked about enough, and that your best option for managing the symptoms is probably HRT unless you want to try wearing a little magnet in your knickers.

Menopausal symptoms

It neither explored why women experience the many varied symptoms that they do, or why some suffer far more symptoms, of widely differing intensity, than others (there is a lot more to it than simply a drop in oestrogen levels!), or what they can do about it. Apart from taking HRT or inserting a magnet into their knickers. I’m not knocking said magnet, by the way, as it is something I have no experience of and my feeling is that if the woman who talked about it in the programme found it helpful, and that her hot flushes were reduced, and she didn’t feel the need to take HRT, then it can only be a good thing. But I am knocking the fact that this was the only alternative to HRT mentioned in the programme.

Herbs for menopause

What about herbal medicine, for example, for which there is considerable supporting scientific evidence, not to mention female personal experience, to vouch for it. Or what an incredible difference diet and lifestyle changes can make. It was mentioned almost in passing – as the programme participants baked and scoffed an array of cakes and pastries – that a healthy diet was helpful. No mention of the damage refined sugar and saturated fat can do to our hormonal system, stress levels, BMI etc, though. And it was stressed that smoking and excess alcohol were bad. But there is so much more to be said (an understatement if ever there was one!). Starting with ‘What is a healthy diet?’ It’s astounding how many patients I see who believe they have one, but when we take a close look, it is not that healthy at all. It may be healthier than the diets of other people they know, but it is a long way from optimum nutrition.

Phyto-oestrogens

When it comes to diet and menopause, it’s important to consider, for example, foods containing substances called phyto-oestrogens, which can help reduce menopausal symptoms including hot flushes and night sweats, vaginal dryness and low bone density. Phyto-oestrogens are found in soy products, legumes (beans, peas & lentils), nuts, seeds (particularly flaxseed), grains, berries and other fruits. And to be aware that the body’s response to hormones is controlled by prostaglandins, which are derived from essential fatty acids found in oily fish, seeds and seed oils such as flaxseed and extra virgin olive oil.

Hot flushes

Hot flushes – one of the most common symptoms complained about by perimenopausal women – were discussed in Kirsty Wark: The Menopause and Me a lot, joint pain and osteoporosis, mood swings, sexual problems and insomnia were touched on. Specific dietary and lifestyle approaches can make a huge difference to all these complaints, especially when combined with herbal remedies.

Black cohosh

Herbal medicine works on an individual basis, because we are all different and we all experience symptoms and health problems for different reasons, warranting a bespoke mix of different herbs. To mention a few: Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) often works particularly well in helping to relieve hot flushes and night sweats, and also helps maintain bone mineral density and protect against osteoporosis; Chaste berry (Vitex agnus castus) is a renowned hormone balancer, but can also influence melatonin levels and sleep patterns. There are many other herbs with similar properties and effects, and the key to success is finding the right herb, or usually combination of herbs, for the individual.

Anxiety and insomnia

Medicinal plants have scientifically proven therapeutic properties and actions, btw. We have herbs that are anti-hydrotics and so can help alleviate hot flushes; sedatives to help with anxiety and insomnia; stimulants to boost energy levels; herbs to help maintain bone density and strength, boost memory and concentration. There are also herbs that make excellent tonics for mucous membranes and are used in ointments, creams and pessaries to help lubricate and plump up vaginal tissue… The list goes on.

Natural HRT

And there are herbs that contain the aforementioned phyto-oestrogens found in many common foodstuffs, which act on the oestrogen receptors in our bodies. They are sometimes referred to as the natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Menopause Matters

I was disappointed that Dr Heather Currie, chair of the British Menopause Society and consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary in Scotland, didn’t stress the importance of diet and lifestyle issues. Although she is an advocate of HRT, as the editor of the Menopause Matters website and magazine she regularly features articles on natural approaches to managing menopause, and has run one written by me about herbal medicine.

HRT benefits

It was a pity that the effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), in the short and long term, weren’t examined in more depth, or an alternative viewpoint to its use provided. The Women’s Health Initiative – a series of clinical trials and observational study looking at HRT and involving over 160,000 post-menopausal women – was quickly dismissed and we were told that the current view is that the benefits of HRT outweigh the risks, for most women. (I agree that this may be the case for women who have had an early or ‘unnatural’ menopause, by the way.)

HRT risks

Our hormones don’t need replacing, they need balancing. And I am quite sure that HRT will eventually prove to be a big and very harmful mistake. I have followed all the arguments over the years for and against the safety of HRT, with past ‘evidence’ being contradicted, and new ‘evidence’ being brought to light, and feel strongly that nobody really knows the truth. Yet.

Natural menopause

If, as the Kirsty Wark: The Menopause and Me programme agreed, menopause is a natural and normal process, then why seek to subvert it? Trying to change the course of nature invariably leads to problems. Much better to work with nature, harness and feel rejuvenated by its power.

If you’d like to find out more about this ‘alternative’ viewpoint, please visit www.naturalhelpformenopause.uk

Mar 132016
 

Black cohosh is one of the most widely researched herbs related to menopauseFor some women, going through the menopause can be hell. But there are ways in which we can help ourselves glide through this natural period of transition with grace, understanding and the minimum amount of physical and emotional upset. Seriously, it can be done!

The menopause is a natural, normal process.

It is one of many transitions in life that women’s bodies adapt to. Strictly speaking, this period of change and adaptation is known as the perimenopause, as it can span a number of years.

Symptoms associated with the menopause

These include changes to the menstrual cycle (periods can become less, or more, frequent; heavier, or lighter), anxiety, irritability, mood swings, depression, poor memory and concentration levels, sleep problems, fatigue, loss of libido, hot flashes, night sweats, dizziness and palpitations, vaginal dryness and soreness, urinary problems such as cystitis and thrush, and stiff, aching joints.

Stress plays a part

Some women experience the odd symptom or two, and others, unfortunately, have a really tough time of it. Reasons for this include factors such as how much stress they have in their lives, and more importantly how they manage this, along with many other lifestyle factors. Diet also plays a very important part in preventing and relieving symptoms associated with the perimenopause.

Herbal remedies for the menopause

There are many herbal remedies that really do work like magic when it comes to relieving menopausal symptoms. But here’s the thing: they are not a magic bullet. They work best when used in conjunction with a healthy diet and lifestyle. They help to support a woman both physically and emotionally as her body adapts to its changing status, making it a smoother, easier ride, if you like.

Natural HRT

There is a group of plants called phyto-oestrogens, which behave like oestrogen and help ease the adjustment period, and relieve symptoms of the perimenopause. These plants are sometimes referred to as natural hormone replacement therapy, or natural HRT. The distinction between these and pharmaceutical HRT is that phyto-oestrogens are natural compounds, not synthetic or chemical substitutes, and that they do not ‘replace’ oestrogen. Without wishing to get too complicated, they work on different oestrogen receptor sites in the body.

Black cohosh and the menopause

There are many other herbs that can be extremely useful during the perimenopause. For example, by supporting the digestive system, the nervous system (moods, emotions, sleep etc), and the musculoskeletal system (aching joints and muscles), by boosting memory and concentration, and helping us cope with fatigue. There is also a group of medicinal plants known as adaptogens which, as the name suggests, help us adapt to changing circumstances, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Black cohosh (pictured above) is one of the most widely researched medicinal plants associated with menopausal symptoms.

Support for women during the perimenopause

I have supported many women through this natural transitional period, seeing women as patients, writing articles, giving talks and running workshops, and by being a woman who has been through menopause herself. I have also helped women withdraw from hormone replacement therapy (HRT), for which herbal medicine, in combination with a healthy diet and lifestyle, can be very effective.

Early menopause

Taking a natural approach, using diet, lifestyle and herbal remedies, is also a positive strategy for women who are going through an early menopause, due to health problems or genetic factors.

Getting help for the menopause

I do consultations via Skype, FaceTime, telephone and, if you live in travelling distance, face-to-face in Cornwall. I am always available in between consultations, while I support you through the perimenopause.

Workshops

My next workshop, for those who live in Cornwall, is on Saturday March 19th 2016, 10am-12.30pm, at the Inspiring Health natural health clinic,17 Fish Strand Hill, Falmouth TR11 3BD. As the workshops are for small groups only, booking is essential. Please phone 01326 212112 or email info@inspiringhealth.org.uk to book your place. For more information about me, and herbal medicine, please visit my website at www.deannegreenwood.com. Or email me at deannegreenwood@me.com.

 

Nov 062014
 

A holistic approach to breast cancer  Ginger, chilli and garlic are all used in herbal medicine to support the immune system, boost circulation and reduce inflammation, among other things. Deanne Greenwood is a medical herbalist practicing in Falmouth, Helston and Penzance in Cornwall, and also offering consultations by telephone, Skype and FaceTime.

I’ve been moved to write this blog after recently meeting yet another woman with breast cancer and a distressing tale to tell about the management of her illness.

Chemotherapy

She had just come to the end of a grueling course of chemotherapy, with repeated bouts of nausea and vomiting, and loss of hair and eyebrows. Nobody had talked to her about these side effects pre-treatment… nobody had talked to her husband and children about what might happen and how to cope….

Radiotherapy

She is now about to start radiotherapy, and unsure what to expect this time… She thought perhaps she should have done some research about breast cancer treatment and how to look after herself in between and afterwards, but she just hasn’t felt strong enough, physically and emotionally….

Support during breast cancer treatment and recovery

I’ve heard similar tales from other women with breast cancer who have come to see me in the past 12 months. One had had a mastectomy and been ‘signed off’ post surgery with a cheery “see you in six months’ time for your check up”. Not even any dietary and lifestyle advice provided…

Diet and lifestyle

As this young woman was being discharged, she asked if there was anything she should be doing, and was told to just relax and enjoy herself, do whatever made her feel good. As she pointed out to me, her way of relaxing and enjoying herself could have been going to the pub and getting drunk as a coot every night… Luckily she’s not a big drinker. Nor is she a fan of junk and fast food… but she doesn’t know what the best diet for keeping her healthy is either, or what else she could do that might help prevent a recurrence of this devastating illness.

Herbal medicine and breast cancer

Apart from life-enhancing dietary and lifestyle advice, there is so much more holistic therapies can offer women with breast cancer. Under the care of a qualified and experienced herbal practitioner, herbal medicine can safely be used during treatment for breast cancer and the recovery period, helping to relieve symptoms such as nausea & vomiting, hot flushes, skin rashes, constipation, poor appetite & digestion, insomnia and anxiety. For example:

Ginger

There is good scientific evidence, (including a large study conducted by The National Cancer Institute in the US), that ginger can significantly reduce nausea and vomiting experienced during chemotherapy. (Nausea and vomiting is experienced in about 70% of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.)

Black cohosh

Another herb, called Black cohosh, has been the subject of a lot of research recently, revealing that it can help reduce the side effects of breast cancer medication such as Tamoxifen, including menopausal symptoms like hot flushes, and reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. One 11-year retrospective study suggested that Black cohosh was more effective than Tamoxifen at reducing breast cancer recurrence.

Herbs, scientific research and breast cancer

There are many other herbs that have traditionally been used to support the immune (including lymphatic) system and help reduce metastatic spread; optimise liver and bowel function to encourage detoxification and processing of oestrogen (particularly important for ER+ breast cancer); improve digestive function for nutrient absorption, support the nervous system to boost mood and sleep, etc… There is supporting scientific evidence for many of these actions, but for me, traditional use and knowledge of herbal medicine passed down through the ages, plus personal experience of using and working with herbs and people, is more important!

The power of self-healing

Also, just want to say, the body is capable of healing itself (referred to as ‘spontaneous remission’ in conventional medicine!) given the right support and environment. Our bodies produce, and destroy, cancer cells every single day. Sometimes they lose control of this finely tuned process. The operative words here are ‘finely tuned’. Herbal medicine is a gentle and safe way to support the body and nudge it back into self-management mode.

More information about herbal medicine and breast cancer

If you are considering using herbal medicine to help you through breast cancer, please seek professional help from a qualified and insured medical herbalist. To find one in your area, contact the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy at www.phytotherapists.org, or the National Institute of Medical Herbalists at www.nimh.org.uk. I am happy to provide more information and can be contacted by email at deannegreenwood@me.com.

The Haven breast cancer support

For general holistic advice for women with breast cancer, including emotional/psychological and physical support, I recommend visiting The Haven breast cancer support website at www.thehaven.org.uk