As a naturopath my tools of the trade can look a lot different than my conventional medical colleagues. During medical school we had to learn the details of over one hundred different botanicals by look, usage, taste, smell, action, etc. These form the basis of our herbal medicine cornucopia. Out of the hundreds of herbs I certainly have my favorites, my shining stars, so to speak. The next series of blog posts will focus on my favorite herbs for the menopausal transition.
Hops, not just for beermaking
Hops - Humulus Lupulus
Hops, yes you heard correctly, hops - as in the primary herbal ingredient to beer. Hops actually has a long history of medicinal use and is classified as an isoflavone in regards to its chemical constituents. Isoflavones are considered phytoestrogens - meaning plants that have an estrogenic effect. As an herbal medicine, hops could be used in any situation of low estrogen (specifically menopause). These phytoestrogens can weakly bind to estrogen receptors, tricking your body into thinking it has been stimulated by estrogen. Because of this property, hops has a potent effect on hot flashes and night sweats with an added bonus of helping with insomnia. It can be used in a combination herbal formula or as a single herb.
In regards to beer - I find that many of my female patients who are perimenopausal report that they have increased their alcohol intake, often in the form of wine at the end of the day. This seems to be directly correlated to the fact that they have a lowered ability to deal with stress and having a drink tends to be the only way they feel relaxed. This is very common in menopause and I encourage my patients to begin using other techniques for stress management if this is the case. These women also report that hot flashes and sleep are main concerns. incidentally, wine is one of the worst types of alcohol to drink if hot flashes are an issue - as wine causes flushing and is very warming. Ideally I recommend they discontinue alcohol, as any alcohol can often make these symptoms worse. But, if they must have something to drink I recommend trying a small amount of beer instead of wine (at least you will be getting the hops effect). One of my herbal medicine professors once told us that New Belgium 1554 was the perfect beer for a perimenopausal women - it apparently is similar to a recipe monks used back in the year 1554 and is full of additional helpful herbs. (Please note - this is not a plug for any particular beer brand. Also note - I do not recommend alcoholic beverages as any form of medical treatment).