The Ayurvedic approach to the menopause

Ayurveda is a medicine form developed in India and Sri-lanka over 5000 years ago. Ayurveda looks at all parts of the body and mind and our connection with the natural and social environment.


In Ayurveda menopause is not seen as a ‘disease’ or imbalance but as a natural stage of life that in the past has not usually caused too many adverse affects. In fact, it was always viewed as a right of passage as we enter the last phase of life, we retire from difficult, challenging work and our energy involved in our reproductive system is redeposited to our mental function, allowing development of the emotional wisdom and insight we might need to take an advisory and supportive role within our family/communities.


In modern times we tend to work a lot longer and in to our old age and because of this some issues with our natural rhythms and cycles have emerged. These can show up as imbalances in our body, which can affect our hormones, immunity and our general mental and physical health. This is why women now often struggle with menopause, experiencing a lot of challenging symptoms that may stop them living a comfortable life.


The stages of life according to Ayurveda


· Bāla (child stage)- Kapha dominant

o During this phase we use kapha (earth and water) for building and growing, as kapha corresponds with the plasma, muscle, fat and skin tissue.


· Rajomathi (adolescent) – Pitta dominant

o During this phase pitta helps the menstrual cycle start and the mental capacity engage and develop. Pitta is associated with transformation, metabolism and heat.


· Yuwthi (adult)- Pitta dominant

o Pitta continues to dominate into adulthood and helps us find the drive, ambition and motivation needed to look after ourselves and our families, making an appropriate home and finding security and fulfilment.


· Pravdā (post menopausal)- Vata dominant


o The menopause signifies the end of this pitta phase as by this time we have done our reproducing and are able to further the ageing process. During this phase vata qualities start to come in to the body and we might experience more dryness, coldness, roughness and weakness/dryness in the bones and joints. It is common to get bone disorders at the time as well as a weakening of some of the mental capacities such as memory. However if we come to this stage with balance and if we support ourselves appropriately we can enjoy a greater level of creativity, communication, emotional wisdom and playfulness as we start to lessen our work loads and find new avenues of expression.


Although pitta and vata are the main doshas involved in the menopause these will likely be worsened if we have a vata or pitta imbalance as we approach this transition. Here are some common symptoms that may come up depending on your birth dosha and current state (vikruti).



Vata imbalance during menopause

If you experience the following you likely have a vata imbalance and/or a predominant vata birth dosha:

· Poor temperature regulation

· Dry skin and mucus membranes (including the external and internal reproductive organs)

· Bloating

· Constipation

· Anxiety/overwhelm

· Weakness and dryness in bones and joints (osteoporosis)

· Light bleeding in peri-menopause

· Variable hunger

· Weight loss



Pitta imbalance during menopause


If you experience the following you likely have a pita imbalance and/or a predominant pitta dosha:

· Hot flushes

· Rashes, itchiness, acne and irritable skin and internal/external reproductive organs

· Heavy bleeding in peri-menopause

· Anger, jealousy, judgment and irritability

· Loose stool/IBS symptoms

· Excessive thirst

· Strong hunger and cravings for sugary, salty, sour, pungent and oily foods, caffeine, chocolate and alcohol.

· Acid reflux

· Headaches

· Inflammation and pain in joints



Kapha imbalance during menopause

If you experience the following you likely have a kapha imbalance. We may receive these symptoms if kapha is very high in the body due to the blockages kapha can cause but we are also likely to experience some pitta and vata imbalance along with this because as the pitta moves in the system the kpaha blockages can cause stagnation and lead to pitta and vata build ups.

· Water retention particularly near and around reproductive organs

· Depression/feeling low/numb/unmotivated

· Increase in cravings for sweet, sour and salty food and food with a heavy quality

· Weight gain

· Tiredness/lethargy

· Slow digestion



What is the best diet for menopause?


As mentioned above we are mainly working to reduce pitta and balance vata during this time and the first easy way to start this process is to look at supportive and unsupportive foods.


Different flavours in food show us their different doshic qualities so this is the first easy method of understanding the appropriate dietary changes:


Pitta is aggravated by: Sour, salty, oily, and pungent food

Therefore reducing things like citrus fruits (except lime), fermented food (including cheeses and pickles), alcohol, chilli, caffeine, tomatoes, red meat and fish, peanuts, bananas, deep fried/very oily foods and heavily spiced foods is a great place to start.


Pitta is balanced by: Sweet, bitter and astringent flavours

Therefore increasing natural sweet foods such as squash, courgette, cauliflower, broccoli, leak, peas, dates, jaggery, coconut products and rice, bitter foods such as bitter gourd, roasted garlic, chicory and astringent foods such as cooked dark leafy greens, pomegranate and cooked apples or berries can be very supportive. I wouldn’t go for raw greens or garlic as these are hard to digest and aggravate vata.


There is a fine line between reducing pitta while keeping vata in balance as elements of each can aggravate the other. Therefore my main advice would be to stick with the pitta balancing approach but also keep all food warm/cooked and wet in quality where possible so not to aggravate vata.


Reducing caffeine, alcohol, red meat and cheeses is a must as these are very aggravating for pitta but it might also be good to reduce refined products such as white sugar and flour as the body finds these things more challenging to understand and they can definitely affect our hormone balance.



What is the best lifestyle advice for menopause?


If we think of the qualities of high pitta (hotness, sharpness, lightness, pungency, anger, inflammation) and of imbalanced vata (dryness, coldness, lightness, fastness, roughness, restlessness, weakness, anxiety) along with their sites (where they are most likely to build up (for pitta: eyes, head, blood, stomach, for vata: bones, skin, hips, colon, ears), we essentially need to be supporting these with opposing qualities in our environment just like we did with the diet.


Balance the agni (digestive fire)

Along with appropriate foods mentioned above it is also important to keep the agni balanced and healthy when dealing with all negative symptoms as the digestion is the fundamental root of all health. Some easy tips to support the agni are:

· Do not mix fruit with other foods - always eat fruit separately as it digests in a different part of the body and is therefore indigestible when taken with other substances (this then causes ama formation and blockages)



· Only eat when you are hungry – Waiting till there is a clear hunger signal is important when keeping the agni in check as when we are hungry it usually means the body is prepared and ready to digest food correctly.

· Only drink warm or room temp water and do not drink near meal times – drinking cold water essentially can ‘put out’ the digestive fire, when we drink a lot very near or during meal times we dilute the digestive acids making it harder to digest.

· Avoid raw foods if you are struggling with digestion – These are very hard to digest as the body has to do all the cooking process itself

· Eat your main meal at lunch time and have a lighter breakfast and dinner – Your agni is strongest in the middle of the day when pitta is highest in the atmosphere

· Do not mix these foods in the same dish

o Milk with fish/bread/vegetables/meat

o Acid with alkaline

o Cold food with hot food

You can learn more about this in my digestive health webinar here


Reduction of stress is essential in reducing pitta, as pitta has a direct link with this emotion. Think about what brings stress into your life and ways you can cut it out or reduce these situations/activities, instead bringing in things that make you feel calm and relaxed. Perhaps just slowing the pace of life down a little if it’s within your power.


Exercise

Exercise can heat the body too much aggravating pitta and can cause additional stress on the system. Slow, gentle and cooling exercises such as swimming, restorative yoga and walking in the moonlight will be much more supportive than fast paced heat generating sports such as running, hot yoga or weight training.


Screen use

Reducing screen use is also great for reducing pitta as pitta comes in through this part of the body (eyes) and even excessive concentration can aggravate it let alone the aggressive blue light. Maybe have a cut off time for screen use and try a meditation to relax in the evenings.


Oil massage

As vata starts moving into the body our joints can sufr from dryness. Abyanga massage and oiling the body not only helps bring this moisture back but it supports and projects our body against external aggressors and strengthens our immune systems. Use a coconut oil if you suffer from hot flushes then switch to sesame as menopause comes to an end. Go for a massage or just do it for yourself followed by a nice warm bath. If you have dryness or irritation in the vagina you can put a tampon in sesame oil and pop it in for a little while.


Good sleep

Sleep is essential for keeping our hormones in check. The 24 hour doshic cycle can support our sleep. Between the hours of 6-10 kapha is dominant in the atmosphere and this gentle, slow quality helps us switch off and get to sleep at night. If we go to bed long after 10 it starts to become much harder to get a good nights rest as pitta comes back in to the atmosphere again. If we are sleeping we can utilise this pitta energy to help digestion of food and transformations within the body however if we stay up we can get a ‘second wind’ where we start wanting to engage in work again. You can also take a warm coconut/soy/almond milk with a small pinch of cardamom and nutmeg before bed to help calm the mind and settle the stomach.


Remedy for hot flushes


Soak 1tbsp of coriander seeds (slightly crushed) over night, in the morning drink just the water first thing – this is very cooling and helps with circulation. During extremely hot flushes you can soak these in coconut water.


Remedy to help digestion


Eat 1 tsp of toasted cumin powder with 1/2tsp of honey or jaggery

take twice a day just before a meal



Ayurvedic herbs for menopause


The best two well known herbs I would recommend would be equal proportions of shatavari and ashwaganda (1/2tsp of each once a day before breakfast). This mix contains phytoestrogens that connect with oestrogen receptors, enabling the hormones to function correctly, they increase circulation helping expel any blockages and improve temperature management and they increase the kapha qualities of cool, wet and stable helping the joints and bones to remain strong and the mind to stay calm. Please do not take these without the advice of a practitioner.

You can find some great sattvic recipes to help with the menopause in my E-book here and inother blog posts. I would particularly recommend the rice porridge recipe for breakfasts.