I’m just going to say it. For far too long now, the entire concept of Menopause has been treated like something to be “managed”, “suffered through” or “medicated”. Many women dread the day that this very important rite of passage begins and are offered very little support and encouragement to not only embrace, but celebrate this time in their life.
The reality is, that this is a time when women are able to welcome and hold a great deal of power, stepping into deeper roles of leadership and wisdom keepers for their families and communities. Today, I want to share with you how a holistic approach to menopause can be not only effective, but move beyond effective and into transformational.
So what is menopause? And more importantly if you are reading this, what is perimenopause? Menopause is often incorrectly defined as the cessation of fertility in a woman’s life. I say incorrectly because while it is true that a woman can no longer conceive a child once she has entered into menopause, it’s incorrect that she is no longer fertile. Women are always fertile. Fertility is the state of being able to create, a state that all women are in, all the time, and I find it very disconcerting that we describe menopause as the cessation of fertility. Let’s be very specific here and say that it is the cessation of a woman’s ability to biologically create a human baby inside of her body. Maori healer and elder, Atarangi Muru, also speaks about this in her work, and the corrosive label that “infertility” creates.
Menopause is clinically defined as not having a menstrual period for twelve consecutive months. So that means if you don’t have a period for 11 months, and then you do, the 12 month counter is then reset.
Perimenopause is the phase before menopause, where periods are hit or miss, where estrogen and progesterone levels are dropping off and many of the symptoms associated with this transition “show up”. Some of these symptoms include: night sweats, hot flashes, interrupted sleep, joint pain, depression, loss of energy and loss of concentration.
I would like to add that some other “signs and symptoms” that the text books won’t mention are: increased drive to pursue passions and goals, increased sex drive (Yes! Don’t let them fool you with this one!), increased sense of purpose and power, increased desire to create boundaries and make room for one’s sacred self. Many women discover entire new chapters, talents, relationships and careers in their lives at and beyond menopause!
Perimenopause can start as early as your late thirties or as late as your late fifties. It is very much dependent on the individual. It can last anywhere from one to five years with most women reporting that about two to three years is the average.
What are the typical responses from the medical community?
Typically, a woman who is going through perimenopause who seeks medical advice will be given two options by her primary doctor or gynaecologist:
a. nothing, this is a natural process!
b. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
HRT is a treatment option where a woman is given hormones, either synthetic or biological in origin, in order to offset the 40-60% loss of estrogen and total loss of progesterone. HRT got a very bad rap following the release of the Women’s Health Initiative study that was released in 2002. The results were presented in a way that suggested that there is a drastic increased risk of breast cancer, heart attack and stroke for women who participate in HRT. However, more recent studies (Dessapt & Gourdy 2012) have indicated that the risks were overstated and that several years of HRT will do no long-term damage in most cases.
However, HRT still presents unpleasant side effects such as weight gain, bloating and break-through bleeding. The origins of some of these medicines are not exactly pleasant, not to mention, it does send the body a message that a process that has naturally started should be in some way controlled or dampened down. In some cases, this may be warranted or even desired, depending on the needs and wishes of the individual. It’s a valid choice that some women make, and I respect every woman’s right to choose what is best for her.
There is increasing support however, for the use of plant-based estrogens to alleviate the severity of symptoms (Bedell et al 2012). I further suggest that as plant-based medicines are natural and have their own energetic signatures, there is added value in working with them as teachers, healers and wisdom givers that a synthetic drug is just never going to provide.
WHAT DOES AROMATHERAPY HAVE TO OFFER?
So where and how does aromatherapy come into the picture?
Are there estrogenic essential oils and are they effective at helping a woman to feel more supported and in balance during peri and post menopause?
First, aromatherapy can help and offers the most by the application of essential oils in gentle massage, the use of personal inhalers, patches and hydrosol sprays. Some common estrogenic essential oils are Clary sage (Salvia sclarea), Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) and Rose (Rosa damascene). There are of course others but they should be used with caution and in consultation.
OK Lauren, but is there evidence? Come on, I want the evidence!
Yes. Yes there is. For all my soul sisters out there who, like me, love it when both the spiritual and clinical evidence is available, here we go.
A 2005 study by Murakami et al took a sample of fifteen women who were experiencing perimenopausal symptoms. They were examined by their gynaecologists to get a base line report, and then given aromatherapy massages once a week as well as an aromatherapy mixture to apply to the skin four times a week. They were seen by their gynaecologists again after one month and thirteen out of the fifteen women saw a reduction in the severity of their symptoms.
A second study by Darsareh et all (2012) provided bi-weekly aromatherapy massages to ninety women including a control group. All participants saw improvements to their lives, but the perimenopausal group saw the most improvements and especially to their symptoms.
So the research is there and this is really great news.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AS A THERAPIST
As a student working through my case studies, I chose to explore the topic of peri and post menopause as a research topic. I wanted to learn as much as I could from real women, and get hands-on experience.
The first thing I did with each woman who participated, was to sit and just listen to her experience. I would ask questions and gather information that would help me best support her, but job #1 was to be a person who could validate her experiences in a positive environment.
At the end of their course of treatments, everyone had seem some form of improvement, but what they all told me was that the most helpful thing I had done for them was to simply care about what they were going through and treat their experiences like they mattered. Most indicated that their regular doctor gave them ten minutes at most and the standard options of HRT or nothing.
THE TRULY HOLISTIC APPROACH
Perimenopause a huge physical, but also emotional, mental and spiritual change in a woman’s life. To not have your chosen primary caregiver be able to properly acknowledge and validate that is in my frank opinion, a big, bad deal. I know most doctors don’t have the time and are doing their best, but it would be great if there was at least some form of acknowledgement of the importance of this time by the people responsible for shepherding us in our health.
There is a grieving process to be honoured, as well as a celebration to be cultivated. We acknowledge a young woman’s first period as well as the birth of new babies (and the making of new mothers) with sanctity and celebration. There are special breakfasts, showers, gifts and hopefully, at the very least a few hugs from other women who are happy to walk with you through these rites of passage.
So when was the last time you heard of someone throwing a menopause celebration brunch or a Crone passage party? How about never. Or very infrequently, which I hope to see change.
A truly holistic approach needs to start there, with validating women’s experiences, honouring what they go through and planting the seeds that some form of celebration is important and possible. Secondly, the holistic approach seeks to offer individual and natural options that are evidence-based and compassionate to the needs of the human being sitting in front of you. If we can’t start with validating the experience and expand into an individual protocol, then what are we even doing?
The Crone aspect of the triple goddess is not one to be trifled with. Try it and report back, if you dare! I would argue that menopause is perhaps the deepest experience in a woman’s life. It’s her time to step into the accumulated power and wisdom she has gathered thus far, and wield it. As a holistic therapist, it’s my honour to walk with any woman during this time and be a part of her support and positivity crew. The Goddess takes infinite forms, all of which are critical to life. I hope to see the celebrations and respect due to the Crone flourish and take root in society once again. When we honour the wisdom keepers of our society, we invite prosperity for all.
Lauren Keizer-Gilbert is a clinical aromatherapist, massage therapist and aromatic reflex therapist specializing in women’s holistic health. To learn more about Lauren and her work or to book your own consultation, please contact visit the website at www.falconrose.com
Aromatica, Holmes, 2016
Aromatherapy for Health Professionals, Price & Price, 2011
Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils in Healthcare, Buckle, 2014
Essential Oil Safety, Tisserand & Young, 2016
It's Your Hormones, Redmond & Geoffrey, 2006
Menopause and Cardiovascular Risk, Dessapt & Gourdy, 2012