THE YOGA OF MENOPAUSE
ALTERNATIVES TO HORMONE THERAPY
2002, Susun S. Weed
It's big news when a favored medical treatment - HRT for menopausal
women - is found to be harmful. But it's no news to readers of Susun
Weed. She's been blowing the whistle on both scientific and alternative
treatments of menopause for nearly two decades. As recently quoted in
Newsweek Magazine, Susun maintains: "Menopause is not a 'pathology',
but a passage to power. Like puberty, menopause is a natural - and healthy
- change. Wise women the world over herald menopause as a health-promoting
event. They see hot flashes as 'power surges' and menopause as an intense
spiritual journey. Most treatments - including ERT, HRT, isoflavone,
and progesterone creams - disrupt this process and can do severe damage
to a woman's health."
Susun Weed, wise woman, herbalist, author, and mother, has been at
the forefront of the natural menopause revolution for the past fifteen
years. She plays with the fairies and her goats at her 55-acre homestead
in New York's Catskill mountains, where she coordinates events at the
Wise Woman Center, including monthly moonlodge gatherings and a variety
of healing workshops. She has dedicated her life to the reweaving of
the cloak of the Ancients and to making the Wise Woman available to
MENOPAUSE IS ENLIGHTENMENT
The energy aspects of menopause are of special interest to me.
As a long-time student of yoga, I was struck by the many similarities
between menopausal symptoms and the well-known esoteric goal of "awakening
of the kundalini." Though the ideas presented in this section may
seem strange or difficult to comprehend, they contain powerful messages
about menopause, which lie at the heart of the Wise Woman approach.
Kundalini [is] the root [of] all spiritual experiences ... Kundalini
is a special kind of energy known in many cultures, including Tibetan,
Indian, Sumerian, Chinese, Irish, Aztec, and Greek. Kundalini is said
to be hot, fast, powerful, and large. It exists within the earth, within
all life, and within each person. Psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung called
kundalini anima. Kundalini is usually represented as a serpent coiled
at the base of the spine, but women's mystery stories locate it in the
uterus - or the area where the uterus was, if a hysterectomy has occurred.
During both puberty and menopause, a woman's kundalini is difficult
to control and may cause a great number of symptoms.
East Indian yogis spend lifetimes learning to activate, or wake up,
their kundalini. This is also called "achieving enlightenment".
When they succeed, a surge of super-heated energy goes up the spine,
throughout the nerves, dilating blood vessels, and fueling itself with
hormones. As kundalini continues to travel up the spine, it changes
the functioning of the endocrine, cardiovascular, and nervous systems.
Not just in yogis, but in any woman who allows herself to become aware
of it. Menopause is a kind of enlightenment. Hot flashes are kundalini
TAKING HORMONES? THESE HERBS ARE FOR YOU
More and more American women are using herbal remedies to help them
with menopausal problems. Those who do take ERT (estrogen replacement)
or HRT (hormone replacement) may be surprised to discover that herbal
medicine has a lot to offer them as well.
Herbs for women on ERT/HRT include those that alleviate side-effects
as well as those that counter problems caused by the hormones.
Herbal Helpers Counter Side-Effects
Water retention is the symptom most often cited for dissatisfaction
with hormone replacement. Herbal tinctures and tea, such as dandelion
or cleavers, and ordinary foods can not only relieve the distress, they
will go to the root of the problem and help prevent recurrences.
Dandelion root tincture (Taraxacum officinale) strengthens the
liver and helps it process out the excess hormones you are taking. When
the liver works well, the kidneys work better, and tissues no longer
bloat. A dose is 10-20 drops in several ounces of water or juice 2-3
three times a day. If you have any digestion problems, take your dandelion
before meals; otherwise, anytime is fine. You can safely take dandelion
daily for months or years if you need or want to.
Cleavers herb tincture (Galium molluga) tells the lymphatic
tissues to get moving. Relief from edema is usually rapid when 20-30
drops are taken in several ounces of water or juice. Repeat up to six
times at hourly intervals if needed. Cleavers is especially helpful
for easing swollen, sore breasts.
Foods that relieve water retention include (in order of effectiveness):
asparagus, nettles, corn (and corn silk tea), grapes, cucumbers, watermelon
(and watermelon seed tea), parsley, celery, black tea, and green tea.
Headaches are the second most common side-effect of hormone
use. Unfortunately, they are common among menopausal women not taking
hormones, too. Herbs that help relieve headache without a drug-like
action - such as dandelion, yellow dock, milk thistle, burdock, garden
sage, skullcap, and St. John's/Joan's wort - are generally considered
safe to take with hormones.
Chinese herbalists say headaches are caused by liver stress. My favorite
liver-strengthening herbs are dandelion, yellow dock, milk thistle seed,
and burdock. I use one at a time, a 15-25 drops of the tincture several
times a day, for two weeks. If symptoms continue, I switch to a different
A strong tea of garden sage leaves (Salvia officinalis) offers
immediate relief from headaches and helps prevent future ones. It also
reduces night sweats. Tinctures of skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
and St. Joan's/John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) ease pain and
relieve muscle spasms. Use 5-20 drops of skullcap and a dropperful of
St.J's at the very first sign - no, the very first thought - of a headache.
Repeat the doses every five minutes until pain free. Skullcap can be
quite sedative, especially in large doses.
Herbal Allies to Prevent Problems Caused by Taking Hormones
Breast cancer risk is increased 20% in women who use ERT for
five or more years. Use of HRT for five or more years increases breast
cancer risk by 40%. Each five years of continued use increases the risk.
In addition, women who take ERT are far more likely to get uterine or
endometrial cancers. All women on hormones increase their risks of lung
and ovarian cancer, too. Nourishing herbs such as red clover, and foods
such as beans and yogurt, offer easy ways to stay cancer-free.
Red clover blossoms (Trifolium pratense), when dried and brewed
into a strong infusion (one ounce herb steeped an a quart of boiling
water for at least four hours) prevent cancer by providing phytoestrogens
that counter the cancer-promoting effects of oral hormones. Usual dose
is 2-4 cups a day. The infusion tastes like black tea and can be flavored
with mint if you like.
Since uncooked beans and unfermented soy contain anti-nutritional factors
that may promote bone loss and dementia, soy "milk" and tofu
are not recommended. Miso and tamari definitely help to prevent breast
cancer but soy isoflavones may promote it.
Yogurt helps build powerful immunity. Women who eat a quart of yogurt
a week have 700% less cancer than women who eat no yogurt.
Dry eyes afflict more than 9% of women using ERT and over 7%
of those on HRT. Risk increases by 70% for every year of continued use.
And the longer a woman uses hormones, the greater her risk. Herbs such
as oatstraw, chamomile, and chickweed can help relieve and prevent this
Oatstraw infusion (Avena sativa) cools and moistens your eyes
from the inside out, builds strong bones too. Use one ounce of dried
herb in a quart jar; fill to the top with boiling water and cap tightly.
Let steep four or more hours. Dose is 2-4 cups a day. Refrigerate after
Cucumber slices ease dry eyes; so do chamomile tea bags.
The ultimate ally for women with dry eyes is fresh chickweed (Stellaria
media), applied as a poultice to the closed eyes. Leave on for five
minutes, or until the plant material feels warm (it will heat up). Repeat
Stroke and heart attack are actually increased by use
of ERT/HRT, though modern medicine has long proclaimed the opposite.
Every major double-blind study done to date has created a larger and
larger gap between ERT/HRT's supposed ability to help cardiovascular
health and its actual results. Protect your heart with nourishing and
tonifying herbs and foods such as motherwort, hawthorn, and cherries.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) tincture helps the heart. The
Japanese claim it is their secret of longevity. A dose is 5-15 drops,
twice a day. Motherwort also relieves hot flashes, calms tachycardiia,
and eases anxiety. It's an all-in-one remedy for menopausal women.
Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycantha) flowers, leaves, and fruits are
all used to maintain heart health and control fluid build-up in heart
tissues. A dose is 20- 30 drops of tincture 2-4 times a day, or a cup
of tea with meals. This widespread shrub is considered one of the finest
heart tonics in the world.
Cherries are even better than apples at keeping the doctor away. Dried
cherries and cherry juice, even tincture of cherries.
More than three-quarters of the women in America over the age of fifty
have refused ERT/HRT. If you want to join them, taper off your dosage
slowly, while continuing to use nourishing and tonifying herbs such
as dandelion, motherwort, red clover, oatstraw, and seaweed.
THERE ARE MANY TYPES OF ESTROGENS
- Women make estrogens.
- Plants make estrogens and estrogen-like compounds.
- Chemicals, especially organochlorines, act like estrogens (xenoestrogens).
Pharmaceutical companies make estrogens from substances such as horse
urine, wild yam roots, and petrochemicals. Tamoxifen, used to treat
and prevent breast cancer, is a type of pharmaceutical estrogen.
Women make at least thirty types of estrogen, including estradiol,
estrone, and estrace. Estradiol is the strongest; it is turned on at
puberty and turned off at menopause. Estradiol is positively linked
with breast cancer; other human estrogens are not. Anything that reduces
the amount of estradiol a woman produces (such as pregnancy, lactation,
early menopause, and late puberty) also decreases her risk of a breast
Phytoestrogens counter the detrimental effects of estradiol by competing
for the same receptor sites.
Estradiol is a strong estrogen and is metabolized by the long path.
The other estrogens our bodies make are weak estrogens and are metabolized
by the short path. Alcohol turns off the short path. Phytoestrogens
are weak hormones and hormonal precursors. Phytoestrogens in foods are
metabolized by the short path. Phytoestrogens appear to protect tissues
from the cancer-causing effects of estradiol, xenoestrogens and pharmaceutical
hormones. Phytoestrogens in foods prevent cancer and promote health;
phytoestrogen supplements and processed soy fake-foods may do the opposite.
Breast cancer occurs four times more often in women whose urinary output
of phytoestrogen by-products is low compared to women whose urinary
output is high.
Phytoestrogens are common in food. They are concentrated in seeds (grains,
beans, nuts, berries) and roots. The exceptions to the rule that plants
don't contain human hormones: French beans, rice, apple seeds, licorice,
and pomegranate seeds contain the "weak" estrogen estrone.
To get the greatest benefit from phytoestrogenic foods and herbs remember:
1. Isolated phytoestrogens are not as safe as those "in matrix."
2. To make use of plant hormones, you need active, healthy gut flora.
3. Herbs and foods rich in phytoestrogens need to be used in different
4. Phytoestrogens may have different effects on women who do not have
1. Plants contain many types of phytoestrogens; additionally, they contain
minerals and other constituents which help our bodies modify the phytoestrogens
and so we can use them safely. Red clover is mineral-rich and contains
all four of the major types of phytoestrogens: lignans, coumestans,
isoflavones, and resorcylic acid lactones. It is the world's best-known
anti-cancer herb. In general, foods and herbs rich in phytoestrogens,
with the possible exception of licorice, show anti-cancer abilities.
Isoflavone, however, when isolated (usually from soy) has the opposite
effect: in the lab it encourages the growth of breast cancer cells (endnote
32 in New Menopausal Years).
2. Plant hormones, including most phytoestrogens, can't be used by
humans. But we can convert them into ones we can use - with the help
of our gut bacteria. When women take antibiotics, their excretion of
phytoestrogens plummets. Get your gut flora going by eating more yogurt,
miso, unpasteurized sauerkraut, homemade beers and wines, picked-by-your-own-hands-and-unwashed
fruits and salads, sourdough bread, and whey-fermented vegetables. (See
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon for whey-fermented vegetable recipes.)
3. Plants which are exceptionally rich in phytoestrogens are regarded
as powerful herbal medicines. Plants which are good sources of phytoestrogens
are regarded as foods. While food can certainly be our medicine - a
practice I advocate - it is also true that medicines are more dangerous
than foods. Foods rich in phytoestrogens are different than medicinal
herbs rich in phytoestrogens. They have different places in my life.
- I eat phytoestrogenic foods daily in quantity.
- I use phytoestrogenic food-like herbs regularly (not daily), in moderate
- I take phytoestrogenic herbs rarely, in small amounts, for a limited
Phytoestrogenic foods are the basis for a healthy diet and a long life.
The first food listed is the highest in phytoestrogens. The best diet
contains not just one but many choices from each list:
- Whole grains (rye, oats, barley, millet, rice, wheat, corn)
- Edible seeds (buckwheat, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, amaranth, quinoa)
- Beans (yellow split peas, black turtle beans, baby limas, Anasazi
beans, red kidney beans, red lentils, soy beans)
- Leafy greens and seaweed (parsley, nettle, kelp, cabbage, broccoli,
kale, collards, lamb's quarter)
- Fruits (olives, cherries, grapes, apples, pears, peaches, plums, strawberries,
blackberries, raspberries, salmon berries, apricots, crab apples, quinces,
- Olive oil and seed oils. Garlic, onions and their relatives leeks,
chives, scallions, ramps, shallot
Phytoestrogenic food-like herbs are generally considered longevity
tonics. For optimum effect, use only one from the list below and to
stick with it for at least three months.
- Citrus peel, dandelion leaves and/or roots, fenugreek seeds, flax
seeds, green tea, hops, red clover, red wine.
Phytoestrogenic herbs are usually too powerful for long- term use.
From the list below (which is in alphabetical order), it is safest to
use only one herb at a time, and use it only when needed, although that
may mean daily use for several months. More information about these
herbs, including specific dosages and cautions, is in New Menopausal
Years the Wise Woman Way.
- Agave root, black cohosh root, black currant, black haw, chasteberries,
cramp bark, dong quai root, devil's club root, false unicorn root, ginseng
root, groundsel herb, licorice, liferoot herb, motherwort herb, peony
root, raspberry leaves, rose family plants (most parts), sage leaves,
sarsaparilla root, saw palmetto berried, wild yam root, yarrow blossoms.
4. Most of the warnings about phytoestrogenic herbs center on their
proven ability to thicken the uterine wall in animals who have had their
ovaries removed. This could encourage cancer, just as taking ERT encourages
cancer of the uterus by stimulating cell growth. Women without ovaries
are probably safe eating phytoestrogenic foods, but may want to use
phytoestrogenic herbs - especially ginseng, dong quai, licorice, red
clover, and wild yam - in small amounts and only for short periods.
NEWS NOTES ON PHYTOESTROGENIC PLANTS (UPDATED JUNE 2002)
Recent studies indicate black cohosh does not suppress luteinizing hormone,
has no estrogenic effect, and contains no compounds related to estrogen.
Red clover flower heads contain many hormone-like flavonoids, including
isoflavone, daidzein, genistein, formononetin, biochanin, sitosterol,
and coumestrol, a particularly strong phytoestrogen (six times more active
than the one in soy). Red clover contains all four major estrogenic isoflavones;
soy has only two of them. A cup of red clover infusion (not tea) contains
ten times more phytoestrogens than a cup of soy beverage, is richer in
calcium, has less calories, and contains no added sugars.
- Researchers in Australia report a million lambs a year are aborted
after sheep eat clover on pasture. Yet red clover is renowned as a fertility
enhancer. What's up? Stephen Buhner, author of The Secret Language of
Plants, says clover plants make blood-thinning compounds (which cause
abortion) when overgrazed, but don't otherwise. Plants, it turns out,
can fight back.
- When unfermented soy takes the place of animal protein (meat and
milk), its anti-nutritional factors can create brittle bones, thyroid
problems, memory loss, vision impairment, irregular heartbeat, depression,
and vulnerability to infections. Unfermented soy is high in hemoglutin,
which causes clumping of red blood cells and may increase risk of stroke.
It is also impressively rich in aluminum (up to 100 times more than
is found in the same amount of real milk). Eating tofu more than once
a week doubled the risk of Alzheimer's in a small group of Japanese
men studied for thirty years.
- Human gut bacteria can cleave a sugar molecule from wild yam's steroidal
saponin, producing diosgenin. Labs make progesterone from diosgenin,
but our bodies can't. Diosgenin itself has a weak estrogenic effect.
According to Australian herbalist Ruth Trickey: "A more probable
explanation [for the observed effects of wild yam] ... is that [diosgenin]
interacts with hypothalamic and pituitary hormones and ... initiates
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NEW Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way
Author: Susun S. Weed. The best book on menopause is now better. Completely revised with 100 new pages. All the remedies women know and trust plus hundreds of new ones. New sections on thyroid health, fibromyalgia, hairy problems, male menopause, and herbs for women taking hormones. Recommended by Susan Love MD and Christiane Northrup MD. Introduction by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. 304 pages, index, illustrations. Retails for $19.95
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Breast Cancer? Breast Health!
Author: Susun S. Weed. Foods, exercises, and attitudes to keep your breasts healthy. Supportive complimentary medicines to ease side-effects of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or tamoxifen. Foreword by Christiane Northrup, M.D. 380 pages, index, illustrations. Retails for $21.95
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Down There: Sexual and Reproductive Health the Wise Woman Way
Publication date: June 21, 2011
Author: Susun S. Weed
Simple, successful, strategies cover the entire range of options -- from mainstream to radical -- to help you choose the best, and the safest, ways to optimize sexual and reproductive health.
Foreword: Aviva Romm, MD, midwife, 484 pages, Index, illustrations. Retails for $29.95
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Weed, green witch and wise woman, is an extraordinary teacher with
a joyous spirit, a powerful presence, and an encyclopedic knowledge
of herbs and health. She is the voice of the Wise Woman Way, where common
weeds, simple ceremony, and compassionate listening support and nourish
health/wholeness/holiness. She has opened hearts to the magic and medicine
of the green nations for three decades. Ms. Weed's five herbal medicine
books focus on women's health topics including: menopause, childbearing,
and breast health. Visit her site www.susunweed.com for information on her workshops, apprenticeships, correspondence courses
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Menopause site www.menopause-metamorphosis.com to learn all about the Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way.
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