Having been privileged to live through infancy, childhood, pre-puberty, puberty, pregnancy, peri-menopause and menopause, I have developed a keen insight into attempting to harness those hormones during times of wild fluctuations.
Harnessing hormones has a particular visual impression for me as the term “hormone” comes from a word that means “to spur on”. I can picture myself during many of the periods of life I mentioned above as though I were a lone rider on a bucking bronco, holding on for dear life!
We are blessedly ignorant as to the infinite number of messages that hormones carry from glands to cells on a moment to moment basis, spurring them on to maintain the delicate balance of chemical levels in the bloodstream that keep us in a state of homeostasis or equilibrium. During times of transition in the normal course of growth and development, there can be fluctuations in the hormone levels that create a turbulence that is both profound and seemingly endless.
A Dizzying Array of Symptoms
Mood disorders and physical symptoms represent a wide array of complaints relative to each stage. The most distressing symptoms are the ones which limit a person’s life in some area and this is what they will tell you are their presenting complaints. Generic to peri-menopause and menopause are vague symptoms that can span every organ system and leave an MD in a state of confusion. I recall the words of my doctor as I related my menopausal symptoms. “You are asking me to send you to every specialist there is.” Where to start? Start with a system of medicine that takes every organ system into account. The art and science of homeopathy.
In my family practice of chiropractic and homeopathy, I often chuckle to myself when I see the two or three year old girl with raging temper tantrums and earaches and inwardly predict her adolescent outbursts and her journey into menopause. There is a saying that a leopard doesn’t change his spots so when individualizing treatment with homeopathy, it is not surprising to find that same girl in my office when she is 13 or 14 with mood swings, outbursts of screaming and a changeable menses from too late to too painful and any variation thereof. This same adolescent may experience mood swings and physical symptoms throughout her life cycles that are characteristic of who she is and how she perceives her changes. Homeopathy is a system of medicine that addresses the suffering of the whole person and not the name of the disease. No two people who go through menopause experience it in the same way. Therefore, there is not one medicine for menopause. Rather, there will be a well selected remedy chosen for the person according to the totality of symptoms that they express.
Homeopathy is unique in this way, thus affording the homeopath the ability to find a remedy that has the greatest potential of stimulating the body’s own healing capacity to restore equilibrium.
Symptoms of Hormonal Changes
The homeopathic repertory is replete with the myriad of symptoms associated with hormonal changes. Among the top contenders are: fatigue, joint and muscle aches and pains, GI issues, restless leg syndrome, insomnia, mood disturbances, irritability and depression, brain fog, forgetfulness, word hunting, anxiety, palpitations, hot flashes, urinary issues, dizziness, and weight gain. There are several remedies from the Materia Medica that I have found to be commonly associated with the distresses of peri-menopause and menopause that I would like to give you a picture of so that you might recognize them in yourself or your patients. You will also come to see how it is that women who present with particular mental and emotional disturbances of menopause, along with physical symptoms, are overlooked or dismissed by their family doctor.
A Remedy for Mid-life Crisis
Typical of hormonal fluctuations is the insidious nature at the onset of the change. In peri-menopause, one might begin to feel fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and, at the tender age of 45 or so, begin to sigh about getting old. There may be some loss of libido and a sense of sadness or depression about this state of low vitality. Frequent yeast infections, vaginal soreness and sensitivity compound the picture. At this age, the woman who has a career and a family may feel overwhelmed by her responsibilities and become irritable and then apathetic to her loved ones. She is much worse from the emotional demands and will likely be the first one out of the house to get to the gym to exercise and blow off steam. As these symptoms are vague and because they can be easily explained by her busy lifestyle, they may well be ignored until a serious depression sets in. The remedy Sepia, made from the ink of the cuttlefish, may be a good match for this person. The classic mid life crisis is reflected in the emotional state of Sepia. “All manifestations of love – marital, parental, filial, even close friendship- are a drain on her reserves of energy and an obstacle to her need for a certain amount of privacy and independence... She may see her children in direct conflict with her need for self-expression, and so she fights the emotional bonds that stifle the growth of her individuality…” (Catherine Coulter, Portraits of Homeopathic Medicine). These Sepia types may well have been the “bra burners” of the 1960’s; the leaders of the feminist movement.
While independence is a big theme for Sepia, the polarity of dependence will also be seen. She feels forced to accept situations that are against her will and this sense of stasis is reflected in her mental activities which she will report as confusion, dullness, absent mindedness and difficulty thinking. Her circulation will be likewise impaired and she will complain of hemorrhoids.
The flushes of heat that she experiences in menopause may be reminiscent of the blushing she had as an adolescent. The feeling of indifference may have manifested as post partum depression. A careful case taking will reveal the entire history and it is based on this analysis that your remedy selection is made.
A Remedy for Rants and Rages
We are all familiar with the jokes about the rages of women who are “out of estrogen” during menopause. This more acute feature of the hormonal swing definitely requires harnessing. The person who is sharp, witty and charismatic can become violent, obstinate and quarrelsome on a moment’s notice when the hormones surge. They are very sensitive, have high energy and are given to extremes so when the surge of heat from a hot flash comes over them they feel as though they are suffocating. They are normally loquacious and now the extremes of their symptoms cause them to be loud and opinionated, even haughty. They jump from one idea to another while telling of their complaints and they may shed tears of self-pity. This constant flow of words mimics their symptoms of heavy menstrual flow, the type that becomes much heavier as menopause approaches. The remedy that fits this picture is Lachesis which is made from the venom of the Bushmaster snake and has hemorrhagic qualities. Characteristically, they feel much better once the flow has started, in both speech, menses, flushes of heat and rages. The headaches of menopause can be unbearable in this person for the very reason that there is no flow of menses anymore and there is no relief of the headache from onset of flow. This headache will often be the reason they have contacted you and careful questioning about their menstrual history will reveal this keynote.
A woman who needs this remedy, Lachesis, is a powerful, passionate person. They can have palpitations with fainting spells during menopause and are quite concerned about their reputation should this happen in public or at a meeting. I have prescribed this remedy to a top executive who was accused by her subordinates of being manic-depressive in menopause. These people are jealous and suspicious and are much worse for alcohol so one might imagine how difficult it could be to harness the hormones in this case especially when tempers flare after employees get together after work for drinks!
A Remedy for Empty Nest Syndrome
Pulsatilla, a remedy made from the plant of the same name, is one I have used frequently from adolescence on through menopause. It is a remedy that has an affinity for the genito-urinary organs, stomach and bowels. It is represented in ailments from all phases of menses from delayed onset at puberty, dysmenorrhea and irregularities of menses to issues during pregnancy, post partum, peri-menopause and menopause. These I call my “hormonal people”. They have the mood swings that we call “PMS-ing”. Their moods are changeable, their appetites are changeable and their symptoms are changeable. In a word, they are very sensitive to change especially as it relates to the menstrual cycle. They are much worse before menses, during menses and from suppressed menses. It is so easy to love the person who needs Pulsatilla. They are sweet, affectionate, and want to please you. When they enter the change zone they can become demanding and manipulative to get attention. They are emotional and cry easily and can become quite depressed. This marked mood change is a keynote to look out for. I have prescribed Pulsatilla for the menopausal woman who experiences empty nest syndrome when the children leave home or college. The sense of abandonment and a forsaken feeling characterize her depression and she weeps often at the very thought of them leaving.
Physically, the gastrointestinal disturbances of irritable bowel syndrome are likely here with alternating states of constipation and diarrhea. Severe flushes of heat may accompany the bowel pains. Even though this person complains of being chilly, they cannot tolerate any form of heat. You might note that they have a strong desire for fresh, open air. Once again, the case taking is important to differentiate remedies and in the case of Pulsatilla, she may mention that she has never been truly well since puberty. Chronic headaches, sinus infections, allergies, discharges, bladder infections, digestive disturbances, ovarian cysts and anxiety are all conditions that she may complain of. The manner in which Pulsatilla relates her symptoms is one of a sweet, imploring tone, almost pleading for help and support.
Harnessing the hormones with homeopathy is largely a matter of taking a good case and doing your homework to find a remedy match. We call that finding the simillimum. In each case, you will be able to discern the return to homeostasis as the body regulates itself and symptoms disappear.
Lifestyle choices must also figure into the picture of healing. Stabilizing other hormones like insulin through diet and exercise and cortisol through stress management techniques is part of the totality of individualized treatment. Chiropractic care can lessen the aches and pains of muscles and joints and bring balance to the central nervous system. Removing subluxations, especially in the cervical spine, restores proper sympathetic/parasympathetic activity and can lessen the vasospastic phenomenon of the hot flash. Cranialsacral therapy has a positive impact on headaches and mood disorders among many other conditions of an imbalanced nervous system.
Integrative practice is uniquely positioned in the healthcare system to facilitate healing in the true sense of the word. We can reap the benefits of change ourselves by creating a community of like minded healers that you trust as practitioners. When we work in concert with other disciplines that enhance our own, we gain the respect of our patients and our outcomes improve. This is success. As Andrew Carnegie, the great industrialist said, the key to his success was surrounding himself with people smarter than he.