Though hot flashes get most of the menopause attention, unfortunately, these physical symptoms are not the whole story of the challenge of menopause. Menopause can bring with it a whole host of psychological struggles, including depression, anxiety and insomnia.
The time around menopause is a time of increased risk of depression (Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am 2011;38(3): 609–625). Anxiety can be as common as hot flashes, and about 50 percent of menopausal women experience problems sleeping. Even perimenopause can bring mood symptoms for 10-20 percent of women.
Saffron: Menopause & Depression
Hot flashes are horrible. Menopause that comes with hot flashes and depression can be unbearable.
Saffron is a remarkable, but still little known, antidepressant herb. A new study looked at menopausal women who were suffering from both hot flashes and major depressive disorder. The 56 women in this double-blind study were suffering from 14 hot flashes a week or more. They were given a placebo or two 15 mg capsules of saffron stigma extract a day for six weeks. The saffron worked way better than the placebo. There was significantly greater improvement on the Hot Flash-Related Daily Interference Scale and on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale. The saffron was as safe as placebo: a big advantage over hormone therapy and antidepressants (Arch Gynecol Obstet 2018;297(3):717-724).
St. John’s Wort: Menopause & Depression
This new study found that the great antidepressant herb St. John’s wort is great for menopause too because it helped not only the depression, which was expected, but also the hot flashes. Eighty percent of the herb group was depression free versus 5.7 percent of the placebo group, and both the frequency and intensity of hot flashes decreased significantly more in the St. John’s wort group (Complement Ther Med 2019;45:109-13).
Pumpkins Seed Oil: Menopause & Depression
St. John’s wort and saffron may not surprise you for the depression of menopause, but pumpkin seed oil might. When 35 menopausal women were given either 2 g a day of pumpkin seed oil or of wheat germ oil for 12 weeks in a double-blind study, the pumpkin seed oil really worked. There was significant improvement in menopausal symptoms compared to the wheat germ oil group. The women in the pumpkin seed oil group had fewer hot flashes, less headaches and less joint pain. And they were also less depressed. Interestingly, the women in the pumpkin seed oil group reported having less feelings of being unloved. The women in the pumpkin seed oil group also had significantly greater increases in heart healthy HDL cholesterol and significantly greater decreases in diastolic blood pressure. This intriguing study shows that pumpkin seed oil can help with the physical and psychological symptoms and that it may even make you feel more appreciated and loved (Climacteric 2011;14(5):558-64)!
Tomato Juice: Menopause & Depression & Anxiety
If pumpkins surprise you, tomatoes might really surprise you. An uncontrolled study of 93 women gave them 200 ml of unsalted tomato juice twice a day for eight weeks. At both four weeks and eight weeks, tomato juice significantly decreased scores on the Menopause Symptom Scale, which measures hot flashes, sweating, chills, heartbeat, headache, fatigue, aching joints or muscles, depression, insomnia and irritability. And tomato juice also significantly improved scores on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (Nutr J 2015;14:34).
Valerian: Menopause & Insomnia
Insomnia is a serious struggle for women going through menopause: about 50 percent of menopausal women experience sleep disturbances. But a four-week triple-blind study of 100 postmenopausal women with insomnia found that quality of sleep improved significantly more with valerian than with placebo. 30 percent of women in the valerian group had improved sleep versus only 4 percent in the placebo group. The dose was 530 mg concentrated valerian extract twice a day (Menopause 2011;18:951-5). And when 100 menopausal women with sleep disturbances were given a placebo or a combination of valerian and lemon balm, there was significantly better improvement in sleep in the herbal group (Complement Ther Clin Pract 2013;19:193-6).
It may not come as much of a surprise that the greatest herb for insomnia can help menopausal women with insomnia. What is much more surprising is that valerian doesn’t just help the insomnia of menopause, it helps the menopause. A new triple-blind study gave a placebo or 530 mg of valerian twice a day for two months to 60 postmenopausal women. Both the frequency and severity of hot flashes improved significantly more in the valerian group (Women Health 2018;58(3):297-304).
And this is not the first study to show that valerian helps hot flashes. An earlier study of 68 women found that, when compared to placebo, 225 mg of valerian given three times a day significantly reduces the frequency and severity of hot flashes. Hot flash severity dropped from 9.82 to 5.23 after eight weeks on valerian, while the placebo group only changed from 9.96 to 9.86. As for frequency, the valerian group improved from 7.91 hot flashes a day to only 4.83 while the women on the placebo went from 7.73 to 7.75 (Iran J Pharm Res 2013;12(1):217-222).
Black Cohosh: Menopause & Depression, Anxiety & Insomnia
What herb can help with the physical symptoms of menopause, depression, anxiety and insomnia? Black cohosh: the best researched natural treatment for menopause. That research clearly shows that, in addition to its mastery of physical symptoms from hot flashes to vaginal dryness and thinning, black cohosh is better than HRT or valium for alleviating the depression, anxiety, irritability, nervousness and sleep disturbances that menopause can bring (Gynecology 1982;1:14- 16; Med Welt 1985;36:871- 4; Therepeutikon 1987;1:23-31).
Hops: Menopause & Depression, Anxiety & Desire
A double-blind study gave 500 mg of hops or placebo to women with hot flashes for 90 days. On the Greene Menopausal Scale, the women on hops had significantly lower total symptom scores: there was a 90 percent decrease in the hops group versus only a 3.6 percent drop in the placebo group. Hot flashes dropped by 94.5 percent in the hops group but by only 0.8 percent in the placebo group. But the women didn’t only have significantly better scores for hot flashes and other physical symptoms. They also had significantly better scores for anxiety, depression and loss of interest in sex (Complement Ther Clin Pract 2016;23:130-5).
Fenugreek: Menopause & Depression, Anxiety, Insomnia & Desire
The list of menopausal symptoms herbs can help keeps getting longer. A double-blind study gave 500 mg of fenugreek seed husk extract or placebo twice a day to women who were experiencing three to five hot flashes daily. The women on placebo had little improvement: from 34.25 to 30.49 on the Greene Climacteric Scale; the women on fenugreek had significantly greater improvement: from 34.83 to 19.64. Hot flashes decreased by 47.8 percent on fenugreek, and 32 percent of the women had no hot flashes at all. There was significant improvement in night sweats (57.1 percent), insomnia (75 percent) and headaches (53.9 percent) compared to placebo. Vaginal dryness improved significantly more in the fenugreek group. Fenugreek was also superior to placebo for psychological symptoms. Mood swings, depression, anxiety and loss of sexual desire all improved significantly more. Compared to placebo, there was also a significant improvement in quality of life on fenugreek. The women who took fenugreek experienced improvements in physical and mental fatigue, concentration and interest in daily work as well as overall health, mental health and well-being (Phytother Res 2016;30(11):1775-84).
So, natural supplements can help, not only the whole host of physical symptoms of menopause, but the whole range of psychological symptoms too, from depression, anxiety and insomnia to loss of sexual desire. VR
Linda Woolven is a master herbalist, acupuncturist and solution-focused counsellor with a virtual practice in Toronto. Linda and Ted Snider are the authors of several books on natural health. You can see their books at www.thenaturalpathnewsletter.com. They are also the authors of the natural health newsletter The Natural Path. The Natural Path is a natural health newsletter specifically designed to help health food stores increase their sales by educating their customers. The Natural Path contains no advertising and never mentions a brand name. To increase your sales by educating your customers, start giving The Natural Path Newsletter to your customers today. Contact Ted Snider at email@example.com or (416)782-8211.