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Secret women’s herbs

Herbs PhotoIn cultures around the world, herbal medicines have traditionally been used to support the female reproductive system. Go Vita Naturopath, Jayne Tancred, reveals the secrets behind Ayurveda, traditional Chinese and western herbal medicines.

Shatavari supports women’s vitality

In Ayurveda, a system of natural medicine that has been practised in India and the surrounding region for centuries, shatavari (Asparagus racemosa) is regarded as one of the most important of the herbs used for women’s health. Shatavari is one of a group of remedies referred to in Ayurveda as rasayanas, which are attributed with an ability to strengthen vitality and promote overall health and wellbeing. Shatavari’s name means “She who possesses a hundred husbands” in reference to its reputation for having aphrodisiac properties and a rejuvenating effect on the female reproductive system. Shatavari is traditionally prescribed for a range of women’s health issues, particularly when the symptoms are accompanied by feelings of debility and fatigue. Amongst other indications, shatavari has traditionally been used to support fertility and promote conception, aid lactation, and address menopausal symptoms such as vaginal dryness.

Vitex relieves premenstrual symptoms

In European and North American herbal medicine, Vitex agnus-castus (also known as chaste tree) has traditionally been used to address symptoms that occur in the premenstrual phase of the female reproductive cycle. In clinical trials, it has been shown to improve a range of premenstrual symptoms, including breast pain, depressed moods, irritability, anger, mood swings, headache, constipation, cramps, food cravings and bloating. Vitex has also traditionally been used to treat irregular periods, and research suggests that it may help to normalise menstrual cycles that are either longer or shorter than desirable. Vitex is believed to achieve these effects by helping to restore balance to the complex interplay of hormones that fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle.

Rehmannia aids heavy or absent periods

Rehmannia is used to regulate menstruation in traditional Chinese medicine. It is also believed to promote blood production, and consequently is often indicated when periods are missing or menstrual blood flow is particularly heavy. Other symptoms it may assist with include dizziness, weakness, and tinnitus.

Zizyphus relieves nervous exhaustion

In traditional Chinese medicine, zizyphus is regarded as having an ability to nourish the Heart and calm the Spirit. It is used to relieve nervous exhaustion, anxiety, palpitations and insomnia, especially when these are associated with night sweats, as may be experienced by some women during the peri-menopausal period.

Could it be your hormones?

Have you ever been told that your premenstrual weepiness or menopausal forgetfulness is ‘all in your head’? Although it can be difficult for someone who’s never experienced such symptoms to comprehend, the consequences of hormonal imbalance on a woman’s body and mind are very real, and can have a significant impact on her relationships, career and quality of life. It has been estimated that 70-90 per cent of menstruating women experience premenstrual symptoms of some sort, with 30-40 per cent of them experiencing premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that is severe enough to disrupt their lives, and up to 8 per cent experiencing severe difficulties. Every woman’s premenstrual experience is different, and as many as 200 different symptoms have been documented to occur as part of PMS, but these are some of the most common:
  • Mood problems such as anxiety, depression, irritability, anger and hostility
  • Cognitive changes such as forgetfulness and a reduced ability to concentrate
  • Psychological changes, such as experiencing feelings of loneliness, poor self-esteem and restlessness
  • Behavioural changes such as changes in libido or feeling the urge to sleep more or less than at other times
  • Physical symptoms, such as abdominal cramps, back pain, headaches, fatigue, fluid retention, bloating and breast tenderness
  • Food cravings (usually for chocolate, sugar, carbohydrates or salty foods) and/or increased appetite
A wide range of symptoms may also be experienced during the peri-menopausal phase of life, which lasts on average for around four years (although many women experience problems for much shorter or much longer timeframes than that). Aside from changes in menstrual regularity and flow, menopause and peri-menopause tend to be associated with symptoms such as:
  • Hot flushes (which affect up to 85 per cent of peri-menopausal women, and are the most distressing symptom for many)
  • Night sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Diffi culty concentrating
  • Anxiety, depression and other mood problems
However, just because you’re not alone in experiencing premenstrual or menopausal symptoms doesn’t mean you need to put up with them. If your symptoms are severe enough to interfere with your daily life, it’s important that you consult your healthcare professional, who can arrange for the necessary tests to rule out other underlying health issues that may cause similar symptoms. For minor cases, taking herbal medicines and making changes to your diet and lifestyle may be beneficial. Drop in to the Mr Vitamins store and "ask a Naturopath" about which herbs may be the best ones for you.