Can herbal medicine help with menopause? A medical herbalist answers.

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'I have found good results for hot flushes as well as restlessness, anxiety and brain fog'. 

We know from putting together our Hot Flush 'symptoms' section that herbs may help to deal with irksome menopause symptoms such as anxiety, hot flushes and low libido, to name a few. As every woman's menopause is different, so too are the options we have and the treatment decisions we make, horses for courses, as we like to say! We wanted to know more about herbalism as a treatment option for women in menopause, so as always we turned to an expert.

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We spoke to medical herbalist, Marion Colledge (Bsc), about how western herbalism can help relieve menopause symptoms.

Is Western Herbal Medicine something that is more widely used in other countries as part of managing health issues?

Herbal Medicine has been used for thousands of years but since the arrival of modern medicine has taken a back seat, particularly in the more developed world. However, in recent years some countries like Germany have been at the forefront of bringing plant based medicine back to the mainstream, especially for common ailments like colds, coughs and UTIs. But there is also a growing interest in managing issues like hormone imbalances naturally where possible. The UK still has a bit of catching up to do in terms of available information and advice.

Do women come to you for other health issues and you identify menopause through assessment, or do they come to you specifically for support around menopause?

Often women come to me specifically for support with managing their menopausal symptoms. Over the years this has become the area I deal with the most, probably through word of mouth but also because there is more information available than previously. Sometimes women may come with unexplained anxiety or sleeping difficulties and it turns out that hormonal imbalance is at the root of it because they are entering peri-menopause.

Are you seeing more women with menopause issues than previously?

It is a growing area in my practice and I think it is related to the fact that more women are reluctant to take HRT if there may be a natural option to alleviate their symptoms. I am not against HRT and it is a very personal decision for each woman but it is advisable to inform yourself and make sure you are aware of the positives as well as the potential negative side effects.

How do you identify a treatment plan?

The first appointment is a very in-depth hour long consultation during which I try to find out as much as possible about the current issues as well as the medical history, lifestyle, diet and general health of my patient. Then I ask what the patient would like to get out of the treatment and after that I devise a treatment plan. This will typically include a herbal prescription as well as some lifestyle or dietary advice.

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How long would a woman need to take a prescription? Is treatment short term or long term? 

It really depends on the severity of symptoms and what is being treated. For menopausal complaints it is usually a minimum of 6 months but can be several years. For other health issues it may only be a few weeks.

How are 'preparations' taken?

Usually as tinctures or teas and typically I blend 4 - 6 herbs together to achieve the most efficient and beneficial mix. This is then taken daily.

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How soon might women expect to see a change in any symptoms?

For hormonal issues it may take 2-3 cycles or up to 3 months to see the full potential of the herbs but some symptoms like hot flushes tend to respond quicker after a couple of weeks. If a woman takes the herbs longer term the prescription needs to be tweaked occasionally as the natural hormone levels change and with that the symptoms.

Which symptoms respond best to western herbal medicine?

I have found good results for hot flushes as well as restlessness, anxiety and brain fog. Often the whole picture improves and the patient tells me they are generally feeling better and feel better able to cope.

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Can herbal treatments be taken alongside HRT?

If someone is already taking HRT then I would not prescribe any herbs that could interfere with this. Also HRT is more powerful and would therefore negate the need for hormone-balancing herbs. But if there was a need for herbal treatment in another area, for example digestive problems, then herbs can still be taken. I always make sure there are no herb-drug interactions with anyone who is taking any other medication.

For anyone on HRT or any other medication it is advisable to consult a Medical Herbalist rather than self-medicating with herbs.

Where should women look to find a registered Medical Herbalist? 

The National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH.org.uk) has a register of fully qualified and insured Medical Herbalists. 

How much, approximately, could an assessment and subsequent treatment cost?

This varies depending on where you live but an initial consultation would be approximately £50-60 plus approximately £6-8 per week for the herbal prescription. Follow up consultations tend to be shorter and may cost around £30-40.

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Marion practices at the Honor Oak Wellness Rooms in South East London (www.honoroakwellnessrooms.com) or she can be contacted personally, details are on her website www.marioncolledge.com

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