Menopause occurs when the ovaries stop producing large amounts of estrogen and progesterone, two hormones intimately involved with the menstrual cycle. Modern medicine tends to view this process as an unhealthy state of deficiency. This is because certain diseases have been shown to be related to the lack of hormones in a woman’s body. For instance, osteoporosis, the loss of density in the bones, can occur more quickly. Also, blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides often start increasing, so that women become more prone to heart disease.
From an Ayurvedic point of view, the loss of estrogen merely sheds lights on underlying imbalances that become noticeable when the added protection of estrogen is gone. If a woman’s physiology is balanced, Ayurveda suggests that she can have a comfortable menopause.
Ayurveda looks at two levels of effects of menopause—short term and long term.
Short Term Effects
Short-term effects of menopause include hot flashes, vaginal dryness and mood swings. To determine the cause of these symptoms, an Ayurvedic expert examines the balance of doshas in the body.
Menopause marks a major transition in a woman’s life as she moves from a time of life influenced by Pitta to one influenced by Vata. Thus Vata tendencies often increase at this time. Classic signs of Vata include thinner, drying skin and mucous membranes, thinning of the hair and bones, lighter sleep and an increased tendency to worry. Ayurveda suggests that these symptoms can be largely avoided by keeping Vata in balance through diet, herbs and daily routines.
Imbalanced Pitta also plays a part in menopausal symptoms. Because Pitta regulates hormonal balance, heat production and metabolism, it is this dosha that is primarily involved with hot flashes.
During the years of menstruation, impurities in the body get eliminated each month with a woman’s menstrual flow. Ayurveda recognizes the profound purification process that occurs during menstruation and for this reason recommends light activity and diet during this time of the month. When this monthly cleansing stops, excess Pitta can begin build up.
The Ayurvedic approach is to balance Pitta through diet and herbal recommendations. Additionally, it is recommended to reserve one day a month for home cleansing, thus mimicking the monthly purification the body naturally experienced with menstruation. The classic Ayurveda purification therapies, known as Panchakarma, can be very helpful during this transition time.
Ideally, if you are approaching menopause or find yourself experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, a consultation with an Ayurveda expert can identify specific imbalances and determine what measures can best help restore a healthy balance for your individual physiology.
Long Term Effects
To understand the Ayurvedic approach to long-term effects of menopause, such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, it is necessary to understand how Ayurveda views the development of the bodily tissues.
According to Ayurveda, tissues are formed sequentially in seven steps, with each step relying on the previous one for proper nourishment and balance. The step responsible for fat, sugar and hormone metabolism is called “medha”. The following step is called “ashti” and is responsible for bone and metabolism.
If medha is blocked by impurities, then fat, sugar and hormonal metabolism will be blocked. Women with medha out of balance will be more prone to higher cholesterol, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And if medha is out of balance, the next step in the development of the tissues, ashti, does not receive proper nourishment. As a result, the bones become weak, as in osteoporosis.
Thus many of the symptoms of menopauseare interrelated through the functioning and formation of the tissues. This is why it is important to focus on creating a healthy balance years before you begin the transition through menopause. When the tissues are balanced at the onset of menopause, symptoms of imbalanced tissues, such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, should not appear.
Again, the traditional rejuvenation and purification treatments of Ayurveda, Panchakarma treatments, are especially effective in balancing the transformation of the tissues. Ideally Panchakarma should be taken before the onset of menopause to help ensure a graceful and easy transition.