Going with the flow: talking women's hormones
I have seen two media reports recently about the adverse effects of hormone treatments for women; HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) and the contraceptive pill. There are a number of studies which highlight longer term impacts of using hormones. The contraceptive pill has been associated with impairment in complex emotion recognition (2) and depression in later life when used in formative teenage years (3). HRT has been linked with increased risk in breast cancer (4).
Further reporting in the media included comments from Doctors and Gynecologists emphasizing the potential benefits of hormone therapies (for example reduced risks from heart disease and fractures) and the reduction in symptoms a person may be suffering from (5).
So the general advice is for women to weigh up the pros and cons for themselves of the risks and benefits of taking hormone medications. Sounds easy enough but is it so simple in practice?
A human body is an intricate system, and every individual has unique differences which result in varying strengths and weaknesses. These unique aspects can be impacted by genetic predisposition, environmental and lifestyle factors.
The endocrine/hormonal system is a perfect example of the concept of balance within the body. There are control mechanisms that maintain hormone levels within narrow limits, and certain hormones can have effects opposite to other hormones – so balance is important (1).
The endocrine system is composed of the hypothalamus and pituitary in the brain, and various end organs such as the thyroid, ovaries/testes, and adrenal glands. All of these organs are interconnected, therefore affecting one, impacts upon another.
So if we change the levels of hormones in our systems by taking HRT or the contraceptive pill, we impact our whole system.
Taking additional hormones also doesn’t resolve the underlying cause of symptoms that we might take HRT for. We might think that because the levels of oestrogen are decreasing as a result of menopause, if we simply increase the levels, we have solved the problem. But this is not the case. The menopause is a natural process of change, and if it is not going smoothly (and causing symptoms) we would be better served to resolve why it is not progressing comfortably.
The menopause is a natural development stage. A transitional stage into the next phase of life, where, as Melissa Assilem puts it: ‘women find their power and their voice to speak out about what they were unable to speak out about earlier in life’ (6). Assilem in her book devoted to the menopause discusses the historical aspects resulting in society’s view of older women and the menopause today. Women have often been singly represented as a nurturer associated with motherhood. This can result in women struggling to take on a different role when they are no longer the guardian of their young, and we might refer to ‘empty nest syndrome’. Older women are more likely to have been portrayed as witches or sibyls and given negative connotations and we (as a society) try and develop ways to ‘stay young’. This denies the recognition of the importance of older wiser women and their potential power within society. Additionally Assilem discusses that reaching maturity is not an end of sexuality because for women procreation and sexuality are different things. This is linked to the cyclical nature of women’s rhythms and understanding these (and our own individual) is hugely empowering.
Women physically reach menopause between the ages of 45-55, when eggs are no longer released monthly and oestrogen levels naturally decline. Symptoms can include hot flushes, night sweats, reduced libido, discomfort during sex/vaginal dryness, difficulty sleeping, low mood, anxiety, and problems with concentration and memory (7).
The kind of menopause each woman experiences is individual and the type and depth of symptoms can be indications of an in-balance in the whole system, whether physical, mental and/or emotional. Conventional treatments include hormone ‘replacement’, dietary changes, regular exercise and cognitive behaviour therapy (7).
Melissa Assilem writes a tirade “You tell me I am deficient. Do you mean I am under par, under normal, abnormal? Make an informed choice you tell me. Choose which way you would like to spend your old age. With cancer, or with broken bones, out of your mind, or off your head? Quite frankly a heart attack sounds wonderful” (6)p91.
Of course there are other ways. Rather than ‘be saved from’ the menopause, we can learn to understand and embrace it. We can understand the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of the body, and significantly, those of the individual.
Homeopathy considers all aspects of a person’s past and present health, genetic predisposition and lifestyle factors. So where there are symptoms, they can be understood; the physical, mental and emotional symptoms as a unique representation of your individual journey.
Homeopathic remedies are individual substances each with their own vibrational resonance. Each remedy, taken in material dose can cause symptoms with particular details of how, when, where they affect the body. In homeopathic dose, the substance is diluted to no longer contain material dose, and it is the energy of the substance/remedy which stimulates the energy of the body to re-balance physically, mentally and emotionally.
For example, considering hot flushes, there are different remedies covering different experiences from hot flushes rising upwards, alternating with chill, during or after menses and many more considering times of day or sensations felt.
A remedy is chosen which reflects the whole symptom picture – to give holistic stimulus and response. It may be that after response to a particular remedy, another is indicated, this depends upon the individual and their life, their disposition and how they have responded to events.
So the wonderful aspect of homeopathy is how remedies can be used as stimulus to unravel and resolve the past causes of symptoms.
“The years of our lives are imprinted in our wrinkles,
Carved in our skin like the rings of a tree
Dating us to events in our lives
Which have both scarred
And sculpted us.” (6)p116
The contraceptive pill:
Melissa Assilem highlights that there is evidence pointing to the fact that menopausal symptoms are worse when a woman has been on the pill.
The pill is commonly portrayed as a major part of the post war liberation of women, however it has also prompted health scares and moral debates (8). Has the pill enabled greater sexual freedom, what do we mean by this and is there a price to pay for it?
We can return to consider the cyclical nature of women’s rhythms. The cycles of menstruation are of death and re-birth and women have the opportunity every month to grow from this process. Here is one guide to tuning in with your femininity (9);
Day 1: the first day of bleeding, the old womb lining begins to break away. A time to go within and clear old emotional and physical baggage.
Days 2-7: bleeding continues and during this time there is a sense of vulnerability, so avoiding loud or harsh scenes or being around those who are not comforting is suggested. It is a time to stay within and undisturbed, to allow yourself time to meditate, write, create art and let go of old thoughts or belief systems that no longer serve you.
Days 8-14 (ovulation phase): after the lining has been shed, and the old energy of last month has been removed, the body starts preparing to release an egg. This is the peak of feminine creativity and is a time of increased sexual energy, increased intuition and placing energy outwards into the world.
It is the perfect time to start new projects, give birth to new ideas or even create new life.
Studies have been shown that men are subconsciously more attracted to women when they are in this phase.
Days 15-21 (harvest phase): This post-ovulatory phase allows reflection on achievements over the last month. This stems from deep within the psyche when a woman would feel either relief or regret from not falling pregnant. This phase is often about change and confronting things in life that are no longer of benefit. It is during this time you can discover what you need to let go of.
Days 22-28 (lining preparing to shed): Once it has been determined what needs to be removed from your life, the lining prepares to shed. This phase is about preparing to clear all from your life that has not been serving your greatest good.
This is a time to surrender and make yourself less emotionally available to others. This is the clarity phase, where you can realise what needs to be removed from your life and make the appropriate steps to begin the new cycle.
“It is often not until a woman reaches menopause does she realise what she has missed.
Learn how to celebrate your cycle again by being conscious of your femininity and appreciating that your period is really a time of deep healing and spiritual connection with yourself and with mother earth. Forget the idea that your period is an inconvenience or a curse and tap into the reservoir of feminine power that lies within- nurture, shed your skin and create” Tanaaz(9).
This is just one guide and you might prefer to find another or create your own. But by understanding and accepting your body’s rhythms in a way that suits you, you are enabling yourself to go with the flow, to celebrate your natural spirit and deepen your connection with all around. This is a truly wonderful gift, and one we may wish to carefully consider before giving up.
With a deeper insight and understanding of your body and it’s cycles, the contraceptive pill, for many, becomes unnecessary. There are also many natural contraceptive aids out there, often with apps for ease of use, as well as using barrier methods of contraception for additional health protection and reduced risk of pregnancy. Personally I find this approach much more empowering with a fuller sense of freedom to be myself, than I found being enslaved to a daily pill. Interestingly the homeopathic remedy for synthetic oestrogen/the pill does include as part of its mental and emotional picture ‘losing oneself’ – whether to the needs of others and becoming a doormat, or losing a sense of self.
The idea of deepening your self-connection is wonderful, but it mostly doesn’t happen overnight and it is an individual journey to reach a level of understanding and contentment that suits you. On a personal level I remember a time when I first heard about using a ‘moon cup’ to collect the menstrual blood. I was horrified and couldn’t imagine how that would even work! Now, years later, I love it(!), because it is super convenient, saves lots of waste from not needing tampons or towels and most of all, yes, I have much more connection within. Connection both physically; with what is happening when, and emotionally; in understanding myself.
Menstruation is not always a smooth time for all women and we can have varying symptoms and experiences that again homeopathy can help with. Each individual has a unique picture of physical, mental and emotional experiences and symptoms. Finding the homeopathic remedy to match this resonance, like for like, stimulates the body to respond to re-balance to your equilibrium.
Everybody’s journey with homeopathy or any mode of healing is personal to suit themselves and where they currently are. I have found that taking prescribed homeopathic remedies has always resulted in self-development, whether I have had remedies which also dissolve menstrual period pains or emotional anxieties. At some point without noticing when it specifically occurred, I also realise that my perception and understanding of myself and of others and the world in which we all live, has broadened. That is a health and wellbeing model I think is worth spreading! #tryhomeopathy
If you have any questions or would like to borrow a copy of Melissa Assilem’s book ‘Women ripening through the menopause’ please get in touch.
Rebecca Maunder RsHom
www.naturally-well.co.uk / Rebecca@naturally-well.co.uk / 07584 119252
1. Gascoigne, Dr Stephen: The Clinical Medicine guide, A Holistic Perspective, Jigme Press 2002
2. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2018.01041/full Study: oral contraceptives impair complex emotion recognition in healthy women. Pahnke et al, published 11.02.19.
3. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2552796 Study: Association of Hormonal Contraception with Depression. Wessel Skovlund et al, November 2016. Study of over 1 million women in Denmark.
4. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/aug/29/breast-cancer-risk-from-using-hrt-is-twice-what-was-thought The paper, by the global Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, pulled together data from 58 studies around the world on more than 108,000 women who had developed breast cancer after taking menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) – they say “replacement” therapy or HRT is a misnomer and a marketing description.
5. BBC Radio 4 https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07kfmmc 30.8.19 1pm
6. Assilem, Melissa. Women ripening through the menopause. Assilem @ Helios, Printed in Canada, 2003.