Rhodiola is an adaptogen that raises serotonin and dopamine levels. It improves transport of tryptophan and 5HTP, which the body uses to make serotonin, into the brain and also acts as an MAO inhibitor. MAO inhibitors inhibit the breakdown of serotonin and dopamine. Studies have shown that rhodiola can increase serotonin levels in the brain by up to 30%. This means that it has an antidepressant action, lifting mood and reducing fatigue. It can also improve cognitive (mental) function, attention span, memory and alertness. It may help with post-viral recovery. Those who take antidepressants or antipsychotics should seek medical advice before taking rhodiola as they may interact dangerously. Along with eleutherococcus, it has been extensively studied by the Russians in their search for adaptogens to improve performance and endurance, both physical and mental. Rhodiola increases muscle energy both during and after exercise and so improves recovery time. I think of rhodiola as a slightly stimulating antidepressant whereas hypericum (St John’s Wort) is more of a relaxing antidepressant, so a good routine might be to take rhodiola in the morning and hypericum in the evening.
The menopause is a time when the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and reduced their production of oestrogen, and periods have stopped completely. During the peri-menopause the periods gradually stop and there is a time of adjustment to the new hormone levels. People often refer to this time as the menopause, so although technically speaking it is the perimenopause, I will refer to it as the menopause here. Women may experience hot flushes, night sweats, irregular and sometimes very heavy periods (flooding). Some women also experience fatigue and low mood as oestrogen affects the production of serotonin, a “feel good” chemical in the brain.
Sage is used specifically for treating hot flushes and night sweats as it acts upon the temperature regulating mechanism in the brain. It is not a hormonal remedy so it can be safely taken alongside hormonal treatment or by those who are advised not to use hormonal treatment due to a family history of breast cancer. In my experience it is an effective remedy with no side effects. Gradually, over a number of weeks the frequency of hot flushes and sweats should reduce significantly and, once this has built up, the effect lasts for a while if the treatment is stopped.
Magnesium supports hormone balance and can be used safely by women who are avoiding hormonal remedies due to a family history of breast cancer. It is also involved in energy production so can be helpful to reduce symptoms of fatigue. Magnesium is needed for muscle relaxation, so low levels can cause muscle cramps and restless legs.
There are a number of herbal remedies that contain plant oestrogens, known as phyto-oestrogens. The most popularly known include soya, red clover and black cohosh. Phyto-oestrogens are weaker than HRT or the body’s own oestrogens, so they do not have the side effects of HRT. In a woman with low oestrogen levels the phyto-oestrogen molecules are recognised by the body’s oestrogen receptors as oestrogen. Soya in tablet form is usually sold as “soya isoflavones”. Phyto-oestrogens are not as strongly acting as HRT but they reduce any symptoms and help to ease the transition to the new hormone levels.
Agnus castus is a herbal remedy that is thought to have an action similar to progesterone. It is useful for reducing symptoms of heavy periods and flooding that can occur before the periods stop.
Siberian ginseng is also known as eleutherococcus. It is an adaptogen, which means it helps the body adapt to stress. I’ve found it helpful for treating low energy levels, taken in the mornings.
St John’s Wort
St John’s wort is quite well known as a herbal “antidepressant”. It is used for treating low mood and anxiety as it increases levels of serotonin, which can be lowered in the menopause. It should not be taken with antidepressant drugs and it can interact with some other medications so seek medical advice if you are on any medication, including the contraceptive pill. If you are severely depressed also seek professional advice.
Rhodiola increases serotonin levels. It is useful for low mood and low energy. It also can have an aphrodisiac effect in some people. It should not be taken with antidepressant drugs.