What is the Menopause?
The arrival of the menopause is synonymous with major upheaval in a woman’s life. Even before you become a menopausal woman, it’s the period leading up to it that’s important, because that’s when the first inconveniences occur. This is known as the pre-menopause or peri-menopause. Of variable duration, the pre-menopause lasts until the last menstrual period. Thereafter, the menopause is established when there has been no menstrual period for 12 months. In most cases, the menopause is established in women aged around 50. The period following the menopause, known as the post-menopause, is also characterised by specific symptoms in menopausal women.
Where does the menopause come from?
The menopause is an obligatory and natural milestone in a woman’s life. It is defined as the cessation of menstruation, the loss of ovarian follicular activity and the associated hormonal secretion (oestrogen and progesterone). The pre-menopause (or peri-menopause) is the period preceding the menopause and is the consequence of the drop in progesterone production. When estrogen production ceases, the menopause sets in. This generally brings with it a host of symptoms that can have a major impact on quality of life. To counter this, there are natural measures and solutions to deal with the various problems.
What are the first signs of the menopause?
The drop in progesterone secretion leads to the appearance of certain signs that signal the onset of the menopause. The signs of menopause are common. These include shorter cycles (25 days instead of 28) and irregular periods. The absence of progesterone secretion also causes certain symptoms, such as tense breasts, pain before periods and abdominal bloating.
How long does the menopause last?
It is not relevant to talk about a time frame for the menopause. The menopause is a finite state in which the woman is no longer able to proceed. Once declared, this process is irreversible and therefore accompanies the “menopausal” woman for the rest of her life. In terms of time, it is above all the stage leading up to it that we are talking about: the pre-menopause. It lasts an average of 4 years and is considered to be over when women stop menstruating for at least 12 months.
What are the symptoms during the menopause?
Although there are a host of symptoms, every woman experiences the menopause differently. Some are completely symptom-free, with only the cessation of menstruation to deplore, while others experience unpleasant physical and psychological problems. These problems, caused by a hormonal deficiency in oestrogen and progesterone, are called “climacteric” and take different forms:
- Hot flushes: These are very common, affecting between 50% and 85% of women, depending on the survey. They cause sweating, palpitations and shivering, and are accompanied by trembling, dizziness and a feeling of unease. Hot flushes often appear at night and cause night sweats, which disrupt sleep. Episodes can last from a few seconds to several minutes, and can last for more than 10 years.
- Mood changes: Mood disorders (irritability, anxiety, depression) affect 30% of women.
- Sleep disorders: Difficulty in staying asleep or insomnia may occur, particularly due to night sweats. These problems affect 30% of women.
- Vaginal symptoms: Vaginal dryness, itching and pain during sexual intercourse may occur. Decreased libido 20% of mood swings,
- Joint pain: Diffuse and changeable, more marked in the morning.
- Weight gain: The menopause can be accompanied by weight gain.
- Urinary disorders.
Some menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes, may continue, but they tend to diminish in frequency and intensity over time. Others are long-lasting, such as vaginal dryness and urinary problems. After the menopause, the risk of certain health conditions increases, such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and certain chronic illnesses.
Acting on the menopause with natural remedies
To alleviate these symptoms, some women turn to medicinal plants and mushrooms and other remedies to combat hot flushes, irritability and mood disorders. Medicinal mushrooms are known for their adaptogenic effect, which means they can be interesting to use during the menopause.
Hormone-regulating medicinal mushrooms
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is known for its ability to regulate hormones, particularly oestrogen, which decreases considerably during the menopause. Preclinical and animal studies have shown that Reishi contains molecules that can act as hormone modulators. Some results have shown that Reishi extract has an effect similar to that of oestrogen. The mechanism may be linked to its binding to the oestrogen receptor, thereby affecting the secretion and expression of the oestrogen receptor.
Similarly, Cordyceps sinensis, known as ‘Himalayan Viagra’ in reference to its geographical origin and traditional use, has interesting benefits in hormone regulation. Studies on animal models have shown it to modulate the release of sex hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone, controlling reproductive activity and restoring altered functions.
Medicinal mushrooms can help to alleviate hot flushes by reducing the hormonal fluctuations responsible for these intense heat episodes. They may also be useful for regulating hormone levels to treat related conditions such as osteoporosis, if safety is fully guaranteed.
Improving sleep and mood during the menopause
Research into help for sleep disorders leads to Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), which has been used in Asian medicine for over 2,000 years. The “mushroom of eternal life” plays an important role in Chinese medicine and contains ß-glucans such as ganoderan, as well as triterpenes in over 120 different compounds. Reishi is interesting because scientific studies have examined its effects on the regulation of the nervous system and the quality of sleep.
Science sees in Reishi the potential to positively influence sleep. Although there is as yet no confirmation, a fairly recent animal study, dating from 2021, provides indications of the effect of Reishi on sleep. In this study, administration of the acidic part of the G. lucidum mycelium alcohol extract (GLAA) resulted in a reduced time to sleep and a longer sleep duration in mice. Scientists are also investigating indications that ganoderma may regulate the central nervous system (CNS).
Reishi has also been shown to interact with what is known as the GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) pathway. Known as the ‘brakes of the brain’, GABA is known for its role in regulating sleep and anxiety. By stimulating GABA receptors, Ganoderma lucidum can promote relaxation, induce sleep and improve the overall quality of sleep.
On the other hand, Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) is known for its benefits on mood and emotional state in general. For example, a clinical study showed that Hericium reduced irritability and anxiety in post-menopausal women. It also improves sleep quality.
Mushrooms as an anti-inflammatory
During the menopause, inflammatory processes can be triggered, leading to symptoms such as joint and muscle pain. A large number of mushrooms such as Cordyceps, Shiitake, Reishi and Maitake have reported anti-inflammatory effects through their bioactive molecules. The anti-inflammatory compounds found in mushrooms make up a very diverse group in terms of chemical structure. They include polysaccharides such as beta-1,3-1,6-D-glucans, terpenoids, phenolic compounds and many other low molecular weight molecules.
The aim of future studies must be to confirm these indications and, in the case of animal studies, to determine whether these effects are also transmissible to humans. If they succeed, reishi will become even more interesting for women going through the menopause.
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