Time of change – time of the beginning of a new phase of life:
Menopause made easier with medicinal mushrooms
The time of menopause (climacteric), in which the female body converts from a fertile to an infertile phase, represents a great upheaval in the life of the woman, and is always the chance for a new beginning. The duration of menopause is different for every woman, it lasts over a period of about ten years and usually lies between 45 and 60 years of life.
This stage of life is associated with philosophical reflections on the second half of life and is often characterized by fear of loss of attractiveness, age and disease. Not only to relieve symptoms, but also to live up to the beauty standards of our oriented-to-youthfulness society, many women are still willing to undergo hormone replacement therapy and the associated risks involved.
Critical voices concerning hormone replacement therapy
However, now even the medical establishment is putting hormone replacement to the test. There is an undeniable connection between oestrogen doses and breast cancer, since oestrogen stimulates the growth of oestrogen sensitive tissues such as breast and uterus. Also, studies have shown that the degradation products of synthetic oestrogens can cause DNA damage, which works carcinogenically in the tissue. The risks and benefits must therefore be weighed carefully. Thus, increasingly, alternative, non-hormonal forms of therapy find application.
Time of change – the “climacteric syndrome “
At the onset of menopause the ovaries produce less and less sex hormones. While the hormone balance changes, various distinct complaints, which can be completely different from woman to woman, occur. Since oestrogen acts in the brain to control body temperature, fluctuations in the hormone values can induce hot flashes and sweating. Both symptoms are amongst the most common complaints that women in menopause suffer from. Furthermore sleep disturbances, depressive upsets, dry mucous membranes and thus problems during sex can arise. According to studies, about two-thirds of all women experience moderate to severe menopausal symptoms, only one third feel they are not physically impaired.
The physical and emotional changes associated with menopause need not necessarily lead to discomfort. The switch to the new life can be supported with substances from nature, such as phytoestrogens, herbal remedies such as, for example, cimicifuga, yam and medicinal mushrooms, which with their active ingredients can help body and soul to find balance.
The endocrine system is a highly sensitive sophisticated communication system of the body. Hormones affect our mood: Menstrual cycles, pregnancy, the time after childbirth and menopause can cause depression, since the brain and the reproductive organs are closely connected by a complex series of feedback mechanisms. There is a complex interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary, ovaries and the numerous hormones. Menopausal complaints are strongly dependent on the balance of GnRH, FSH, oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone sex hormones. The production of these hormones during the climacteric unfortunately does not decrease linearly, but in stages and/or irregularly. An excess sometimes actuates some of the same symptoms as a deficit.
The oestrogen levels in the blood vary enormously in the course of a cycle. Oestrogens play an important role particularly in the first half of the menstrual cycle. A member of the family of natural oestrogens is oestradiol 17-beta, the most potent natural oestrogen in women. It is almost exclusively produced in special cells of the mature follicle in the ovary. It is important for the growth of the bones, but also particularly for the development of female sexual characteristics, as well as the monthly growth of endometrium (uterine lining) in the first half of the cycle. Estriol is especially produced during pregnancy and is less effective. Furthermore, oestrone is assigned to the natural oestrogens. Before menopause it plays a minor role, but after menopause it gains importance when the ovaries hardly produce any more oestradiol.
Role of oestrogen before and after menopause
The essential task of the oestradiol type consists of stimulating the growth of the breasts and uterus, participating in the maturation of the follicles and so ultimately preparing for the birth of a child. Most likely it is also serves to protect the heart and brain function and to maintain bone strength. When the ovaries slowly discontinue their function, the androgens produced in the adrenal gland are increasingly converted into oestrogens. Furthermore, the body helps itself in that now other body tissues, particularly the fatty tissue around the stomach and hip, begin producing increased amounts of oestrogens and thus guarantee residual oestrogen levels. Particularly obese women often have relatively many oestrogens in the blood, even after menopause.
After the fertile period of life oestrone becomes the predominant oestrogen. Post-menopausal it is produced largely from DHEA, the precursor of androgens, in the adrenal cortex, but also in adipose (fatty) tissue.
Usually oestrogen is considered to have a general protective effect. When at the beginning of the menopause, oestrogen levels decrease, then the fat embedded under the skin is released into the blood. The skin becomes wrinkled, the risk for cardiovascular diseases, arteriosclerosis, heart attack and osteoporosis increases. However, even after menopause the body produces a small amount of oestrogen – in the fat cells, the adrenal glands, muscles and in the liver and brain.
In the female organism, androgens usually exist in much higher concentration than the oestrogens. There are four androgens present in different concentrations: testosterone, androstenedione, androsterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Women produce androgens in the ovaries and the adrenal cortex. The main task of androgens is to increase sexual energy. They act inter alia on building connective tissue and the bone and muscle mass and also have an influence on the formation of red blood cells.
For most women, the testosterone level drops in menopause, but for some it may also rise. A lack of oestrogen in the post menopause can lead to a relative excess of male hormones. This can show in increased body hair (facial hair, hair on the breast).
In general, many typical menopausal symptoms are attributed to declining oestrogen levels. However, attention should also be paid to another female hormone which is often ignored: progesterone.
Its decline is in most cases the first hormonal change that initiates the menopause, and long before there are changes in oestrogen and testosterone.
Progesterone is mainly produced in the ovaries, but also in the brain and in the peripheral nerves. It is mainly produced in the second phase of the menstrual cycle by the corpus luteum, as well as during pregnancy by the placenta. Small amounts of progesterone are also synthesized by the adrenal cortex. Progesterone cannot be equated with progestin,
because progestins do not occur in nature but are synthetically produced for contraception.
Since during menopause less and less ovulations take place, also less and less progesterone is produced. If a menstrual cycle is still extant, an excess oestrogen level results in a hormonal imbalance.
Stress and imbalance
Many women in our culture are exposed to permanent high demands and chronic stress. For menopausal women, who are already heavily burdened by hormonal fluctuations, this constant overstimulation can additionally lead to a reduced production of progesterone, which also functions as a natural sedative of the body. Also, a sudden drop in testosterone is possible in case of permanent stress, since the adrenals are overloaded. The results are a decreased libido, irritability and general malaise.
The mature woman’s brain
In the course of menopause the GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) concentration increases in the female brain, and thus the FSH and LH levels also increase. These two hormones are produced by the pituitary gland and control the function of the ovaries, i.e. the production of hormones (oestrogen, progesterone) and the menstrual cycle with ovulation. As a popular explanation it is accepted that the body tries to stimulate the ovaries to continue to secure fertility. However, this is contradicted by the fact that the FSH and LH levels remain permanently increased. It is therefore assumed that the middle age female brain is subject to changes. This process gives the woman the opportunity to further develop intellectually, independently of concerns of furthering a family, and to fulfil her deepest personal wishes. Last but not least due to the decrease of the relationship and welfare hormone oxytocin, women in midlife tend to follow their own feelings more, instead of only having consideration for the family. Unfamiliar belligerence in menopause can also be explained by a relatively elevated testosterone level. Additionally, with decreasing oestrogen levels the female body produces lesser amounts of the serotonin “happiness hormone”. Thus, the stress sensitivity of the brain is additionally increased. The women concerned are then easily irritable and prone to mood swings, which can extend to depression. It is not surprising that in this stage of life the most occupational changes and divorces happen.
Menopause from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
The most important energy disruptions during menopause affect the liver, the spleen and kidneys. From the perspective of TCM, life energy sits in the kidneys, which govern growth, reproduction and development. Over time, the kidney yin of the mature woman declines. This is a natural process, but due to constant overload, time pressure and stress it can lead to illness. In addition, the function of the Chong Mai (meridian that influences the uterus and regulates menstruation) and Ren Mai (meridian that influences and regulates menstruation and fertility), both of which have a close relationship to the Chinese function circuit of the kidneys, decline.
During the transition phase of the woman this temporarily leads to a yin-yang imbalance of the kidneys, since they are no longer able to control the fire element sufficiently. This results in many complaints in menopause as, for example, the hot flashes. How a woman responds to the hormonal changes of menopause, however, is largely dependent on
individual constitution and personality type.
In naturopathy, medicinal mushrooms offer very good opportunities to positively support the woman´s natural transition.
In many cases, menopause symptoms can already be significantly alleviated by a change in
lifestyle and remedies from nature.
The advantage of these natural remedies is that they do not correct one-sidedly.
It has been observed, for example, that plants with oestrogen-like active ingredients stimulate progesterone receptors at the same time. In other words, located in these remedies is a mechanism which the body itself also uses: Together with a transmitter substance, simultaneously an enzyme is transported which stimulates the antagonist! The balance is ensured.
The same principle also underlies medicinal mushrooms, because they act adaptogenic, that is, regulating. Always, however, provided that whole mushroom powder is used, because extracts possess the danger of acting unilaterally in only one direction. It is also important to take in food rich in vital nutrients, from which the body itself is capable of producing hormones.
Menopause is often associated with an interplay of nervous overexcitation and depressive moods. The low oestrogen levels also mean a decline of neurotransmitters that stimulate good mood. Studies have demonstrated that the administration of Cordyceps, on the one hand, is to stimulate the release of 17ß-oestradiol and so to reduce symptoms associated with a low oestrogen level. On the other hand, it also inhibits the enzyme monoamine oxidase, which, inter alia, contributes to reduce the feel-good hormone “serotonin”. Thus, the Cordyceps ensures a balance and diminishes depressive moods. It soothes, relaxes and regulates and stimulates the functions of the adrenal gland.
In its organ affinity, the Cordyceps has a specific influence on the womb and lower abdominal area and strengthens the kidney energy. Therefore, this medicinal mushroom is also support for the “fire of life”, i.e. when the woman tends to be cold and to having a sexual aversion.
This medicinal mushroom is known in Asian medicine as “mushroom of eternal life”. It helps in vegetative dysregulation such as hot flashes, restlessness and insomnia. It is also an excellent support for asthenia (weakness). Traditionally Reishi was also used in ancient China for the forgetfulness and nerve weakness that arise with increasing age.
During menopause, the body must reorganize its metabolism. As the liver is also involved in this conversion process, it can be supported by administration of Reishi. More generally, Reishi strengthens the liver, promotes detoxification processes and channels away heat. Thus the organism gains new power and the woman feels vital and more capable.
Due to the hormonal changes, women in menopause are often under stress. This can also adversely affect the gastrointestinal tract. Because of its mucous- protective and mucous-regenerating effect, the ingestion of Hericium has proven very successful here. Hericium also protects and strengthens the nervous system. Therefore, stress-related anxiety, restlessness, memory lapses and insomnia can be well treated with this medicinal mushroom.
If oedemas are present due to a hormonal imbalance, it acts as a natural diuretic. In addition, Polyporus is used in experiential medicine for skin diseases whose cause lies in an excessive strain on the lymphatic system. Likewise for acne and skin blemishes caused by excess testosterone.
Due to the decrease in oestrogen, the mucous membranes in the vaginal area – and also in the urethra and the urinary bladder – can become noticeably more dry and sensitive. In TCM, the Auricularia is traditionally deployed with dryness and helps the mucous membranes to remoisten. It also relieves profuse sweating.
This medicinal mushroom can be well deployed in the menopause to prevent osteoporosis. Before menopause, the sex hormone oestrogen counteracts bone loss, which during and after menopause is favoured by the decreasing oestrogen. An age-related decrease in activity of the bone-forming cells (osteoblasts) also leads to a reduction in bone density. With the administration of this therapeutic fungus the danger of brittle bones is inhibited, because it stimulates the osteoblasts and thus reduces bone resorption. It also counteracts fat deposits. The total cholesterol and the triglycerides are reduced after only two to three months of ingestion, thus working preventatively against diabetes, cardiovascular disease and, of course, the dreaded weight gain.
As a supplement, observational studies have found creams or gels with spagyrical essences and extracts from the yam effective for menopausal symptoms. In particular with symptoms such as the annoying hot flashes a marked soothing effect has been reported. But also mood swings, decreased sexual desire or weight gain in menopause can thus be positively influenced.
Menopause is not an illness, but a very natural phase in the life of every woman! Medicinal mushrooms can positively influence the body’s regulatory mechanisms and so help the body to find its equilibrium. For low to moderate menopause symptoms, relief or even freedom from symptoms can be achieved with the help of mycotherapy.
• Siegfried Kiontke, Mechthild Rex-Najuch, Hartmut Horn: “Betriebstemperatur 37 Grad Celsius”
(“Operating temperature 37 degrees Celsius”); VitaTec Publishing Company
The effects described are based on the ingestion of medicinal mushroom powder which is prepared from the whole mushroom. Please seek advice from your therapist before using.