The Menopausal Years: Depression

by Donna Easto, C.H., H.C., M.H., Certified Herbal Educator

Depression is defined as a depressed mood, loss of pleasure in activities (or life), or loss of interest in nearly all activities that has persisted for at least two weeks.  It may be accompanied by sadness, feeling “down”, anxiety, agitation, irritability, anger, social withdrawal, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, physical complaints, obsessive thoughts or fears, fatigue, loss of energy, and problems with sleep or appetite.  That list is enough to depress you!  Other factors associated with depression in menopause include hot flashes, sweats and insomnia.  If you wake feeling “down” you may be experiencing a form of a depressive disorder associated with diurnal (your body’s daily clock) mood variation.  A basic blood test for thyroid function, vitamin B12 and B6 levels, kidney function, blood sugar, and liver function might be in order.

In my previous article we discussed hot flashes and sweats.  Today, let’s focus on insomnia.

It’s not coincidental that many of the herbs used to treat insomnia also address other concerns related to menopause.  For example, hops may be used to relieve anxiety and hot flashes. California poppy might help with restless legs. Note that iron-deficiency may be linked to restless leg syndrome, a simple test of your iron and ferritin levels will help rule out anemia.

  Adaptogens have a long history of use in restoring a healthy balance of life.  Ashwagandha in particular is a gentle restorative that’s preferable for people with insomnia.  It can be used singly for insomnia, irritability and anxiety and other nervous conditions, but is often taken along with a nervine supplement such as lavender, or an anxiolytic such as chamomile for maximum effect. Ashwagandha may also be useful in some cases of restless leg syndrome.

Here’s a simple and tasty tea that you can drink freely to help with sleep and other concerns:  

1 part each of lavender, chamomile and lemon balm.

Combine and prepare tea by steeping 2 tsp of herbs in 1 cup of boiling water for 10 minutes.

To preserve the medicinal volatile oils, be sure to steep covered.

Lavender:  a mild sedative for sleep problems, restlessness and nervous exhaustion.  Chamomile: a tranquilizer and mild sedative sleep aid is also useful in the treatment of spasms and indigestion.  Lemon balm:  a tranquilizer that supports sleep, and is used as a sedative for tenseness, restlessness and irritability.  It’s also effective in symptomatic relief of mild digestive upsets.

Ranking Levels of Botanicals for Sleep Promotion1 

1 = general relaxation, not sedating;  5 = hypnotic.  The range between denotes sedation, and tells you that the effects are dose dependent.

California poppy1 to 3
Hops2 to 5
Lemon balm1
Motherwort1 to 3
Passion flower1 to 4
Kava kava2 to 5
Skullcap1 to 3
Valerian2 to 4

1Menopausal Health, Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health; Aviva Romm, M.D.

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