By Rachel Lankester, Editor

I talked about herbs for menopause with Hannah Charman, a medical herbalist with decades of experience. Hannah’s journey into herbalism stems from her early teens when she turned to alternative medicine to overcome chronic fatigue syndrome. Today, she specializes in helping women seeking a natural path through menopause, blending herbal remedies with health coaching. We talked about the practice of medical herbalism and what to consider when navigating this form of healthcare. You can listen to the full podcast interview here.

Herbs For Menopause
Hannah Charman

The role of medical herbalists

Hannah defines a medical herbalist as a healthcare provider who utilizes herbal medicines to treat illnesses, often with a background in mainstream medical training, covering modules akin to those in general practitioner training such as anatomy, physiology, clinical skills, and diagnostic abilities. Despite the similarities to GPs, medical herbalists approach health issues in distinctive ways. Notably, Hannah points out that unlike the protected title of “doctor,” anyone can label themselves as a medical herbalist without formal training, emphasizing the importance of due diligence when seeking their services.

She emphasized how important it is to choose a medical herbalist affiliated with reputable governing bodies like the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, ensuring adherence to ethical standards, continuous professional development, and insurance coverage. We touched on the continued skepticism around herbalism and the failed attempt at UK state regulation due to the profession’s commendable safety record, leading to a reliance on self-regulation within the community. 

Hannah talked about her serendipitous path, which began at age 14 when she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Disheartened by the limited support from mainstream medicine, her family turned to alternative therapies, initially exploring homeopathy and hypnotherapy. Later inspired by her parents’ dedication to hypnotherapy training, Hannah’s interest in holistic healing took root. Subsequently, she found herself drawn to herbalism, pursuing formal training on a degree course in Western herbal medicine at Middlesex University.

Taking a holistic approach to health

Hannah emphasizes the importance of a holistic approach to health and wellness. Recognizing that physical ailments are often mixed up with emotional and lifestyle factors, we need to address the root causes of illness. She found that prescribing herbal remedies wasn’t always sufficient if patients neglected essential aspects of wellbeing, such as stress management and a healthy diet. Lifestyle changes are also important. Incorporating health coaching alongside herbal treatments has yielded promising results, facilitating immediate recovery and also long-term vitality.

Hannah is also a fan of hypnotherapy, particularly during transitional phases like menopause. Drawing from her experience, she explains how hypnotherapy provides a rapid and effective means of addressing underlying trauma and emotional challenges which can bring on significant mood changes. Menopause often brings unresolved issues to the surface, necessitating a comprehensive approach to healing that encompasses both physical and emotional well-being. There is a symbiotic relationship between herbalism and hypnotherapy, which can provide a holistic framework for promoting health.

Hannah talked about the profound impact of trauma on midlife experiences, especially during menopause. We need to acknowledge and address past traumas, which may resurface during this sensitive period of transition. She highlighted the traditional view of menopause as a time of consolidation and renewal, where individuals shed old patterns and prepare for the next phase of life. By embracing this perspective, Hannah encourages us to navigate midlife transitions with resilience and self-compassion, recognizing each step as a cause for celebration amidst life’s complexities and what can sometimes be messy stuff in the middle of life.

Herbal medicine and menopause: a comprehensive approach

Herbal medicine can deliver many health benefits, particularly helping with menopause symptoms such as poor sleep, joint pain, night sweats, mood swings, etc. helping to restore hormonal balance as we go through perimenopause. Hannah emphasizes a holistic approach to treatment, focusing on someone’s overall health rather than just alleviating specific symptoms like hot flashes or brain fog. We need to identify and address any underlying health issues, such as gut health and chronic inflammation, as well as lifestyle factors like stress and nutrition, which can significantly impact menopause experiences. Hannah likens herbal prescriptions to a mechanic fine-tuning a car, using various herbs to support the body’s natural processes and restore optimal functioning. 

Hannah explained the use of adaptogens and nervines as natural remedies to help manage stress and support the nervous system, alongside herbs influencing hormonal imbalances and aiding hormone clearance. Herbal treatments are customizable and empowering, allowing individuals to prioritize their symptoms and adjust their prescriptions accordingly. She dispelled misconceptions about herbal medicine, emphasizing its efficacy, safety, and versatility, contrary to prevailing beliefs.

Her patients see significant improvements in their overall health, as well as being able to manage common menopause symptoms. Some common herbal supplements you may have heard of as being helpful for menopause symptoms include primrose oil, black cohosh, dong quai and red clover, the latter being a great source of natural phytoestrogens, often called nature’s hormone therapy.

Despite its long history and documented efficacy, herbal medicine often faces skepticism and marginalization, especially in comparison to conventional treatments like hormone replacement therapy. We may dismiss plant medicine in favor of drugs but in fact, most hormone therapy is now made from Mexican wild yam. The root of so many common drugs is plants.

Hannah also criticized the current divisive discourse surrounding menopause treatments, which overlook the potential life-saving benefits of herbal medicine for anyone unable to pursue conventional treatments due to medical reasons, such as breast cancer, for example. Some people say there is no scientific evidence that a herbal remedy will work, but Hannah says you just need to look for it, on places like PubMed or Google Scholar – the evidence is there. It’s also helpful to remember cultures that still make extensive use of plant medicine such as Native Americans and the 2000 year history of efficacy of Chinese herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Staying curious about women’s health

Hannah highlighted research linking lifestyle factors such as exercise, socialization, and diet to reducing the risk of conditions like dementia for postmenopausal women. Straying from our natural state as tribal human beings, through habits like consuming junk food or living sedentary lifestyles, can lead to various health issues. She emphasized the need to consider multiple factors, beyond conventional medicine, when addressing conditions like postmenopausal health, dementia, osteoporosis, and heart disease, for example.

We also reflected on the abundance of conflicting information, which can lead to analysis paralysis among women seeking guidance on menopause and health. We stressed the importance of staying curious, critically evaluating information, and relying on personal observations and trustworthy sources. We also discussed the reliance on prescription drugs, particularly hormone therapy, as a solution to manage menopausal symptoms while maintaining an unhealthy lifestyle. We questioned the wisdom of depending on prescription medications to sustain habits that may be detrimental to overall health, prompting reflection on broader societal attitudes towards female aging and healthcare.

Hannah emphasized the commercialization of menopausal solutions, highlighting how medical interventions, while profitable, may perpetuate dependency and disempowerment among women. I questioned the popular notion that hormone therapy equates to women’s empowerment, asserting that it often reinforces the status quo rather than allowing women to embrace the natural transition into post-reproductive life. We both advocate for informed decision-making regarding menopausal treatments, acknowledging individual autonomy while underscoring the importance of empowerment over dependency. 

Hannah raised concerns about estrogen dominance, attributing it to various factors including lifestyle, diet, and the presence of xenoestrogens in plastics and tap water. We also explored the implications of constant estrogen exposure, linking it to rising rates of estrogen receptor cancers and early puberty in girls. 

We emphasized the importance of addressing physical symptoms of menopause while acknowledging individual variations in navigating the transition. Hannah encourages patients to find silver linings amidst the challenges, highlighting the significance of reaching menopause naturally and appreciating life’s continuity. By reframing menopause as a phase with its own gifts and challenges, it fosters a nuanced understanding of this transition.

Exploring the potency of herbal medicine

Hannah shed light on the diverse applications of herbal medicine, emphasizing its efficacy in both acute and chronic conditions. She highlighted the versatility of herbal remedies, noting their utilization in first-aid scenarios, even at large-scale events like summer festivals, where issues like trench foot find relief through herbal interventions. While acknowledging the necessity of conventional medical care for severe cases, Hannah emphasizes the potential of herbal medicine in managing health conditions including chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, premenstrual syndrome, menstrual disorders, chronic allergies, migraines, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).  It can have a role in managing high blood pressure, tailored to address underlying causes such as stress. 

Through her practice, Hannah has witnessed numerous remarkable recoveries, underscoring the profound impact of herbal medicine on patients’ lives. Hannah urges women to explore herbal remedies as a safe and effective option, whether by incorporating herbs into daily routines or cultivating them for personal use. She believes that raising awareness about herbal medicine can potentially be life-saving, offering alternative treatments often overlooked in mainstream discourse. Hannah is committed to spreading the message of herbal medicine’s accessibility and efficacy, striving to empower individuals with knowledge about this age-old yet often underappreciated form of healing.

You can listen to the full inspiring podcast interview here.

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Last Updated on April 4, 2024 by Editorial Staff

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