Navigating the Maze, Part 2

Posted by on Jun 4, 2008 in herbal medicine, women's health | 2 comments

In my last post, I wrote about navigating the maze of perimenopause symptoms and treatments. This is a continuation of an interview I had with NYC-based acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine Specialist, Elaine Stern.

When I last left off, we were discussing useful Western herbs for addressing perimenopausal symptoms.

Are there other herbs than black cohosh that are helpful for perimenopausal symptoms?

Chaste tree berry is a very useful herb for perimenopause since it targets the “luteal phase” of the menstrual cycle. It helps the body become more efficient in terms of ovulation and progesterone production, and may be useful for women experiencing irregular cycles or PMS symptoms.

You mentioned nutrition earlier. How is this different than herbal medicine? Afterall, we’re taking supplements, right?

Nutrition, like acupuncture and herbal medicine, is a fairly diverse field. However, unlike the literature has not caught up with its practice. It’s also confusing because we may read the newspaper one week and see a study saying we should take vitamin X, and then the next week, see that it’s been linked to cancer.

When it comes to nutrition, it’s important to understand the body’s physiology and biochemisty and focus on nutrients to increase natural function and actions. With regards to perimenopause, you may recall that we discussed the build-up of excess estrogen. Vitamin B6 has been shown to be very important in helping the liver clear the estrogen out of the body. While things like diet are undoubtedly the most efficient way to obtain B6, well, the way that we eat and the way that our food is grown can interfere with the ability to get as much as is needed. With a little extra, we can assist the body’s ability to clear the estrogen, thereby addressing water retention and other PMS symptoms.

Do women need to stay on treatment the entire menopausal transition?

Well, it’s important to stay on some sort of program for a period of time. This will vary from person to person.

What should women look for in a practitioner?

With Chinese medicine and acupuncture, the practitioner should be licensed and have national board certification. If their specialty is nutrition, it’s helpful to inquire about education and experience. And most of all, find out if the practitioner has a specific interest or area of practice that focuses on gynecology and internal medicine.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I want reiterate that herbal and nutritional products are completely unregulated and there’s a huge variety in quality. Whatever you can learn about the way that a product is manufactured and with what type of oversight, the better. So, I’d recommend that women look at the labeling for buzzwords like “standardized,” “good manufacturing of products,” things like that, but with the knowledge and understanding that there is no oversight with regards to the marketing of these substances. Again, this is a good reason to see a practitioner, at least to get started as he or she can be useful for creating a program and guide you to good sources for herbs and nutritional products.

Finally, this is medicine. Women need to understand that they are tinkering with their hormonal balance and even if the products aren’t toxic, it’s important to look beyond the symptoms and understand what’s going on physiologically. So, I truly believe in the importance of speaking to someone who can understand your individual changes and then recommend something. At the very least, women should see someone at least once to insure that they are on the right track.


  1. 6-10-2008

    I am not very clear on this particular issue. This is because other says one need to consult a doctor before taking supplements. one on the other hand says she didnot consult a doctor before taking it and it was quite successful. So which of the two methods is advisible for high blood patience?

  2. 6-10-2008

    Breyana – it’s always important to speak to someone first, especially if you have high blood pressure. As Elaine says, herbal medicine is, for all intents and purposes, medicine. So like any other medicine, herbs can interact with certain medications that you might be taking or exacerbate preexisting conditions. Best rule of thumb – speak to someone at least once before “tinkering” around.


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