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Rude Wonders

Ask Away: independent health store advice on menopause and PMS

Looking for advice on natural health and wellbeing? Your local independent health stores can offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise. This issue we speak to Martha Brennan, homeopath and owner of Harvest Fare in Blessington, Co Wicklow


Most women now are aware that there are natural choices to help with symptoms of PMS and menopause and independent health stores can offer advice and support. When a woman comes in looking for help with these issues we chat with them to get an idea of their lifestyle, medical status and symptom history and make recommendations from there.

Some women might only need to make simple changes to their diet; cutting down on any excessive caffeine or alcohol and trying to avoid too much refined sugar and flour. It is vitally important for hormonal balance that the liver is not over-burdened and that the bowels are functioning properly. Regular moderate exercise and stress-reducing activities are essential.

Your diet can really benefit from flaxseed, legumes (peas, beans and lentils) and fermented soy along with foods such as apples, beetroot and fennel – these can help balance the fluctuating levels of a woman’s own hormones. Plenty of green leafy vegetables and a variety of nuts contribute to magnesium levels, which are crucial for women with muscle cramps, restless legs, migraines, restless sleep, low energy and agitated moods.

For whatever reason, sometimes diet changes aren’t always achievable and we would recommend supplementation with a good multivitamin and mineral.

It’s a good idea to start with a vitamin B complex and magnesium. I find women are often amazed by how iron can make such profound difference to their energy levels and mood. We see the quickest and gentlest boost coming from liquid iron supplementation with vitamins B and C – absorption is excellent and it doesn’t cause constipation.

When oily fish are not eaten enough, we would usually suggest a good quality fish or krill oil for omega-3 and a 3, 6 and 9 combination where the omega 6 is supplied by borage oil which has high levels of GLA, the substance that has given evening primrose its female friendly reputation. Omega-7 from sea buckthorn is of great help to the health and moisture levels of the mucous membranes which can be an issue for women during menopause with dryness of the eyes and of the vagina.

Often however, we are asked for herbal remedies. Agnus Castus has earned a strong reputation for PMS, and women claim sometimes that it is saving their relationship! It’s certainly what we would suggest when a woman describes symptoms of grea irritability, heavy, often painful periods and short cycles. Dong Quai is another herb we might suggest. These may not work for a woman who feels more ‘down’ with low energy and light periods with longer cycles. For her, a product with soy isoflavones might work better. We often suggest products combining a number of herbs formulated by an expert working in the area of women’s health.

PMS and menopause are both categorised by hormonal imbalance – a remedy might work beautifully for a length of time and then because of shifting hormones seem to lose its benefit and something else is needed in addition or instead. Women approaching menopause are looking for relief from troublesome symptoms. Hot flushes are for some the only or main symptom and this is where the herbs Sage and Red Clover can help. These need to be taken for at least a month before you can expect to notice some difference.

If mood changes are also an issue you can take a B complex with magnesium. For greater mood support the herb Rhodiola or a combination containing it and Siberian Ginseng and Liquorice can be of benefit. The amino acid L Theanine on its own, or combined with Lemon Balm, is providing many of our customers with great relief from anxiety and panicky feelings.

Who's who and what's what in Harvest Fare

Harvest Fare was opened in 1999 by Mary Davis and Caroline Conran. Martha Brennan became the owner/manager two years ago. Situated in the main street in Blessington, the shop caters for a broad range of customers and all the natural health needs of the town.

Harvest Fare stocks a wide range of good quality supplements; bodycare products include haircare and hair dyes, skin products, bath salts, dental and feminine hygiene products; and eco cleaning products as well as eco-nappies. There is a wide range of food stocked including organic prepacks of nuts, seeds, dried fruit and grains, wholesome gluten-free foods and wholegrain foods. In the fridge there are dairy alternatives and frozen products. Very popular at the moment are coconut and almond flours, Paleo products, raw cacao powder for making chocolate, local honey, Fair Trade gifts and superfoods such as maca and spirulina.

“Our customers tend to be very broad in age,” says Martha Brennan, “but we have a lot of mums and older couples coming in. In any given day we can be asked about PMS and menopause issues, sleep difficulties, fish oils and other supplements for children, exam stress, fermented foods and dietary issues. People are definitely more aware of natural health these days.”

Visit: Harvest Fare, Main Street, Blessington, Co Wicklow
Look for: The offer of the week – see the regular stand for details. Regular tastings of new products.
SPEAK TO: Homeopath Martha Brennan, aromatherapist Mary Brooks and nutritional therapist Deirdre McNamara.

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