by Katherine Willow N.D.

(Image: ‘My blue guard’ by coffeelatte at

Last night my sister and I were talking on the phone when she asked me why some women fly through menopause without symptoms and others are debilitated. As usual, there is a physical and emotional component to the answer.

From a physical point of view, menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, insomnia, lowered libido, vaginal dryness, mood swings and urinary tract issues are related mainly to three organs or systems: the liver, the adrenal glands and digestion.

The liver, even if free from disease, can still be congested, deficient or both. Because it is responsible for balancing hormones in the blood, when it gets congested it can result in a relative excess of estrogen which is related to increased agitation, mood swings, depression, anxiety, memory loss, irritation, fatigue (especially in the morning) and weight gain.

To treat the liver, one needs to determine its state. If tired, one needs to boost the liver through the use of liver extract, nourishing diet with easily digestible animal proteins and extra rest. Once rebuilt, one can undertake a gentle liver cleanse by making sure it’s not a time of excessive stress, that bowels are regular, diet is light and using liver herbs such as milk thistle and dandelion.

Moving on to the adrenal glands, our stress glands, when they are low or burned out, they don’t produce enough progesterone to feel happy, keep bones strong and have a regular sex drive. We are also chronically tired (especially in the late afternoon) and are inclined to infections and allergies.

To restore the adrenals, the most important things are adequate rest, preferably in the hours before midnight, avoiding stimulants, especially caffeine, calming the nervous system and using herbs or adrenal extract for 3-6+ months.

Regarding digestion, it is often sluggish by the time we hit midlife, causing us to feel lethargic, bloated and easily full after meals. We then build up toxins in our system and don’t absorb nutrients as well—which then makes the system even more sluggish and sometimes deficient in nutrients related to menopausal symptoms.

To break this vicious cycle, clean up and lighten the diet, especially removing wheat, dairy, junk foods, sugar, alcohol, heavy meats, bad oils and excessive raw foods. Relax before eating and take a digestive enzyme or herbal preparation afterwards. Finally, make sure bowels are regular.

Underlying all of the above physical syndromes are emotional issues. The liver relates to anger and resentment, the adrenals relate to work addiction or not being in the right work for our soul, and the digestive system also relates to held anger.

Even deeper than this is the common occurrence of unresolved trauma from childhood.

Childhood trauma is suppressed or even forgotten once puberty is reached so that we can focus on normal life: finding a mate, having children, taking care of the children (or something similarly busy). When the sex hormones recede at menopause, priorities change to finally resolving the old traumas which have been held in the body all this time and start emerging in either physical or emotional symptoms or both. It can be an excruciating time when women can feel they are seriously ill or dying and they need much reassurance and support during this purification.

This mid-life crisis is an opportunity to become more self-aware, deeply heal and have a healthy and re-energized middle and old age for women willing to step out of cultural expectations. . .

Katherine Willow N.D. is a fourth generation naturopathic doctor with thirty years of experience and directs the Carp Ridge EcoWellness Centre (