Aromatherapy and Menopause
Every woman will go through menopause, usually starting between the ages of 40 and 55. Many women will experience symptoms resulting from changes in hormone levels as they age. Aromatherapy may be a safe and natural way to help balance hormones and relieve symptoms.
Hormones are chemical messengers produced by the endocrine system that are used in many of the body’s functions. The main hormones involved with menopause include progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, insulin and the thyroid hormones (Sidlo, 2018). As we age, progesterone decreases more than estrogen and an estrogen dominance frequently occurs (Clanton, n.d.). It is the imbalance of these two hormones that is responsible for menopausal symptoms.
A decrease in progesterone can lead to anxiety, hot flashes, headaches, irritability, weight gain and bloating.
Low estrogen can lead to anxiety, brain fog, depression, mood swings, hot flashes, low sex drive, osteoporosis, vaginal dryness, weight gain and sleep issues.
Cortisol is a stress hormone and when imbalanced, it affects insulin and thyroid. Cortisol levels are affected by stress, blood sugar, emotions, exercise and alcohol (Sidlo, 2018).
When insulin is high it raises cortisol (Sidlo, 2018). It causes hormone imbalances and therefore an increase in headaches, PMS, hot flashes and night sweats and leads to an increase in breast and ovarian cysts and the risk of cancer (Sidlo, 2018).
Thyroid hormones regulate the body’s metabolism and affect energy level and heart rate. Low levels can cause anxiety, brain fog, depression, tiredness, low sex drive and weight gain (Sidlo, 2018).
Menopause is a natural stage in a woman’s life, when the ovaries stop producing estrogen, and is defined as the first year without menstruation. Post-menopause is the last phase which starts after menopause and continues for the rest of a woman’s life. Perimenopause usually happens between the ages of 35 and 50 and lasts 5-10 years before menopause (Clanton, n.d.). Although some women experience no menopausal symptoms at all, 85% of women experience at least one symptom (Woods, 2005, as cited in Sussman, 2015). The average age for starting menopause is 51 and symptoms typically lasts 6-13 years.
The changes in hormone levels lead to a wide variety of symptoms including but not limited to hot flashes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, irritability, mood swings, dry skin and mucous membranes, anxiety, loss of libido, headaches, depression, swelling, weight gain, vertigo and muscle and joint pain.
Hot flashes, or night sweats, affect 50-85% of menopausal women worldwide (Kazemzadeh, 2016). Hot flashes may be experienced a few times a year or up to 20 times per day for a few months or up to 10 years (Clanton, n.d.). Hot flashes affect quality of life as they can disrupt sleep and cause embarrassment. Hot flashes are caused when the hypothalamus attempts to stimulate estrogen production, but the ovaries don’t respond due to the lack of eggs (Clanton, n.d.). The hypothalamus then releases epinephrine which triggers the fight or flight reaction (Kazemzadeh, 2016). The heart pumps faster, blood vessels dilate, and skin temperature rises, and the face, neck and chest get flushed (Sidlo, 2018). The body begins to sweat to get rid of the excess heat then it cools off and your brain believes that the temperature has regulated (Sidlo, 2018).
Doctors usually prescribe hormone replacement therapy. While effective, many of the synthetic hormones increase the risk of heart disease, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis, decreased blood sugar, stroke and gallstones (Life Science Publishing, 2014).
Only a few studies have been conducted on the effects of aromatherapy on menopausal symptoms. Most studies have used lavender essential oil, on its own or in a blend, however one study was found using neroli.
The effect of lavender essential oil on hot flashes was studied in a randomized clinical trial that used lavender and placebo aromatherapy on menopausal women in Iran. The women inhaled lavender for 20 minutes, twice a day for 12 weeks. This study found that hot flashes decreased significantly in the intervention group compared to the control group (Kazemzadeh, R., 2015).
Another study in Iran gave participants either a 2% lavender dilution or a placebo which was inhaled for 20 minutes before going to bed, for four weeks. Menopausal symptoms (hot flashes, sweating, palpitation, fatigue, insomnia, depression, headache, etc.) decreased significantly in both groups but the decrease in the lavender group was significantly greater than the placebo group (Jokar, 2018).
A study was conducted on sleep problems in menopause using lavender wipes and lavender scented pillows in Turkey for 15 days. The women were asked about their sleep before and after the study and the results were statistically significant that lavender increased sleep quality (Demirbag, 2019).
A clinical trial on aromatherapy massage was conducted on Korean menopausal women using a blend of lavender, rose geranium, rose and jasmine essential oils at 3% dilution. The experimental group were given a 30-minute massage once a week for 8 weeks and there was no treatment given to the control group. The mean scores for all menopausal symptoms decreased in the aromatherapy group (Hur, 2007).
A double-blinded, randomized controlled trial tested the effects of inhaling neroli at concentrations of 0.1% and 0.5% in 63 postmenopausal women for five days. This study found that inhaling neroli led to decreased menopausal symptoms, decreased blood pressure and increased sexual desire (Choi, 2014).
The use of aromatherapy is effective in significantly reducing menopausal symptoms and can improve the quality of life. It is also safe, easy to use and with few risks. Lavender by inhalation seems to be effective at reducing symptoms and particularly hot flashes. Neroli also appears to be effective for decreasing symptoms such as low libido and hot flashes when inhaled. Lavender and neroli both have hormone balancing and nervine properties and are likely best for reducing hot flashes.
Other considerations for treating menopause symptoms include a diet low in fat and high in vegetables, exercise, calcium rich foods or supplements and relaxation techniques (Thompson, 2012).
Choi, S.Y., Kang, P., Lee, H.S., & Seol, G.H. (2014). effects of neroli oil aromatherapy on menopausal symptoms stress and estrogen in postmenopausal women
Clanton, M.A. (n.d.). https://achs.edu/mediabank/files/melissa_clanton.pdf
Demirbag, B., & Calik, K. (2019). The Effect Of Using Lavender Wipes And Pillows On Sleep Problems In Menopause
Jokar, M., Zahraseifi, Baradaranfard, F., Khalili, M., & Bakhtiari, S. (2018). The effects of lavender aromatherapy on menopausal symptoms A single blind randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial
Kazemzadeh, R., Nikjou, R., Rostamnegad, M., & Norouzi, H. (2016). Effect of lavender aromatherapy on menopause hot flushing A crossover randomized clinical trial
Life Science Publishing. (2014). Essential oils desk reference, 6th edition.
Sidlo, A. (2018). Aromatherapy for menopause success. Saddle Mt. Healing Arts Press.
Thompson, C. (2012). Aromatherapy certification course AT201.