Natural health: The menopause and food cravings

There are many herbal remedies that can help to alleviate nerve pain, says Megan Sheppard.

Q. I am 59 years old and two years into the menopause. For quite a while the left side of my tongue has been sore or uncomfortable. A consultant checked my throat, and all is fine. 

My diet is wheat- and dairy-free and I take no alcohol during the week, just a few glasses of wine on weekends. What would you suggest?

A. It can be very frustrating when you have a pain for which you cannot uncover a definite cause. 

You don’t mention any obvious redness, ulcers, swelling, coating, or discolouration to your tongue, so I’m assuming that it appears as normal besides the pain and discomfort you are experiencing.

There are cases where the nerves become inflamed or irritated, causing the symptoms you describe, but with no visual change. The term for this is glossopharyngeal neuralgia, and it is common for the pain to come and go.

There are many herbal remedies that can help to alleviate nerve pain. 

Ginger root, whether fresh or dried, can help to reduce inflammation and relieve pain in nerves, muscles, and joints — simply add a slice or two of fresh ginger root to boiling water, or use ½-1 teaspoons of dried ground ginger. 

The other kitchen remedy that can help is turmeric root — prepared in exactly the same way as ginger.

To nourish the nervous system, and address inflamed nerves directly, skullcap (scutellaria lateriflora) is a good choice. 

It works particularly well when combined with other nerve healing and soothing herbs such as black and blue cohosh, vervain, valerian, crampbark, and lobelia.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be linked to discomfort and pain in one or more regions of the tongue. 

It is a good idea in particular to have your iron, B12, and folate levels checked so you can supplement if needed or rule out deficiencies as the root cause of your problem.

Viral infection can also lead to bouts of unexplained pain. 

If you have recently been ill, or are feeling generally under the weather, it may be that a virus is to blame.

Elderberry, echinacea, liquorice root, and astragalus root are all wonderful herbal remedies to fight off viral infection. 

If you prefer to use herbs commonly found in the kitchen — brew up a strong infusion of garlic, onion, ginger root, cayenne, and raw honey, and drink 2-4 cups daily.

Q. Do you have any advice on dealing with food cravings? I am an emotional eater, and am working on this issue, but I still struggle with cravings, particularly crackers and crisps.

A. Food cravings can be very challenging. The key to breaking our tie with certain foods is to practise mindful eating, which is also an important step in deconstructing the emotional eating issue.

The fact that you have already taken this first step in acknowledging and observing your own cravings and attachments is a great start. 

It is all too common for us to eat subconsciously — in the car, while watching television, or working at our desks. Becoming mindful or aware of our habits and food choices is important not only in terms of eliminating cravings, but also in improving digestive function.

Once you take steps to improve your digestive health, you will notice that your immune function, energy levels, and emotional wellbeing all benefit as well. 

Being in a relaxed eating environment, taking notice of how many times you chew your food before swallowing, and taking time between mouthfuls (put your utensils down as you chew) are all great habits to help change and eliminate unhealthy behaviours.

Bread, crisps, crackers, sweets, cakes, and biscuits are common items to crave simply because they are quick and easy to grab and eat. 

The magic combination of fat, salt, and sugar can trigger addictions to certain foods.

The fact you are already addressing the emotional aspect of your eating is such a great place to start, since many people tend to begin by demonising certain foods or food groups rather than acknowledging their eating patterns and emotional state. 

Take the time to stop and appreciate just how amazing and resilient your body is.

Do you have a question for Megan Sheppard?

Email it to feelgood@examiner.ie or send a letter to:

Feelgood, Irish Examiner, Linn Dubh, Assumption Road, Blackpool, Cork

NOTE: The information contained in this column is not a subsitute for medical advice. Always consult a doctor.

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