Dossier: Sexuality

Menopause & medicinal herbs

Gynaecologist Gesa Otti-Rosebrock trusts in the properties of phytotherapy, so she prescribes medicines made from medicinal plants for many of her patients.

Text: Brigitte Wenger; photo: Tranco Tettamanti

Sandrine Kahn, 51, used to spend hours tossing and turning and struggling to sleep. Although she felt tired when she went to bed, she just couldn’t fall asleep. If she did manage to doze off, she woke drenched in sweat. She had to change her pyjamas several times a night. Today Sandrine can laugh about the sweaty nights,

but the lack of sleep wore her out at the time. And the situation was exacerbated by feelings of dizziness, problems concentrating and mood swings – typical menopause symptoms. She sought advice from her gynaecologist Gesa Otti-Rosebrock at Praxis Frauenmedizin in Biel. Many of the products in her medicine cabinet use the healing power of plants. Otti-Rosebrock is a gynaecologist and a board member of the Schweizerische Medizinische Gesellschaft für Phytotherapie (Swiss medical phytotherapy association, SMGP).

Black cohosh against hot flushes

Hormonal tests showed that Sandrine was going through the menopause. So her doctor suggested the following treatment: a high dose of black cohosh to treat the hot flushes and other symptoms, a high dose of gingko against dizziness and problems concentrating, and sage to stop the night sweats. Kahn emphasises that she doesn’t reject conventional medicine, and is happy to take pain killers for back pain or headaches, but she didn’t want to introduce any more chemicals into her body in this instance.

On the SMGP website, it states that there would be no conventional medicine without phytotherapy. And it’s true that many of the active ingredients used in today’s conventional medicine originate from nature in terms of their basic structure. In the 19th century when the natural sciences really started to take flight, pure plant substances were identified and chemically synthesised. Just like conventional medicine, phytotherapy has to meet scientific standards.

Many of the phytotherapeutic medicines that doctors like Gesa Otti-Rosebrock prescribe can be found in the “Arzneimittel-Kompendium”, the drug directory that contains the official information for medicines on the Swiss market. Phytotherapy achieves good results in treating symptoms of the menopause and also conditions associated with the immune system, respiratory diseases, skin conditions and rheumatic disorders.

Patience is key

Gynaecologist Otti-Rosebrock explains the difference between phytotherapy and conventional medicine through flowers: “Phytotherapy is like a bunch of flowers, whereas conventional medicine is like a rose. You can gift roses individually, but you have to be careful of the thorns. Conventional medicines work quickly, they contain a single active ingredient, but they can have side effects. A phytotherapeutic product is obtained from the whole plant or parts of it. It contains various substances that complement one another. Unlike conventional medicine, phytotherapy often doesn’t have an immediate effect – you need to be patient.”

Sandrine Kahn’s patience paid off. She was prescribed tablets made of gingko leaves to treat her dizziness, and was able to stop taking them after only a few weeks. And the black cohosh root tablets helped to stabilise her emotionally, easing her mood swings and allowing her to sleep through the night again. But best of all for Kahn are the tablets made from sage leaves, because she hasn’t had night sweats once since she started taking them.

The gynaecologist’s favourite plants

Gesa Otti-Rosebrock’s favourite plant is ginkgo – one of the oldest medicinal plants. It improves circulation and there are also hopes that it can be used in the treatment of dementia.

Pomegranates also have outstanding properties. Almost all of her patients have pomegranate oil on their bedside tables. It helps to prevent vaginal dryness, which often occurs during the menopause, and is also ideal for use as a natural lubricant during sex.