Does it have to be a bad one? Absolutely not.
Skilled healthcare providers can actually help a woman go through menopause with hardly a single health complaint!
It’s all about removing and managing chronic stressors and balancing hormones, while tending to lifestyle in a responsible and balanced way.
What thoughts pop into your head when you think about the word menopause? For some women menopause is a time of loss, while others view it as a simply a time of change. Some women look forward to the end of menstruation, while others dread the possible loss of libido, the dry skin, the potential for weight gain.
Medical doctors notice that the reduction in estrogens that is the hallmark of menopause clinically places women at higher risks for certain diseases, including heart disease and osteoporosis. Incredibly, women living in Western countries have the potential to live nearly one-half of their life in post-menopause. This time has been called the “third age” for women and represents a different type of life, as this change impacts women’s physical, social, and psychological health. Menopause (also known as the change of life, the change, or the climacteric) is a time for reflection, a time to take a look into one’s overall health.
What is Menopause?
Technically, menopause is defined as the end of menstruation. It, however, is not something that happens suddenly, but occurs slowly over time. Medical doctors define menopause as the end of menstruation for the period of at least a year.
Most women stop menstruation between the ages of 45 and 55, although some stop as early as 40 and others don’t stop until they are 60.1 Women typically known they are premenopausal when they start having irregular periods (can be shorter or longer between periods or both), have heavier bleeding, spotting, or longer periods. This premenopausal time can bring many changes in hormones, most notably the drop in estrogens (namely: estriol, estradiol, and estrone).
Symptoms of Pre-Menopause
The most common symptom of menopause is a change in the menstrual cycle, but there are various other symptoms as well, including:
- Brain: Concentration or memory problems.
- Mental/Emotional: Mood swings, irritability, depression, insomnia.
- Genital/Urinary: Vaginal dryness, sexual disinterest, urinary changes, heavy or light bleeding.
- Body: Headaches, heart palpitations, hot flashes night sweats, fatigue, weight gain, hair and skin changes.
Loss of Estrogen
Most of the symptoms above can be attributed to the loss of estrogen. Loss of estrogen hormones has a dramatic impact on women’s health. Reduced estrogen can lead to a reduction in bone which increases the risk for osteoporosis. The heart is also hard hit by this reduction of estrogen, leading to decreases in HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), an increase in LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), a loss of elasticity in arteries, and the tendency to add weight. Altogether, this combination of factors results in a dramatic increase in women’s risk for post-menopausal heart disease.
The other area of concern for post-menopausal women is the effect that estrogen has on the brain. Several clinical studies have shown that estrogen replacement helps women maintain premenopausal levels of cognitive function.2 It is thought that estrogens interact with brain neurotransmitters (cholinergic and the serotonergic) to enhance memory.
How to Make a Graceful Transition to Menopause
Menopause is not a medical condition; women have been doing it for thousands of years without any help or any form of medication. No one, however, should have to suffer through the change and there are ways to make the transition much easier.
Medical Approaches for Menopause
- Estrogen Replacement: One strategy for dealing with the drop in estrogen is to replace the lost estrogens. Many women have made this choice, but recent studies have shown that taking synthetic or equine estrogens can lead to an increase in heart disease and cancer.3 Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) is popular now and appears to be much safer.4
- Antidepressants: Antidepressants have had some success in suppressing natural symptoms related to mood, sleep, hot flashes and overall quality of life. Examples include: Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): Elavil, Tofranil, Norpramin,and Pamelor; Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOs): Parnate, Nardil, and Marplan; Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Celexa, Paxil, Lexapro, Prozac, Zoloft. Side effects of antidepressants include: Nausea, insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, decreased sex drive, dizziness, weight gain or loss, tremors, sweating, sleepiness, fatigue, dry mouth, diarrhea, constipation, headaches.
- Gabapentin: Typically used as an anti-seizure medication (Evista), this drug has been shown to reduce hot flashes, while also increasing dizziness, drowsiness, and coordination problems for up to 25% of patients taking it.
Complementary Approaches for Menopause
- Bioidentical Hormone Therapy: Using naturally derived hormones from botanical sources there are far fewer side effects. Biohealth Diagnostics provides assistance to healthcare providers in lab testing to determine the needs of your body while also recommending specific therapies and products. Find a Provider to help.
- Functional Lab Testing: With functional lab tests called “HPA stress profiles”, the key steroidal hormones are measured for their quantities and rhythms. Based on this data, treatments such as bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) can be administered to renew the vitality of the hormone system. Specific laboratory testing panels which focus on perimenopausal and menopausal women are available through Bioehalth Diagnostics.
- Diet: Women going through menopause should eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Estrogens found in plants (called plant estrogens) appear to play a role in severity of hot flashes and other symptoms. Close to 80 percent of women in the United States complain of hot flashes, where only 15 percent of Japanese report hot flashes.5 Plant estrogens are found in soy, red clover leaf, licorice, wild yam, chick peas, pinto beans, French beans, lima beans, and pomegranates.
- Nutritional Supplements: Consult your health professional to take a responsible approach to supplementing for menopause symptoms.
1National Institute on Aging: Menopause. http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/menopause.htm . Accessed 8/3/2009
2Maki PM, Dumas J. Mechanisms of action of estrogen in the brain: insights from human neuroimaging and psychopharmacologic studies. Semin Reprod Med. 2009 May;27(3):250-9
3Rossouw JE, Anderson GL, Prentice RL, et al. Risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women: principal results From the Women’s Health Initiative randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2002 Jul 17;288(3):321-33.
4Holtorf K. The bioidentical hormone debate: are bioidentical hormones (estradiol, estriol, and progesterone) safer or more efficacious than commonly used synthetic versions in hormone replacement therapy? Postgrad Med. 2009 Jan;121(1):73-85.
5Messina M, Watanabe S, Setchell KD. Report on the 8th International Symposium on the Role of Soy in Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention and Treatment. J Nutr. 2009 Apr;139(4):796S-802S