By definition menopause is the cessation of menstrual flow for more than 12 months, at which time a woman can now be defined as menopausal. In our culture there is a lot of negativity surrounding being in menopause. However some cultures view it as the time when women become enlightened and can now share their wisdom with others.
Menopause is not simply the period of time from 50 to 55 years of age, but it is the third stage of womanhood. The first stage is the years before puberty and the second is our fertile years. The last stage is menopause when we no longer produce babies but nurture other women and possibly grandchildren.
What is the physiology of menopause? What happens to a woman’s body?
In many cultures a woman who has passed from her fertile years into menopause is now at the age of wisdom and enlightenment and is to be honored and treated with great respect and awe. In the United States we don’t exactly give women this respect, nor do women themselves give their bodies and minds this great respect. Women tend to cringe at the word menopause and feel that this is the end of youth.
It is important to understand that this is a time of change. Some changes are easy while others can be more challenging. When a woman is in her 40s and 50s, she can be in a time of life some describe as peri-menopause. At this point she may, or may not, experience symptoms. By the age of 50 it is not uncommon for a woman to stop having her menstrual cycle. At this time, and even before, there is a decline in the production of some of the following hormones (just to list a few):
Women may also see changes in their bodies such as skin texture, skin tone, weight, vaginal dryness and the slowing to finally stopping of the menstrual cycle itself. Women may also see a sudden rise in cholesterol levels that promote their doctor to place them on a statin. This can be avoided and women should seek hormone balancing first to make sure that they are not unduly harming their bodies.
Why is there a change in cholesterol?
Cholesterol is the building block of hormones and can be adversely affected when your hormones are not balanced properly or you are going into menopause. Your body is still producing the same level of cholesterol, but less is turned into hormones resulting in higher levels of cholesterol.
At in-Health Clinic we treat the cause of the higher cholesterol and start with balancing hormones. If there is no change in cholesterol and we have done a blood test to determine you are a woman at greater risk for heart disease we will also do a combination of herbs, diet and lifestyle counseling that can regulate your body.
What are the effects of lower estrogen?
Estrogen has many effects including breast fullness, clarity of mind, vaginal lubrication, mood stabilization, heart protection, brain modulation as well as bone function and growth. It also has a great deal to do with female pride, vitality and sensuality. While it isn’t involved in passion or orgasm, it does help build the feminine essence that defines a woman.
There are 3 types of estrogens:
- E1 Estrone
- E2 Estradiol
- E3 Estriol
E2 is found in Prempro and many other hormone replacement pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately this is made out of a horse hormone and is not identical to what is actually in the human body. This can cause a lot of side effects, which have deterred women from seeking hormonal care especially if these are not properly regulated with the correct amount of Progesterone.
Symptoms of estrogen deficiency include:
- Mental fogginess and forgetfulness
- Depression and anxiety
- Mood changes
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Decreased libido and painful sex
- Loss of skin radiance
- Dry skin, eyes and vagina
- Rapid heartbeat episodes without anxiety
- Gastro-intestinal discomfort
- Day-long fatigue
Excess estrogen can occur in someone who is on hormone replacement therapy. Symptoms include:
- Breast tenderness
- Water retention and weight gain
- Impatient and snappy behavior
- Pelvic cramps
What does Progesterone do?
Immediately after ovulation the ovaries release progesterone so that the uterus will prepare for implantation of the egg. There are also high levels of the hormone in the body while pregnant for development of the fetus. Besides this hormone’s importance during reproduction it is also the harmonizer of hormones that allows the balance of estrogen and progesterone to take place.
The body releases very little progesterone from day 1-14 of a woman’s cycle but after ovulation it spikes and sets the cycle duration for the menstrual cycle itself. Some of its lesser know jobs are:
- Protects the breast and uterus from cancers
- Natural diuretic
- Enhances immune system
- Improves breakdown of fat
- Decreases sugar cravings
- Helps new bone tissue form
- Increases HDL levels
- Reduces breast tenderness
What are signs of a progesterone deficiency?
Progesterone production can slow around the age of 35. This is when conceiving can become slightly more challenging for women. Most women in peri-menopause will have low progesterone.
The symptoms can occur at anytime in life and include:
- Amenorrhea or the stopping of the period.
- Oligomenorrhea – infrequent or inconsistent periods.
- Heavy frequent periods
- Spotting before the period
- PMS symptoms both physical and emotional
- Mood swings
- Cystic breasts
- Painful breasts
- Endometriosis, adenomyosis and fibroids
What does the typical woman in menopause experience?
The most common symptoms of menopause are foggy brain, hot flashes, inability to sleep and emotional instability. These can all be symptoms that make women suddenly feel isolated from their families and other people around them. Sleep disruption can also lead to stress about not sleeping and cause anxiety.
What are the tests for menopause?
A blood test can measure the basics such as FSH, SHBG, Estradiol, Estriol, Testosterone, DHEA and Progesterone. Many physicians are reluctant to do such testing because there are few pharmaceutical treatment options. However, there are options!
What are the treatment options for menopause?
It’s possible to use plant estrogen and progesterone and other herbals that actually help to stimulate the woman’s body to make more hormones and to balance them as well. Examples include vitex, evening primrose oil. It is important to consult a doctor even when taking herbs as it can seriously affect hormone levels in your body and cause greater problems.
Then next option would be bio-identical hormones typically created with your doctor and a compounding pharmacy that can be quite helpful in returning a patient to optimal health.
The last option is conventional hormone replacement, which doesn’t mimic your body and doesn’t balance as well but may be the option you need. If this is the only option that works for you, please talk to one of our doctors about supplements so we can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and other side effects.
By: Jennifer Walker, D.C.