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Menopause


Introduction

Menopause, also referred to as the "change of life," is the point at which a woman stops ovulating and menstruation ceases. During pre-menopause, usually two to seven years before menopause, periods become irregular and shorten. Menopause is intended by nature to be a gradual reduction of estrogen by the ovaries. Although estrogen levels drop sharply after menopause, the hormone does not disappear entirely. Other organs take over from the ovaries and continue to produce some estrogen and other hormones.

Some women go through menopause with few or no symptoms. However, many women experience short-term or acute symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, decreased libido and weight gain, particularly in the belly section. All of these symptoms are due to estrogen and progesterone deficiency. In many cases, although the level of estrogen is low, it is still dominant over the level of progesterone, causing a state of estrogen dominance. A high estrogen to progesterone ratio is often exacerbated by exposure to xenoestrogens, or "estrogen mimicking" agents. The result of estrogen dominance is an exacerbation of menopausal symptoms, therefore a balanced lifestyle protocol is essential when supporting menopause.

Although almost 90% of women experience some menopausal symptoms, most only last a year or two and are not severe enough to interrupt their lives. Many stem from exhausted adrenals and poor liver function where estrogen is not being processed correctly. In a well-nourished, vibrant woman, the adrenals and other glands pick up the job of estrogen secretion to keep her active and feeling good after menopause.

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Common Symptoms

Erratic estrogen and other hormone secretions by the glands causing hot flashes, insomnia and fatigue; low libido, irritability, calcium imbalance, unstable behavior, mood swings, palpitations; calcium metabolism disturbances causing osteoporosis; skin and vaginal dryness.

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Common Causes

Deficient nutrition and lack of exercise; thyroid imbalance; exhausted adrenals; poor food absorption; B vitamin deficiency; emotional stress.

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Hormone Replacement Therapy

The threat of breast and uterine cancer is dramatically increased with Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), and the risk increases as a woman ages. In 51 studies covering 21 countries involving more than 52,000 women with breast cancer and 108,000 women without breast cancer, women who used Premarin, a specific HRT, for 5 years or longer had a 35% higher risk of developing cancer than women who had never been on HRT. HRT has been marketed as a preventative measure for heart disease and osteoporosis, but in fact it may do more harm than good.

Using hormone replacement therapy or ERT (estrogen replacement therapy) to protect against heart disease is highly debatabed. There is no conclusive evidence that estrogen protects against heart disease. We do know that beginning HRT at menopause to prevent heart disease carries risks. For example, tests with some estrogen-containing contraceptive pills have actually increased a woman's risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke and serious blood clotting problems. In addition, HRT drugs can deplete folic acid, raising homocysteine levels, a known risk factor for heart disease, and destroy vitamin E, a heart protective antioxidant.

HRT is still promoted for osteoporosis prevention. There is no question that hormones are involved in bone-building and bone loss, but declining estrogen levels after menopause do not by themselves cause osteoporosis. Although some studies show estrogen inhibits bone cell death, tests reveal that as many as 15% of women on estrogen therapy continue to lose bone. Moreover, estrogen is not the only hormone involved in bone building. The hormone progesterone actually increases bone density in clinical tests. Low androgen levels of DHEA and testosterone also play a role in bone loss, particularly in men's osteoporosis. Osteoporosis prevention is a program, not a pill.

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Natural Treatment

The best approach to supporting a woman's body during menopause is a natural one. Because hormone fluctuations and the symptoms of menopause that result are often skewed by dietary and lifestyle components, it is extremely helpful to address these areas to better establish a true baseline of hormonal status. Foods and substances that are xenoestrogens will pose a significant threat to the balance of hormones because of the way in which they are metabolized. These "estrogen mimickers" cause excess levels of "bad estrogen" to circulate which may contribute to a state of estrogen dominance. Therefore, assessing one's diet and lifestyle (online or in person) are the first lines of defense. Once a hormonal baseline has been established, a more diagnostic approach may be explored for fine tuning. A female hormone panel may be performed to help pin-point specific levels of fluctuating hormones and determine an appropriate therapeutic approach. Natural supplements have an adaptogenic property which means they will work in harmony with a women's body to elevate or lower hormone levels to establish homeostasis. Additional testing may be suggested in some cases to explore thyroid levels, adrenal function, as well as metabolic rate. Changes in the quality of sleep may be both a result and a contributing factor to menopausal symptoms, therefore it is essential to provide support for sleep optimization. Healthy bone support can be achieved through a wide range of natural means from diet and supplements to physical activities such as yoga, pilates and cardiovascular interval training. Stress management is a must as excess levels of circulating stress hormone, cortisol, may impede metabolism, elevate blood sugars and break down bone. A true mind/body approach is necessary to supporting healthy hormone balance and the specific ingredients will vary from person to person. Be sure to consult with a professional (online or in person) to determine the method that is right for you.

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References

Page L. Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone Eleventh Edition. Traditional Wisdom, Inc; 2000.

Isaac S. Hormonal Balance: Understanding Hormones, Weight, and Your Metabolism. Boulder: Bull Bublishing Company; 2007: 233, 237.

Rister S. Healing Without Medication. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications, Inc; 2003: 333-335, 383-383, 533.

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