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Menopause: Prepare, Treat, and Embrace

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Menopause: Prepare, Treat, and Embrace

By Julie Tilsner, Natural Solutions

I was having a typical conversation with my friend Debbie that led to a shocking revelation. We were laughing and complaining about getting older–our more frequent mood swings, the changes in our hair texture–when suddenly Debbie whispered, “It’s because we’re in perimenopause.”

“Perimenopause?” I hissed. “We’re too young!” Nope, Debbie said. Mid-40s. Wait, I’m just getting used to being in my 40s, a mom of two, a real grown-up. How could menopause be just around the corner? And why am I so horrified by the mere mention of it?

While in theory I want to embrace these wise woman years when they come, in reality menopause (in our culture at least) suggests not-so-graceful aging, accompanied by withering and a loss of femininity and purpose. Is that what my friends and I have to look forward to? Surely there are other ways to approach this transition, I thought. I don’t want to have my mother’s painful menopause. As it turns out, I don’t have to.

The perils of perimenopause
For my mother the onset of menopause was pretty typical: Her first period at 13, menopause complete by age 52. Shortly after she turned 47, her periods–always 28 days apart–became erratic. Within the year she was walloped with hot flashes, insomnia, weight gain, and virulent mood swings. “I didn’t even recognize myself,” she told me. She figured she was entering menopause because all of her friends were experiencing similar symptoms, but she was unprepared for the havoc these gnarly side effects were wreaking on her life. “I honestly thought I was going out of my mind,” she said.

Miserable, my mom turned to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to ease her symptoms–and it worked for her. But because the 2001 Women’s Health Initiative study showed that continued use of HRT increases risk of breast cancer, strokes, and heart disease, I don’t see it as an option for me. Frankly, it scares me, and as someone who gave birth to both my kids naturally, I prefer taking a more natural route.

While experts agree that women generally mirror their mother’s experience in menopause, they also say that lifestyle choices, health, and attitude can trump genetics. After talking to dozens of leading integrative doctors and other women who’ve been through it, I now know that there’s another conversation I should be having with my mom and my friends–and it’s not the one about how much menopause is going to suck.

Our bodies, ourselves
Medically speaking, menopause occurs one year after a woman’s last period and marks the end of her fertility. Perimenopause–the four to seven years leading up to menopause–is a time of wildly fluctuating hormone levels, which can spark a variety of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms.

“Think of [perimenopausal] estrogen levels as the Dow Jones industrial average,” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a professor of ob-gyn at Yale University. “Estrogen goes way up, then it comes crashing down.” Levels stabilize after menopause, and most of the uncomfortable symptoms go away, she says.

Many of us have come to dread the inevitable march toward menopause, equating it with crazy-producing symptoms we read about or watch our own mothers go through. The move from our fertile years into “withered old age” strikes fear in those of us who were raised to equate female worth with youth and attractiveness. From a holistic standpoint, however, the transition into menopause is a powerful opportunity for self-discovery and renewal. It’s a natural process of a woman’s reproductive cycle, a transition from the childbearing years–not a condition to be “cured,” as Western medicine would have us believe.

Nevertheless, some women experience one or many of the following symptoms, sometimes relentlessly:

Hot flashes and night sweats. Both are a form of vasomotor (the constricting and dilating of blood vessels) instability. Hot flashes can come on at any time, day or night, and may or may not involve sweating. Night sweats, as the name suggests, involve excessive sweating in the evening, usually while you sleep. Experts surmise these temperature spikes are a response to the body’s search for estrogen.
Insomnia. When estrogen levels drop, the adrenal glands, which are designed to balance estrogen and many other hormones, go on high alert and pump out cortisol, a stress hormone that triggers a fight-or-flight response. Their heightened state upsets our circadian rhythm and disrupts our otherwise normal sleep patterns.
Weight gain. Fat cells carry estrogen, so our bodies produce more of them to replace the lost hormones, says Holly Lucille, ND, RN, a naturopath based in Los Angeles and author of Creating and Maintaining Balance: A Woman’s Guide to Safe, Natural, Hormone Health (Impakt Health, 2004). This causes sudden weight gain for many women regardless of how little they eat or how much they exercise.
Irritability. During perimenopause, estrogen spikes and progesterone drops, creating intense anxiousness and irritability. Overtaxed adrenals also play a role in extreme mood swings.
Brain fog. Profound shifts in hormone levels, much like the ones we experienced during puberty and pregnancy, can make organizing thoughts and finishing sentences challenging.
Loss of libido. Lower estrogen and testosterone levels conspire to flatten our desire–at least temporarily. Some women experience vaginal dryness, which can make intercourse painful. Others have problems with body image, which prevents them from feeling desirable.
Depression. Fluctuating hormones, including a drop in mood-enhancing progesterone levels, can bring you down. Add a foggy head and sleepless nights to the equation, and this low feeling can turn into a bad case of the blues.

Doctors say these symptoms appear to be hammering women harder nowadays because of our lifestyle choices. “There are very few women who breeze through menopause without any symptoms,” says Tracy Gaudet, MD, director of the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine and the author of several books, including Consciously Female (Bantam Books, 2004). “Just about every woman will experience some symptoms. And while you can’t control those symptoms, you can influence them.”

How? By being in good physical and mental health before the transition begins. In other words, if you have a high-stress job, only exercise sporadically, forget to eat or scarf down junk food on the go, and have no down time at all, you’re moving into menopause already depleted–and things will only get worse. “You’re doing yourself a big favor if you’re healthy going into menopause,” says Minkin. “That isn’t to say you’re not going to have challenges. But I tell my patients it’s best to hit the ground running.”

Next: Prepping for perimenopause

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Read more: Gynecology, Health, Menopause, Natural Remedies, Whole Soy Benefits, , , ,

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31 comments

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5:36AM PDT on Jun 21, 2013

I started to go through menopause a few years ago, and chose to look at it as a very empowering time in my life. Then I had major surgery this past January that brought on hot flashes, which I had never had before. I call them power surges. My temper is as sharp as a knife sometimes, so I chose who I am around very carefully. I surround myself with loving, caring, supportive people. This is a time to embrace the life I have lived and use what I have learned to help others. This is a time of wisdom, grace, and a realization of how blessed my life has been.
I wish all other woman an empowering menopause

5:07AM PDT on Sep 13, 2010

the aging of the ovary starts much in advance prior to birth due to a progressive waning of the number of primordial follicles. wanaa more http://atozmenopause.com/what_is_menopause.html

5:32PM PDT on Mar 19, 2010

Hi Megan,
I appreciated your comments in regard to Menopause and agree with you wholeheartedly. As I mentioned in my original post, I know that it was my becoming a vegan that has enabled me to sail through the typical menopause years without so much as a single hotflash or emotional incidence. I am not 57 years old and am feeling great.
You mentioned having a problem with anemia. Back in 1998 my husband was critically injured in an accident. He spent 6 weeks in the hospital and then they wanted to put him in basically a nursing home. He was only 52 at the time. Against, the doctors and hospitals wishes, I took him home. One of the many issues he was dealing with was the loss of 22ft. of intestines. Mind you, this was a trauma center hospital and their nutritionist couldn't tell me how to feed him. However, the year before his accident, the Lord had led me to start studying nutrition from a natural point of view. Getting on with the story. They told me that among many other things, he would not be able to digest iron due to the loss of a particular part of intestines...but on the other hand, he was severally anemic. Once home, I began giving him 1 T. of a good quality molasses 3x daily. Although he didn't particularly enjoy it (I had him chase each T. with a glass of warm water and this helped) he trusted me. Within two weeks his anemia was completely gone. I don't know if this might help you but it might be worth a try.
Good luck


2:26PM PDT on Mar 19, 2010

I find it very ironic that women have worse symptoms now that all thos drugs are out... :

I plan never to use any of them! I'll stay as natural my whole life!

My mom is going through menopause right now, and she is so irrational sometimes!
I know soy is supposed to help loads, so I try to get her to eat a lot of it
I, being vegetarian, won;t have to worry about that when Im older- in fact, I wouldnt be surprised if vegetarians and vegans have very little menopause symptoms at all

I exercise 5-6 days a week, and eat very healthy, so I should be fine when I get to that stage in my life (though it is a long way off)
but, I havent gotten my period since january due to anemia..I think... :
So, I'm trying really hard to shove even more nutrients into my body (especially iron), and have no room in my diet for empty calories

If anyone has suggestions of what to do, please message me :)

2:30AM PST on Feb 11, 2010

My mom (she's 58) started taking an all natural herbal supplement called Hot Rawks, hoping it would increase libido, but she found out it also stopped her hot flashes! She literally doesn't have ANY hot flashes when she's taking Hot Rawks. She is so excited because she can sleep in sweatpants again :)

r4 revolution per ds

10:47PM PST on Dec 15, 2009

I also use natural hormone replacement therapy [NHRT] - plant-based bio-identical hormones. It's the only thing that helped my severe hot flashes [by which I mean intense heat every hour round the clock!]; but I've been on it for a lot of years now and am concerned about that - however, the hot flashes are still lurking in the background after ten years!

10:43PM PST on Dec 15, 2009

RE: Coffea
I just saw your posting from awhile ago. Coffea is a homeopathic remedy that is a potentized microdose of coffee, and since homeopathy works according to the Principle of Similars, Coffea can actually be used to antidote the effects of caffeine or similar symptoms - sleeplessness, nervousness, etc. I was amazed to discover that it worked for me. It's available at most natural product stores that carry homeopathic remedies [e.g. Whole Foods, Vitamin Shoppe], or directly from Boiron at 1-800-BLU-TUBE. Get the 30c potency; dissolve one pellet under the tongue; repeat if needed; it takes about half an hour to kick in. It's natural, safe and non-habit forming. The Bach flower remedy White Chestnut may also help; avail. at the same places; take a few drops in water or directly under the tongue.

10:41PM PST on Dec 15, 2009

It's not printing what I wrote! To Margaret Chau [>>Can someone tell me what Coffea is?

10:39PM PST on Dec 15, 2009

To Margaret Chau [>>Can someone tell me what Coffea is? And how I can obtain it? I have terrible insomnia and it's the only bad peri/menopausal symptom that I can't handle. I stay awake even with sleeping pills (yuck!) and melatonine. I need my sleep especially since I also have fibromyalgia ;-(]

10:38PM PST on Dec 15, 2009

To Margaret Chau [>>Can someone tell me what Coffea is? And how I can obtain it? I have terrible insomnia and it's the only bad peri/menopausal symptom that I can't handle. I stay awake even with sleeping pills (yuck!) and melatonine. I need my sleep especially since I also have fibromyalgia ;-(]

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