Menopause: Blessing or Affliction ?

The purpose of this chapter is to review the question of menopause in the light of the newest research and to help women who are approaching menopause as well as those already in menopause, to realize that most menopausal symptoms can be prevented or greatly minimized with proper understanding and nutritional means. Certainly, none of the traditional problems associated with menopause have to be experienced as early as they are by most women. Menopause, in fact, can be postponed for as long as 10 to 20 years. Moreover, the negative experiences of menopausal syndrome will be minimal, even non existant, if one has lead a health-building life and adhered to an optimum diet.

Why Menopause ?

Menopause is a perfectly normal, natural state, and should not be looked upon as some sort of disorder or ailment. It is a condition designed by nature whereby a female, past the age when a safe and healthy pregnancy and delivery can be assured, is deprived of further possibililty of empregnation. The ovaries stop ovulation and become less active in producing sex hormones. So menstruation stops " which may take several months of more or less profuse bleeding on and off ", and, with it, the blood level of estrogen, and other female hormones, goes down. Most menopausal problems are due to this lowering of hormones in the body.

Now, most women confronted with the first distressing symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, run to their doctor, and the average doctor will immediately put them on estrogen therapy. If he is a conventional doctor, he will most likely prescribe a diethylstilbestrol-type synthetic estrogen. If the doctor is of the " new breed", and nature-oriented, he may prescribe a more "natural" form of estrogen, usually Premarin / Provera. In whatever form, estrogen therapy is not only completely unnecessary, but is a very dangerous way of trying to interfere with a natural process in this period of a woman's life. Chemical or "natural" estrogen medication, in addition to being linked to cancer, heart attacks, strokes, blood clots, also causes a serious disorder in body chemistry, especially in it's mineral balance. It raises the copper level and lowers the zinc level in the blood. Zinc deficiency can lead to depression and phychosis and the elevated copper contributes to the "blues" and moodiness associated with menopause. Thus, estrogen therapy is actually causing the symptoms it is supposed to correct ! Estrogen therapy also increases the need for Vitamin E.

As one woman asked," I am forty nine years old and I must have reached the age of "change of life", since my menses have practically stopped (three or four months in between). I went to my gynecologist and he immediately said that I must take estrogen. Since I have been health-oriented for many years, I am leary about taking drugs, so I went to another gynecologist. He also prescribed estrogen, the syntghetic kind to boot. He said I must take it or I would have all kinds of problems and will be an old sick woman in no time at all. Now tell me, why do I have to have this drug ? My mother, who was very healthy and lived to be ninety two, and my aunt, who lived to be eighty nine, never took estrogen. And my mother looked very young and had a beautiful complexion at the age of ninety ! Why must I take estrogen ?"

Why, indeed ? During the thousands of years of civilization, millions of women lived healthy and happy lives and aged gracefully, without taking estrogen injections. But, in this drug-oriented era, doctors as well as many women seem to be more concerned with the elimination of an unpleasant symptom than the health of the whole body. Women is our culture must assume some blame for the existing estrogen therapy craze. Fearing the approach of old age, and trying desperately to stay young in our youth-worshipping society, they demand from their doctors supposedly rejuvenative estrogen therapy. And many doctors willingly oblige. When a woman enjoys good health, her normally functioning adrenal glands produce a number of sex hormones which replace those from inactivated overies. Consequently, a woman can go through this normal conclusion of the reproductive cycle without any physical discomforts if she is mentally, physically (nutritionally), and spiritually prepared to accept this phase of life as a natural biological process.

Problems related to perimenopause and menopause:

At the time of menopause, the hormonal output, instead of reducing gradually, alternately stops and starts. This general re-adjusting of the body's endocrine balance leads to many of menopause's symptoms. The estrogen supply eventually regulates itself and reaches a plateau, where it remains until around age 70. Though doctors now know that the body still makes some estrogen, a common misconception is that menopause happens when a woman " runs out of estrogen". It was this generalization that lead to the conclusion that simple estrogen replacement would remedy menopause, which was seen as a deficiency disease.

The symptoms of menopause are caused by estrogen dominance in the body as progesterone production declines in the years leading up to this change in a woman's body. Women may experience water retention, weight gain, memory loss, irritability, and depression. During menopause, decreased estrogen levels may cause bladder and vaginal atrophy, with the vaginal walls becoming drier and thinner, and a woman may have less interest in sex or slower arousal time. The hormonal changes also disrupt the delicate Acid/Alkaline balance of the vagina, which can lead to increased susceptibility to yeast and bacterial infections. Women may develop fibrocysitic breasts, breast cancer, fibroids, or endometrial cancer. However, no symptom is inevitable. During this time many women also experience increased energy, greater focus on their life goals, and a renewed interest in sex since pregnancy cannot result. Further, many women in other cultures do not have the side effect of menopause that are common to American women. Oriental women report far fewer "hot flashes" than do women from western societies, and maya women in Yucatan Mexico, report no symptoms at menopause other than menstrual cycle irregularity.

A wide variety of alternative therapies are effective in treating menopause. Western science so far has provided women with little hard data on care strategies for menopause that would make personal health decisions easier. As a result, menopausal women may turn to other avenues of treatment, learning to take care of their health care in general. As Fredi Kronenderg, Phd, director; Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Center for Alternative/Complementary Medicine, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, notes, " I think that in all the lectures and workshops I have given, the question that is asked of me most often is : What else can I take besides estrogen ? We are seeing increasing interest in alternative approaches because women who are asking these questions are part of the generation who are outspoken about wanting things to change".

There are various approaches to treating the symptoms of menopause, some as simple as walking a half hour at the same time each day to stimulate the body's energies and to establish a calming regularity to life. Other approaches include dietary changes, herbs, homeopathy, and the disciplines of the Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines. There are also treatments for specific problems of menopause; "hot flashes", "mood changes", "vaginal atrophy", which are becoming word-of-mouth home remedies. A list of these treatments is provided for quick reference.

Symptoms of Menopause

Menopause can trigger a wide variety of symptoms, some commonly associated with the condition, such as "hot flashes", and others that are more subtle and may seem like actual behavioral changes, such as anxiety and depression. Before a woman assumes that she is having a profound personality change, she should become familiar witrh all the symptoms of menopause and begin a plan to treat them:

Hot Flashes: According to Dr. Kronenberg, "hot flashes are defined subjectively as recurrent, transient periods of flushing, sweating, and a sensation of heat, often accompanied by palpitations and a feeling of anxiety, and sometimes followed by chills. There is no evidence that the physiology of nocturnal hot flashes (night sweats) is different from that of daytime hot flashes."
According to Dr. Lark, in the United States 85% of women have hot flashes, and 49% have symptoms sever enough to seek medical help. Food high in phytoestogens (chemical compounds that the body can convert into useable estrogens) are thought to reduce the frequency of hot flashes. Japanese women have farfewer hot flashes than American women, are researchers have corrolated this with the traditional Japanese diet that includes many soy bean foods, which are high in natural phetoestrogens. Dr. Lark emphsizes avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and taking nutritional supplements of Vitamin E and the bioflavonoids.
"Herbs to treat hot flashes", says David Hoffmann, " includes dong quai, genseng, gotu kola, and mother worth to help with palpitations that accompanies hot flashes".
Ayurveda recommends treating for a pitta imbalance: Pitta energy is responsible in menstruation for hormonal changes. An imbalance manifests as anger, irritability, skin rashes, and diarrhea. To correct an imbalance, reduce overactivity and overperformance, establish regular daily routines, meditate, and avoid spicy foods, greasy foods, artificial ingredients, chocolate, caffein and alcohol.
Homeopathy uses Sepia, Lachesis, Pulsatilla, according to Dr. Jacobs, but she emphasizes that if hot flashes have become chronic, a woman should seek a more specific formula.
Traditional Chinese Medicine may use Dong Quai and Genseng, but, according to Honora Wolf, each patient needs a specific custom-made formula.

Vaginal Dryness: Dr. Lark suggests Vitamin E taken orally and also applied directly to vaginal tissue. The use of natural progesterone, used transdermally, is sufficient to treat vaginal atrophy. David Hoffmann suggests calendula flowers for vaginal dryness. There are also new lubricating jellies sold over-the-counter for this specific purpose.

Anxiey: According to David Hoffmann, scullcap eases anxiety associated with menopause. He recommends taking 1/2 teaspoon with chasteberry. Herbs such as passion flower and valerian root are often prescribed for their extraordinary calming properties. Other herbal remedies include chamomile, catnip, and peppermint teas.

Depression: For menopausal depression and it's accompanying fatigue, stimulatory herbs such as oat straw, ginger, cayenne pepper, dandelion root, blessed thistle, and siberian genseng improve vitality, partly due to the high levels of essential nutrients contained in these herbs, notes Dr. Lark. St John's Wort can also lessen any depression that might occur.

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