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What is Menopause?
Menopause is a natural time in every woman’s life where menstruation stops. Because of these hormone changes, a woman can no longer become pregnant. Normally, the age range for menopause is between 45-55 years old. The time frame that occurs prior to the cessation of menses is called Peri-menopause, which can last from 1-3 years. After a full year of not having a menstrual cycle, menopause is complete and women enter post-menopause. There are currently more than 40 million menopausal women in America.
The reason that women stop menstruating is because as time goes on, the woman’s ovaries slow down the production of eggs until they stop. The ovaries also slow down the production of hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone. The decrease in sex hormone production may cause symptoms as the menstrual cycle becomes irregular, slows and finally ceases. The majority of women (up to 70%) will experience symptoms during this transition period including: mood swings, anxiety, depression, hot flashes, low libido, sleep disturbances, palpitations, memory problems, digestive disturbances, night sweats, skin flushing, headaches, vaginal dryness (which can lead to painful sex, urine leakage and an increase in vaginal infections), weight changes and food cravings. The intensity of symptoms fluctuates in different women and can last from months to years.
There may be additional causes that induce menopause other than naturally. Premature menopause can occur for a variety of reasons. An auto-immune disorder called premature ovarian failure may take women into early menopause at ages earlier than 40 years old. Surgery such as a removal of the ovaries, which may be done with a hysterectomy, may also put a woman into premature menopause. Other types of artificially induced menopause can occur from medications that lower the production of hormones, such as chemotherapy, radiation or hormone therapy used to treat breast cancer. Induced menopause often produces more intense and sudden symptoms than naturally occurring menopause.
If you are starting to have changes in the regularity of your menstrual cycle, you may be able to detect changes in hormones indicative of peri-menopause. Changes in hormone levels can be detected in lab tests including: Estrogens, FSH, LH, Progesterone, Testosterone, CMP, CBC, Lipids and a Thyroid Panel. It is also important to get a pelvic exam to see if there are changes in the vaginal tissue that might contribute to menopausal symptoms. Because estrogen protects the bones, when estrogen decreases in the body it is important to order a bone density exam to check for osteopenia or osteoporosis. As women go through menopause other risk factors increase as well, such as heart disease. In addition, while menopause does not increase the risk for breast cancer or ovarian cancer, age does. It is important to get proper screening exams during this time.
Conventional treatment of menopause often includes hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. HRT will replace the hormones that are lost during menopause with synthetic or conjugated estrogens as well and progesterone for women with a uterus. Types of HRT used are pills, skin patches and creams. Women should not, however, use HRT for more than 5 years.
Replacing these hormones can often relieve symptoms of menopause, including prevention of osteoporosis, but they do not come without risks. A large study (Women’s Health Initiative) found a link between increase in breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes and blood clots and HRT. Therefore is important to go through your family history and past medical history before you start on HRT and ensure you are not already at risk for these conditions.
There are other medications that are used to treat symptoms of menopause besides hormones. Anti-depressants, including paroxetine (Paxil), venlafaxine (Effexor), bupropion (Wellbutrin) and fluoxetine (Prozac) are often used to stabilize moods during menopause. Anti-anxiety medications may be used if anxiety increases during this time. Gabapentin, an anti-seizure medication, may be prescribed to reduce hot flashes.
Homeopathy provides effective and gentle treatment for women suffering from Menopausal symptoms, without harmful side effects. They are made from natural substances and are prepared so that they are entirely non-toxic. In the United States, the Food and Drug administration or FDA regulates the manufacture and sale of homeopathic remedies. Homeopathy improves health by gently promoting the body’s innate capacity to heal and restore balance.
Homeopathic remedies can help stabilize moods, increase restful sleep, decrease intensity and frequency of night sweats and hot flashes, increase libido, help with fatigue headaches, digestion, and memory. Homeopathic medicines are gentle and cause no side effects. They also will not interact with any medications or hormones you are on. It works on a very deep level, and does not just mask your symptoms, but helps rebalance your system and hormones for good. Because homeopathy is holistic in nature, if you are suffering from other chronic problems, such as allergies, migraines, anxiety, depression or fatigue, these issues can also be helped with homeopathic treatment.
There are additional alternative therapies that can be used to help the treatment of menopause. Eating a healthy, whole food, anti-inflammatory diet lays the groundwork for additional therapies. Phytoestrogens such as legumes (soybeans, chickpeas) and lignans (flaxseeds) can help with symptoms of menopause. Phytoestrogens are structurally similar to estrogen, and they weakly binds to estrogen receptors. Eating a diet high in phytoestrogens may reduce the severity and frequency of night sweats.(1) Regular exercise is also helpful in decreasing hot flashes in menopausal women.
Supplemental therapies may also help with the severity of menopausal symptoms. Herbs such as Black cohosh and Red Clover have been found in numerous studies to decrease symptoms, especially hot flashes.(2 – 4) Other herbs which have been found to be effective are Dong Quai, Ginseng, Licorice, and Wild Yam. Vitamin supplements which can be used to treat symptoms of menopause include Bioflavinoids, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, and Evening Primrose Oil. Adrenal support can also be helpful in supporting the adrenals to make remaining sex hormones that the ovaries can no longer make. Finally, Bio-identical hormones, which are biochemically identical to the hormone that are naturally in the body, can also be used to treat some symptoms of menopause. (Not to be confused with non-bio-identical or synthetic hormones like Premarin, which have a different chemical makeup from the hormones produced by the body.)