My Intro: Barb & I met when we both opened health food stores in the late 1970s. We have been friends through divorce,menopause, and other hazards of life. Her essay is a perfect posting at the end of Menopause Awareness Month, because menopause of the end of one right of passage and a door to the next stage of your life: Post Menopausal Zest! Thanks, Barb, for your insightful and educational essay.
Most of the photos, unless so noted, are from: www.womanaroundtown.com with the title: Defining the Experience of Mid-Life
Women of the baby boom generation have arrived at the mid-life season known as “menopause.” It marks the end of the regular monthly cycle, but is not a day or date that can be marked on your calendar. Menopause is not an event. It is a natural process that lasts from 6 – 13 years. The years surrounding menopause and encompassing the gradual changes in ovarian function constitute an entire stage of life that is known as the climacteric.
During this time you may notice gradual changes in your body, your mind, and your emotions. The most obvious changes will be in your menstrual cycle. It may become more frequent with heavier bleeding and thick clots. It may stop for months at a time and then start up again. You may learn first hand the meaning of the terms “hot flash” and “night sweats”. Short-term memory may suddenly evaporate, and then return, only to disappear again. Your emotions can be on a roller coaster from day to day, or even hour to hour. Then again, you may experience very few symptoms at all.
Menopause can bring periods of anger….
The three aspects of your life that will have the most profound impact on your experience of menopause are what you EAT, what you BELIEVE, and your level of ACTIVITY. In cultures where the belief about the role of older women is vastly different from the American view menopause is a very different experience. In Celtic cultures for example, the young maiden is seen as a flower, the mother as fruit, and the older woman as seed. The seed is the part of the plant that contains within it the knowledge and full potential of all the other parts. The role of the menopausal woman was to be active and vibrant in re-seeding the community with her concentrated kernel of wisdom and truth. In some Native American cultures, menopausal women were thought of as retaining their “wise blood” rather then shedding it cyclically. They were therefore considered more authoritative than menstruating women, and had an honored and revered place in society.
or sadness, depression and the weepies. (This photo from womenshealth.gov)
Our cultural worship of youth and beauty is a far cry from societies where wisdom and age is honored and revered. In addition, Western (allopathic) physicians treat menopause as if it were a deficiency disease rather than a natural life process. Because of this view, menopause becomes a low hormones disorder, and estrogen/progestin is the most commonly prescribed treatment.
PRESCRIPTION HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY (HRT)
Hormone replacement therapy is big business for pharmaceutical companies, and sales of synthetic hormones are in the billions of dollars. They have done an excellent job in marketing the products both to physicians and to women seeking relief from the symptoms of menopause. When they first hit the market, prescription hormones were touted as a cure for hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and even wrinkles! Pharmaceutical companies claimed HRT would prevent heart disease and osteoporosis. Almost overnight, the “Baby Boom” generation of women became the “Guinea Pig” generation for HRT.
Then in July of 2002, the news drastically changed. A large research study funded by the National Institute of Health was aborted three years before its scheduled end. Why? Because it was determined that the 16,600 women involved in the study were at such an INCREASED risk for heart disease, blood clots, breast cancer and gall bladder disease that it was unfair to them to continue the study. The drug being tested was Prempro, a combination of equine estrogen and a synthetic progesterone (progestin).
Suddenly, thousands of women were being told by their doctors to abandon their prescriptions. Unfortunately, many allopathic doctors do not know how to offer a safe and effective alternative to Rx HRT. Naturopathic medicine has had the answer all along. The natural approach to menopause is indeed not a pill at all. It is a lifestyle. This lifestyle includes choices in diet, supplements, exercise, and even your beliefs about yourself and your life’s path.
Healthy lifestyle choices include regular aerobic exercise and a diet rich in good fats such as olive, coconut and flax oil, whole grains, oily fish like wild salmon, and an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. Since heart disease is the leading cause of death amongst American women, supplements such as natural Vitamin E, CoQ10 and OPC’s can provide additional cardiovascular support.
Osteoporosis is the disease American women are most likely to develop. It is a serious health challenge, especially to Caucasian women. Over 45% of white females 50 or older have bone density scores at least 2 standard deviations below that of healthy younger women. The 1,500,000 hip fractures that occur annually in the population of older U.S. females come with a price tag of $10 billion dollars in health care costs.
Proponents of HRT claim it prevents osteoporosis, and the studies provide evidence this is true. However, it comes with too high a price. With declining progesterone and estrogen levels, your bones (especially in the first 2 years after your period ends) will lose calcium. Although prescription hormones do help to keep calcium in your bones, so does weight bearing exercise, natural progesterone cream and a good “bone density” calcium supplement. Tums and other calcium carbonate choices are not enough. Bone is comprised of more than simply calcium. Other nutrients are needed both to facilitate absorption of the calcium and to keep it in your bones where it belongs.
Vitamin D is absolutely critical to bone health, and the majority of women above the Mason-Dixon line to not get enough of this essential nutrient. Ask your doctor to request a blood test of your vitamin D levels – and be sure your supplement contains the natural D3 form of the vitamin. Most menopausal women can safely take up to 2,000 I.U.s daily without concern of overdose.
To prevent osteoporosis, choose a calcium supplement that contains the following:
- Calcium citrate and/or malate.
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin D
- Hydrochloric acid
This photo is from WebMD.com
Estrogen-like substances are found in many plants. They are known as phytoestrogens. Although they are far less powerful than prescription HRT, these plant hormones can be very beneficial in helping menopausal women to cope with this transition. There are literally hundreds of these phytoestrogen products available on store shelves. Because demand is high, availability is broad based. From health food stores to Wal-Mart, choices abound. When it comes to phytoestrogen (and all herbal remedies) this is a buyer beware era. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate herbal supplements as medicines. They are classified as foods. The end result is that many products are being sold that are worthless at best, and contaminated at worst.
When choosing an herbal supplement, one golden rule applies… know your supplier. Ask how the product was manufactured. Were GMP’s in effect? Is the formula made from a standardized extract? Was it standardized by HPLC testing? Who oversees quality control? If these questions cannot be answered, go elsewhere.
If you suffer from hot flashes and night sweats, a natural phytoestrogen can bring relief. The most widely used and thoroughly researched menopausal herb is Black Cohosh. Many black cohosh based phytoestrogen formulas also contain other herbs added for a synergistic effect. There are several excellent formulas available, depending on your symptoms and need for emotional support, more restful sleep, energy or memory enhancement.
If you have been taking prescription hormones, eliminating them cold turkey may produce some unpleasant symptoms. I have written a separate article that outlines the most effective way to make a gradual transition from Rx to natural hormones. You may contact me to request a copy of it. BARB’S email: firstname.lastname@example.org
NATURAL PROGESTERONE, YOUR BEST CHOICE
Another option for a natural change is the use of progesterone cream. Be sure to choose a brand with at least 400 mg of USP progesterone per ounce. (ProgestaPlus is my personal favorite.) Do not be fooled by companies who market simply wild yam cream. Read the fine print on the label and be sure it says “USP Progesterone”. Wild yam is the source, but it must be converted into natural progesterone, as your body cannot make this conversion. Ask your supplier exactly how many milligrams of progesterone there are per dose. If this information is not available, I’d advise you shop elsewhere. Follow the directions on the label. The late Dr John R. Lee M.D. has written a book entitled “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause” that explains the benefits of natural progesterone.
CHOOSE FOODS FOR LONG LIFE AND HEALTH
Here is an outline of the dietary principles that will serve you well during menopause and for the rest of your life:
* Eliminate white sugar, white flour, and refined carbohydrates
* Eliminate hydrogenated fats
* Eliminate artificial sweeteners
* Eliminate carbonated beverages
* Restrict caffeine intake
* Enjoy an abundance of whole grains
* Enjoy at least 8-10 servings of fresh fruits and veggies each day, more is better!
* If tolerated, incorporate organic, non-GMO soy foods into your meals and snacks (NOTE: soy foods are contraindicated for all women with low thyroid function)
* Eat adequate protein
* Drink ½ your weight in oz. water daily
*Enjoy smaller, more frequent meals
* Eat 35 grams of fiber daily
FIT FOR LIFE!
In addition, lifestyle choices will add health and wellness to your menopause transition, and keep you fit and healthy for the years of freedom to come. These choices include:
- Enjoy 30 – 45 min of aerobic exercise 3-4 Xs weekly
- Do yoga or stretching exercises daily
- Lift weights
- Reduce stress wherever it exists in your life and your body
- Breathe deeply
- Think good thoughts & lovingly release negative ones
- Give freely of affection & smiles
- Meditate, pray, seek connection and centeredness
- Practice gratitude
WHAT ABOUT VITAMINS?
I am a believer in taking supplements to improve vitality and slow the aging process. A good supplement program should provide you with an abundance of nutrients, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and hormone balancing herbs. The foundation program should include 3 basics. These are:
- Multiple Vitamins with high B complex and high antioxidant levels (3-4 daily formula)
- Essential Fatty acids
- Calcium complex
In her book, Reclaiming the Menstrual Myth, Tamara Slayton writes, “The natural expression of personal power and wisdom available to women during menopause and beyond is thwarted and frustrated in our culture. This surge of energy is subsequently turned inward on oneself and can result in many unpleasant symptoms such as hot flashes, depression, mood swings, and a general feeling of being lost and unable to find a new identity. This, coupled with the nutritional depletion in the standard American diet can generate a negative and self-destructive experience of menopause. When women confront the cultural misinformation and address their nutritional needs, menopause becomes an opportunity to discover a new freedom and a deeper experience of self.
I was privileged to hear Christiane Northrop, MD speak about menopause at a seminar I attended. Dr. Northrop is the author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, and has been a leader in the field of alternative health for two decades. I conclude with her words. “No other stage of a woman’s life has as much potential for understanding and tapping into her power as this one. The general cultural negativity that has surrounded menopause in this country for centuries is being challenged as women of my generation, the Baby Boomers, enter menopause by the hundreds of thousands. The climacteric experience will never be the same when we are finished with it.”
I couldn’t agree more.
P.S. from Ellen Sue: I am still reading The Hormonal Cure by Dr. Sarah Gottfried & hope to review it soon. It fits in perfectly with Barb’s essay and actually recommend women over 35 have their hormones checked before perimenopause. I hope to review it next month.
This information is intended for educational purpose only. It is not meant to diagnose or treat any disease.
It is copyrighted by Barbara Jarmoska, Naturopathic Consultant, who may be contacted at:
This material may not be reproduced without permission.