changes aheadMenopause is a natural transition that all women go through, but some women have a more challenging path than others. Because menopause is primarily a hormonal transition, much like puberty, the body produces erratic symptoms and each person experiences it differently. Conventional approaches see menopause almost in the context of a disease and aim at managing symptoms, but there are many natural means and ways that women can help reduce many of the more uncomfortable and painful symptoms of menopause without the risk of serious side effects.



What most people call ‘menopause’ is actually the preceding time period when the body is going through the transition into menopause. Menopause is actually a moment, the moment when your body has completed the hormonal transition. Perimenopause, or pre-menopause, is the time period when women tend to experience most of the symptoms associated with the hormone fluctuations and physiological changes. Once a women has gone a full 12 months without having a period, that women is said to have ‘reached’ menopause. From that moment on, they are ‘post-menopausal’.



During Perimenopause, the hormones estrogen and progesterone are diminishing in the body. Because these two hormones are strongly tied to the functions of the ovaries, the woman’s body has to readjust its rhythm. Effectively, the body is turning off its entire menstrual cycle, a process that has taken place in a woman’s body for decades, and now the body has to adopt a new rhythm altogether. The process can be a little unsteady, to say the least.



COMPREHENSIVE LIST OF SYMPTOMS



Some of the most common symptoms women experience during the perimenopausal period are:



  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Migraine Headaches
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
  • Thinning of the membranes of the vulva, the vagina, cervix, and also the outer urinary tract, along with considerable shrinking and loss in elasticity of all of the outer and inner genital areas.
  • Itching
  • Dryness
  • Bleeding
  • Watery discharge, often during coughing or sneezing
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Urinary urgency
  • Increased susceptibility to inflammation and infection, for example vaginal candidiasis, and urinary tract infections
  • Back pain
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Osteopenia
  • Breast atrophy
  • breast tenderness ± swelling
  • Decreased elasticity of the skin
  • Formication (itching, tingling, burning, pins and needles, or sensation of ants crawling on or under the skin)
  • Dry skin


  • Psychological symptoms, including:



  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss
  • Poor concentration
  • Mood disturbance
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Insomnia


  • Sexual symptoms are not uncommon:



  • Painful intercourse
  • Decreased libido
  • Problems reaching orgasm
  • Vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy


  • As you can see, the symptoms can affect the entire body, but keep in mind: just because the list of possible symptoms is long, does not mean that everyone will experience all of these symptoms, in fact many women go through menopause with a few infrequent hot flashes, some irregular periods, and minor mood swings and when they reach menopause the symptoms abate naturally. Every woman is different.



    There are many factors that can affect a women’s transition through menopause. Some women go through menopause early, as in their 30s, and this is often caused by toxicological, environmental, and dietary factors such as smoking, poor diet, increased body mass index, chronic disease, autoimmune conditions, etc.



    More and more women are also being exposed to toxins which mimic estrogen, such as certain pesticides, and the effects of exposure to these substances may have an impact on a women’s Perimenopause. Until sufficient research is conducted on this topic, it might be best to take precautions to reduce your exposure to such substances as they may complicate your body’s ability to effectively transition through menopause.



    medication

    Another important fact for women to keep in mind, is that menopause is not a disease or a serious medical condition. It is a universal life experience, and does not always require medication to control. It seems that today almost every part of a woman’s natural biological process requires pharmaceutical intervention. Menstrual cycles, pregnancy, menopause, and everything in between seems to have an associated medication. While many of these medicines may help many women, there is a growing body of evidence that these medications, particularly the ones aimed at managing perimenopausal symptoms may actually increase the risk of serious medical conditions.



    WOMEN’S HEALTH INITIATIVE



    The most prominent and recent example are the results of the study conducted by the Women’s Health Initiative which were released in late 2002. The goal of this study was to measure the health-related quality of life improvements of a type of hormone replacement therapy that was the most commonly prescribed medication to both pre- and post-menopausal women to alleviate symptoms. The type of medication used was called conjugated equine estrogen the most popular form is currently still marketed under the brand name Premarin, so called because of the source of its primary ingredient PREgnant MARe’s urINe. Specific forms of estrogen are collected from the urine of pregnant female horses bred on large farms for the sole purpose of supplying these estrogens to pharmaceutical companies that manufacture these medications.



    Besides the animal rights issues surrounding their manufacturing practices, the Women’s Health Initiative, WHI, wanted to measure the exact amount of health-related quality of life benefits that these medications could confer to women. The results were extremely controversial, but nonetheless alarming.



    The study was intended to be conducted over several years, but the researchers halted the study early because the medication was increasing the risk of strokes beyond their ethical thresholds. Not only was the medication putting their women at risk, it was conferring, “…no significant improvements due to CEE (equine estrogens)  in the areas of general health, physical functioning, pain, vitality, role functioning, mental health, depressive symptoms, cognitive function, or sexual satisfaction…” according to the WHI study.



    There was also evidence that suggested that the medication could also be affecting breast cancer risk, and this information, coupled with the increased risk of strokes and blood clots has made women, the world over, think twice about hormone replacement therapy.



    PROPER DIAGNOSTIC TOOLS



    One of the common difficulties for medical professionals trying to help women experiencing more severe menopausal symptoms is that hormone levels tend to fluctuate erratically during the perimenopausal  stage and this makes recommending hormone therapies often a hit or miss because of the often cloudy picture blood tests and other common diagnostic tools provide.



    One test that our Center finds extremely useful in better understanding our female patients’ hormonal situations is the genetic test that explains how that patient metabolizes different types of estrogen. This information is very important. It tells our practitioners whether your body makes too much or too little estrogen, and of which type. There are many forms of estrogen that are made in the body, and too much of the wrong kind can cause health problems and also exacerbate menopausal symptoms.



    This diagnostic tool is extremely helpful and the results are consistent and are not affected by fluctuating hormone levels because they only study your genes, which remain the same throughout your whole life.



    “GOOD” ESTROGEN AND “BAD” ESTROGEN



    Research has shown that certain forms of estrogen can increase the risk of breast and other female cancers. While the phrase “good and bad estrogen” may sound like you want none of one kind and all of the other, it is actually more about maintaining a balance, and ensuring that you simply have more of one than the other, because even the ‘bad’ estrogens play an important biological role in the body.




    estrogen

    The two specific forms of estrogen that practitioners usually examine to determine if this balance is being maintained are 2-hydroxyestrone (the “good) and 16-alpha-hydroxyestrone (the “bad”).  There are many factors which can tip the scale towards the ‘dark side’ like smoking, alcohol, poor diet, poor body mass index, heavy metal toxicity, and others.



    Understanding how your body deals with estrogen on a genetic level provides practitioners with critical information about whether hormone replacement therapy would be safe for you, or better yet, which natural substances and dietary changes can help you restore a healthy estrogen balance to help overall health and improve menopause symptoms.





    INDOLE-3-CARBINOL



    Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C) is a substance which can be found at relatively high levels in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, collard greens and kale. It has been isolated and is now available in dietary supplement form. This substance helps an enzyme break down 16-a-hydroxyestrone, thereby reducing ‘bad’ estrogen.



    Several studies have indicated that I3C may inhibit the development, and possibly even protect against several types of cancers, including reproductive cancers.  



    NOT THE END, BUT A NEW BEGINNING




    new beginning

    Many women tend to feel loss and view menopause as a period of decline. This point of view tends to make women anxious and experience more stress when going through this natural transitional phase of life. Particular in Western cultures, women tend to associate menopause with the end of youth, a prelude to death even. However, many other cultures view menopause in a much more positive light. Women that have attained menopause are viewed as those who have become wise and noble. In some religions, once women reach menopause, they are then allowed to participate in certain rites as a token of their ascension into a state of respectability and wisdom.



    Many women also view menopause as the liberation from the fear of pregnancy and are now able to enjoy a more healthy sex life without having to use birth control and the associated side effects. It is also the liberation of the sometimes exasperating problems with menstruation, the cramping, the spotting, and mood swings, and all of the other annoyances that sometimes accompany the fertile period of womanhood.



    Menopause, though it is the end of fertility, one could also choose to see it as the beginning of a healthy retirement from the troubles of young women. Menopause is not a decline, but rather a higher level of womanhood. Embrace it, and be proud of it.



    For your individualized hormone testing and tailored program to deal with your peri-menopausal/menopausal symptoms call the Nutrikon Center at 818-761-1661 to make an appointment or to get more information about the proceedings.