Health September Plateau Living
bone up on the change
By Dr. Jill Monster
Menopause is not a disease, but it can cause symptoms that are disruptive to daily life. Thankfully, for most women a well-managed menopause can be a welcome change and lead to a vibrant and productive life stage. Menopause occurs when your menses has stopped for one year. In the U.S., the average age of menopause is 51, but a “normal” menopause can occur between ages 35 and 55. “Perimenopause” can begin as long as 10 years prior to menopause and is defined as the time period when hormones begin to drop.
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The main female hormones are estrogen and progesterone, and to a lesser degree testosterone. Estrogen is the hormone that is most associated with femininity. During your reproductive years, it builds up the lining of the uterus and keeps skin plump and bones strong. Progesterone balances estrogen and is largely responsible for the timing and consistency of the menstrual cycle. Testosterone increases libido and helps you build muscle mass. During perimenopause, progesterone is usually the first hormone to drop. This often leads to increased PMS, anxiety, insomnia and changes in your menstrual cycle. Estrogen levels tend to drop closer to menopause. This can trigger hot flashes, vaginal dryness, cognitive changes, thinning skin, incontinence and lower sex drive. There are also changes you can’t see like thinning bones and increasing cholesterol levels. Lower libido and loss of muscle tone are at least partly due to lower testosterone levels. Some women are unfortunate enough to experience all of the negative symptoms of menopause while other women breeze through the transition relatively unscathed. If intervention is needed for menopause, it can vary from diet and lifestyle changes to hormone replacement therapy.
Diet and Lifestyle: During the menopausal transition, a healthy diet becomes more important. Sugar is enemy #1. Exercise is your new best friend. You may notice that you are not coping with stress as well as you have in the past. It is time to give in to relaxation and rejuvenation. Acupuncture can be a particularly effective treatment during these transition years. Ask your doctor to recommend nutritional supplements. Botanical Medicines: These have been used to manage menopausal symptoms for hundreds if not thousands of years. Plant medicines should only be used under the advice of a physician.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): HRT means prescribing estrogen, progesterone and sometimes testosterone to manage menopausal symptoms. These can be synthetic or “bio-identical.” Bio-identical hormones are made from plants and are identical to the hormones in created in our body, rather than being made of synthetic compounds. They come in many different forms including creams, patches, liquids and capsules. They are available at regular pharmacies or can be custom blended at compounding pharmacies. With HRT, most women get relief from their menopausal symptoms fairly quickly. However, not everyone is a candidate for hormone replacement therapy. Your doctor can discuss risks and benefits with you. Schedule an appointment with your doctor to have an open and honest discussion about your concerns. This area of medicine is rapidly evolving. A physician that works frequently with patients experiencing menopause can help you make informed decisions about how to navigate symptoms.
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