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What is Menopause?

 

Menopause is the transition period in a woman’s life when the ovaries stop producing eggs, menstrual activity decreases and eventually ceases, and the body decreases the production of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Alternative names of the menopause are the change of life or climacteric. It is the permanent cessation of menses and marks the end of the reproductive years. Although menopause is an event common to all women, each woman’s menopausal experience is unique. The hormonal changes of menopause occur at a time in a woman’s life associated with many physical and social changes. These physical changes may include graying hairs, the appearance of wrinkles, expanding waist lines and the development of certain illnesses.

Natural menopause usually requires no treatment and many physicians used to recommend estrogen replacement therapy until recent studies showed an increase of heart disease. Menopause normally occurs between the ages of 40 and 55 and is a natural event in a woman’s life. On average, menopause begins at about age 51. During menopause ovulation (egg production) ceases, eliminating any possibility of pregnancy, and menstruation becomes less frequent and eventually stops. In some women, menstrual activity stops suddenly, but usually it tapers off, both in amount and duration of flow, and frequently the menstrual periods become more closely or more widely spaced. This irregularity may last for 2 or 3 years before menstruation finally ceases.

The symptoms of menopause are caused by changes in estrogen and progesterone levels. As the ovaries become less functional, they produce less estrogen/progesterone and the body subsequently reacts. Some women experience few, if any symptoms, while others experience various symptoms ranging from mild to fairly severe. This variation is normal. A gradual decrease of estrogen allows the body to slowly adjust to the hormone change, but in some women a sudden decrease in estrogen level occurs, causing severe symptoms. This result is often seen when menopause is cause by surgical removal of the ovaries (surgical menopause).

Estrogen is responsible for the build up of the epithelial lining of the uterine cavity. During the reproductive years this lining builds and is then shed(menstruation) on a monthly basis (usually). The menopausal decrease in estrogen prevents this build up from occurring. However, androgenic hormones produced by the adrenal glands are converted to estrogen, and sometimes this will cause post menopausal bleeding. This is usually nothing to worry about, but because post menopausal bleeding may be an early indication of other problems, including cancer, it should always be checked by a physician.

A reduction in estrogen is associated with a number of side effects that can be very annoying. Hot flashes, caused by an increase of blood glow in the blood vessels of the face, neck, chest and back, and vaginal dryness, caused by thinning of the tissues of the vaginal wall, are the two side effects most frequently experienced. The mood changes and lack of sex drive that are also sometimes associated with menopause may result partially from the hormone decrease, but may also result from having to deal with hot flashes and vaginal dryness. In addition to these side effects there are others that may go undetected for many months or years. Decreased estrogen levels increase the risks for osteoporosis (loss of calcium from the bones, causing bone fragility), which sometimes isn’t detected until a bone fracture occurs.

Positive aging

Menopause is likely to be easier of a woman has a high level of self-awareness and is in tune with her body’s needs.We need to love ourselves and love our bodies, and treat them with the respect they deserve. Many women spent their lives giving to others and have not learned to receive. This is a time to enjoy treats such as massage and explore the many new therapies available. It is also a good time to explore new spiritual paths if that is not already an integral part of life. There is evidence that people with a rich spiritual life age more happily and live longer.

Building self-esteem and enjoying life will help to promote a positive approach to life as an older person. It will also encourage us to build healthy (non-dependant) relationships. In the West, there is a youth culture and the focus of the menopause is usually on loss. We can learn from other societies where women only achieve status as a individual at this time, and later life is seen as a time of wisdom, maturity and valuable experience. Many healers and advisors are older women. Post-menopause can be a wonderful time to explore new freedom, develop as an individual, tear down old boundaries, redefine our roles and goals, and celebrate new achievements.

Food is medicine!

The right diet will relieve symptoms, support the endocrine system and promote good health throughout the menopause. It will assist the body to adjust itself to change and keep the hormones more balanced. The main aims should be to: Stabilize blood sugar levels: to enable remaining hormones to be fully utilized. Large gaps between meals are likely to lead to hypoglycemic symptoms such as irritability, forgetfulness, palpitations, etc. When glucose levels fall too low, the adrenal glands release adrenaline and the pancreas releases glucagons to increase blood sugar. At this stage people often see a quick boost in the form of a sweet snack. The surge in blood sugar requires the pancreas to produce insulin and puts further strain on the adrenals. Repeated strain on the adrenals can impair their proper functioning. They can be supported by regular intake of complex carbohydrates (eating little and often) and avoiding simple sugars, which are metabolized too quickly.

Avoid soft drinks as much as possible. Increase water intake and avoid addictive foods and drinks: to help stabilize blood sugar and avoid build up of toxins. Alcohol, tea, coffee and chocolate contain stimulants, which strain the adrenal glands. They can also contribute to hot flushes, tiredness, anxiety and panic attacks. Caffeine has a diuretic effect, which flushes vital nutrients out of the body. Tannin binds important minerals such as calcium and prevents their absorption. Alcohol is a toxin which strains the liver, depletes the body of vitamins and minerals (especially zinc), and interferes with the metabolism of essential fatty acids which are needed to produce prostaglandins - the chemicals which help to control moods, immune response and hot flushes. The body needs plenty of plain water to function smoothly.

Reduce intake of dairy products (bio yogurt excepted) and red meat: to help balance hormones and promote effective digestion. Red meat is high in phosphates, which encourage release of calcium from the bones, thus increasing the risks of osteoporosis. Dairy products are acid forming and mucus forming. They tend to have a high saturated fat content, which can encourage arteriosclerosis and high blood pressure. Both meat and dairy products are difficult and slow to digest, using up precious energy. They can putrefy in the gut, interfering with absorption of vital nutrients. (Organic yogurts with live bacteria in an exception because it is beneficial to gut flora).

Include essential fats:  

To build cells, keep skin and arteries supple, balance hormones. Essential fatty acids are part of the unsaturated group of fats. They are needed by the body on a daily basis and are found in nuts, seeds, oily fish and vegetables. Omega 3 oils are especially helpful in menopause as the body uses them to produce prostaglandins, which lower blood pressure, decrease sodium and water retention and reduce blood platelet stickiness, thus protecting against heart attacks and strokes. They are also important for immune function, metabolism, and skin repair, and are found in oily fish, linseed, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and dark green vegetables. Evening primrose oil has a balancing effect on the hormones and can reduce PMT.

Increase dietary fibre: 

To balance blood sugar levels, prevent constipation and improve elimination of toxins. The best sources of fibre are whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables. Reduce sodium:to balance water retention and blood pressure. This is best achieved by reducing table salt intake and avoiding processed foods, which often contain added salt (and sugar). Sodium is kept in balance by potassium, so it is important to reduce alcohol, coffee, sugar, diuretics and laxatives, which flush out potassium from the body. Increase intake of phyto-oestrogens: to support hormonal system. These are a group of foods containing substances that have a hormone-like action (e.g., compounds that have mildestrogenic action and fit onto estrogen receptor cells. This can help block harmfull xeno-estrogens, and also inhibit the development of cancer cells. Studies have shown phyto-estrogens to reduce the level of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) to pre-menopausal levels, alleviating vaginal dryness and reducing hot flushes. 

As well as soya (especially tofu and miso), other sources are red clover, linseed oil, fennel, celery, parsley and citrus fruits. Limit use of soy products if you are taking thyroid medications or have had an estrogenic cancer. Balance micro-nutrients: to ensure an adequate supply of essential vitamins and minerals. A diet high in fruit and vegetables should supply most of these and “eating the rainbow” is a good rule of thumb, since different coloured vegetables contain different essential nutrients. However, some vitamins are lost during storage and cooking, and some soils are depleted of certain minerals. Anti-oxidants, such as Vitamin C, combat free radicals to alleviate the signs of ageing and should be taken daily. Vitamin E, up to 1200 units (found in olives, avocados, beans and whole grains) reduces the risk of heart disease and can counteract dry skin and vaginal dryness. B vitamins can reduce anxiety andfatigue.

A multi-vitamin/mineral supplementmay sometimes be necessary, especially during stressful times and to boost the immune system. Evening Primrose, Flaxseed, or fish oils increase essential fatty acids. Check out food intolerances: to relieve bloating, IBS, skin problems and severe menopausal symptoms. Many people in North America are intolerant to wheat and/or dairy foods without realizing it. Eat garlic and onions daily: to boost the immune system, protect against cancer and combat infection. Eat the most natural foods possible: avoid plastic packaging (xeno-estrogens interfere with the body’s hormonal receptors), eat organic to decrease intake of chemicals and artificial hormones, buy fresh local produce where possible – or grow your own!

Regular exercise:

Weight bearing exercise benefits bone growth. Aerobic exercise promotes cardiovascular health and controls fat per day of brisk walking, yoga, swimming or dancing (preferably a mix of different activities throughout the week) can be a wonderful anti-depressant flushing of toxins and lymph drainage; promotes good balance and coordination; promotes healthy elimination of waste; improves lung and heart capacity; maintains muscle tones and build and maintains bone density. Minimize the use of cortisone, diuretics, anti-convulsant drugs and anti-acids.

Lifestyle Modifications:

Woman should identify precipitating factors that increase the severity of hot flashes and try to avoid them. It is helpful to avoid spicy foods, hot beverages, caffeinated beverages, alcohol and cigarettes. It is recommended to dress in layers, with garments that are easy to take off and put back on. It is suggested to pick clothes with fabric that breathe; one should choose cotton over synthetics. Women should avoid hot showers or warm baths before bedtime. An increase of soy products in the diet may help.

What You Believe About Sex and Menopause is What You Get

A key finding, by the researchers, is that the only women to experience loss of sexual desire during the post menopausal period, were only those women who believed that loss of interest in sex is a normal part of the aging process. Sexual activity is very important. Sex with a trusted partner or self-pleasuring (preferably to orgasm but not necessarily) maintain circulation to the sex organs, stimulates the endocrine glands, encourages libido, promotes lubrication and eases congestion. It is a case of “use it or lose it”!  Seeing oneself as desirable sexual being also promotes self esteem and dispels negative images of ageing.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

While menopause is viewed as a disease in Western Medicine, this transitional time for women is viewed very differently in TCM. When a woman is finished with her childbaring years, to conserve the woman’s Qi (life force energy), the body shuts down the monthly preparation of the uterus and the subsequent shedding of blood when a pregnancy does not ensue. This closing of the “baby making apparatus” allows the woman to retain all of her resources for herself as she ages. This transition should be relatively uneventful – and in the East, be it because of life style or diet, it often is. Here in the West, particularly because of the fast paced stressful lifestyle of the urban contemporary woman, there tends to be underlying Qi problems, such as, kidney yin deficiency and constrained liver Qi. It is beyond the scope ofthis paper to delineate these, but to point out that these underlying patterns of disharmony give rise to the typical menopausal symptoms complex of hotflashes, night sweats and the like. TCM has described strategies to address these patterns for 1000’s of years. 

Acupuncture is helpful to balance the Qi and to strengthen internal organ systems. Chinese herbs can address the disharmonies.  According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, in women about fifty years of age is the Conception and Thorough fare vessels become devoid of blood and kidney qi is in a state of deficiency with an imbalance of yin and yang, and hence the menopause takes place.

Acupuncture for Menopause

Acupuncture has been used to treat menopausal symptoms for thousands of years with excellent results in easing these symptoms without anyside effects. Menopause can be classified into three areas: Lack of yin leading to hyperactivity, blood stasis as a result of qi stagnation, and a build-up of phlegm and dampness in the body. The principle of acupuncture is to strengthen the individual’s body and re-established a harmonious state of the body. Acupuncture treatment regulates unstable hormone levels during menopause. The energy flow is regulated in the body needling techniques. According to a report in Yunnan.

Traditional Chinese Medicine, 31 women with menopausal symptoms were treated with acupuncture, Eighty-seven percent of the women in this study showed significant improvement from acupuncture therapy. In western medicine, doctors used to prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT), but its long term effects are questionable due to increased risk of heart problems.

Chiropractic

The philosophy of chiropractic is based on the body’s innate intelligence, wisdom and ability to heal itself. The science of chiropractic is based on the study of how the nervous system affects the body’s system and organization. The focus of chiropractic is on the relationship between spinal subluxtions (misalignment of bones/pinched nerves) and the dysfunction of the nervous system. When the pinched nerve is eliminated by adjusting the vertebrae, the body can return to balance and heal itself. When the bones are properly aligned, there are clear signals of communication  between the body and the brain, resulting in balance that leads to health.

Chiropractic views the body holistically; it is a natural approach that does not use drugs or surgery. It is not based on “curing: symptoms but rather on maintaining wellness and vitality.

Chiropractic and menopause

Women who suffer from pelvic and gynecological conditions may benefit from chiropractic treatment. Chiropractic suggests that there is a direct relationship between gynecological problems and subluxations of the spine.

In one study of 122 women, the majority of dysmenorrheal (painful menstruation) sufferers had lower back problems and spinal misalignments. They reported beneficial effects with menstrual cramps and other gynecological problems. Hot flashes, which not every woman has (and some men do), have a high profile with menopause. Hot flashes arise from neuroendocrine activity and heightened stress tends to make them worse. As levels of estrogen change, reports indicate it is the decrease, not the deficiency, of estrogen involved in the relationship with our temperature control centre (hypothalamus), and this change is an adaptation process. Subluxations (spinal and cranialmis alignments) can interfere with the normal adaptive process of the body during these times.

Massage, Shiatsu, Acupressure and Reflexology can all be helpful in encouraging relaxation, highlighting imbalances and increasing self-knowledge about our body’s needs. Naturopathy is very helpful as are Bach flower remedies. “Rescue Remedy” comes in small portable bottles and has an almost instant anxiety-relieving effect.

Vibration Healing

Vibrational therapy is considered a complementary form of treatment. In addition to being an alternative menopause treatment, energy therapy is used to both treat and prevent a variety of conditions, illnesses and diseases. During a vibrational therapy session, the practitioner places their hands in various patterns on the body using light, therapeutic touches. While sometimes confused with massage, this for of natural menopause treatment is a distinct holistic therapy that channels positive energy into the body, in order to encourage health and healing. As the therapist works with the life energy flowing through the body, pain and tension is released, negative mental loops are reduced, emotional challenges are assimilated and one reconnects with their essential self (soul, spirit, higher-self, or whatever you call it). Specifically, it has been  observed that over a period of time vibrational therapy has normalized menstrual cycles, reduced cramping, helped with migraines, and lessened frequency and intensity of “hotflashes”.

Technically, the body is rewired to accommodate the energy that causes hot flashes that are so bothersome. The efficacy of Vibrational therapy seems to be in its ability to bring all systems of the body into balance maximizing the natural ability of the body to heal itself. Vibrational therapies are being accepted in hospitals and clinics and requested by patients as a pre and post-operative adjunct procedure. In her book “Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster”, Peggy Huddleston recommends the use of Energy Therapy.

Reflexology

Regular reflexology treatments can support a menopausal woman physically, mentally and emotionally. It cahelp a woman tune into her body’s needs, highlighting imbalances and areas, which need attention. It can provide a safe space in which to relax, receive and be self focused. Having anempathic reflexologist who understands the physical changes behind the menopausal symptoms and takes her problems seriously can, in itself, relieve stress.

Treatment focuses on:

Stimulating the endocrine system: Adrenals (very important after menopause as hormone providers). The pituitary (regulates other glands), thyroid and parathyroid (to balance calcium and phosphorus levels and regulate metabolism). Ovaries (to regulate hormone production) and uterus (to maintain its circulation). Head/brain area to stimulate hypothalamus (stimulates pituitary and controls body temperature) and pineal gland (body rhythms, sleep patterns). Lower spine to support reproductive area. Promoting elimination and fluid balance: liver (to detoxify toxins and regulate body heat), kidneys (to filter blood and balance body fluid), lymphatic system (encourage lymph drainage), colon and rectum (to regulate bowel habits). Boosting the immune system: lymphatic system, spleen, and thymus gland. Boosting self-esteem: solar plexus (calming, supporting, promotes positive self-image and boosts will power). Supporting emotional balance: heart and cardiac area (to release emotional tension and promote positiveenergy in heart chakra). Relieving stress: promote relaxation-chest and diaphragm to ease breathing; neck, occipital,  shoulders, joints, and spine releases tension.

Treatment is done primarily on the feet and calves (socks off), although can also be done on the hands, head and eyes, while lying on the back or sitting comfortable.  Aromatherapy and ambiance may be used to enhance the mood and effectiveness; otherwise all that is needed is a pair of willing feet and the hands of a keen reflexologist.

Finally, good active listening and counseling skills can help encourage a positive approach to menopause. The reflexologist’s suggestions about diet and lifestyle may increase the client’s understanding of the menopausal process and the factors,which exacerbate her symptoms.

Yoga

Over a third of women using yoga found that it helped combat symptoms, plus the exercise helps prevent osteoporosis. As an added benefit yoga has been proven to be of benefit in pain management and motor control.

Choosing Herbal Products

Consult a knowledgeable professional (qualified Herbalist, Naturopath, Acupuncturist, Pharmacist, etc.) and a credible textbook. Educate yourself about herbs before taking them. Just as you would read information about pharmaceutical drugs actions side effects and contraindications before taking it, you should be equally informed about herbs. Do not disregard mainstream medicine; especially for the treatment of serious illness, Herbs can be very effective in the prevention of illness, the improvement of symptoms or the treatment of mild  problems.

If you intend to use Herbs or are using them to complement your medical regimen, be sure to inform doctor and pharmacist. Do not use herbs indiscriminately. They can be powerful medicines and are worthy of the same respect as pharmaceutical medication. Unless you are a botanist, gathering your own herbs can be dangerous. Purchase herbs from reputable companies that have some longevity in the business. This helps to ensure a quality product and reduces the likelihood of adulteration. Contact the manufacturer with any questions you have about the product. Credible companies will welcome inquiries.

Use herbal preparations as directed on the package. Herbs are sold in many forms (capsules, tablets, extracts, powders, tinctures, teas, creams, dried), so dosages and instructions may vary. To be safe, start out with the smallest dose and gradually increase the amount you take. Do not exceed the recommended dosage or duration. If taking herbs on an empty stomach induces nausea, try taking them with food.

If you experience a severe or allergic reaction, discontinue to herb and see medical advice. Check the expiration date and try to buy your products at a store with good turnover. Some herbs are phytohormones. If you are not a candidate for estrogen therapy, you may wish to avoid these preparations as well.

Natural Remedies

There are many useful herbal remedies, which can ease menopausal symptoms and support the body to adjust.The main ones are:

Agnus castus – stimulates and normalizes the function of the pituitary gland, and restore hormone balance.

Black Cohosh – used by native Americans, also supports pituitary gland and reduces fluid retention.

Dong Quai – (often thought of as the female equivalent of ginseng) alleviates vaginal dryness, regulates periodsand reduces hot flushes.

Yarrow – can lower the body temperature, so alleviates hot flushes and night sweats.

Dandelion – has a detoxifying effect so supports the liver in eliminating ‘old’ hormones and built-up toxins. Also reduces fluid retention.

Wild yam – helps balance hormones and has anti-spasmodic qualities so useful to relieve period pains and muscle/joint problems.

Motherwort – alleviates vaginal dryness, helps calm anxiety, reduces hot flushes, helps combat insomnia, and relieves pain.

Sage – combats flushing, especially night sweats.

Red Clover – a rich source of phyto-oestrogens.

Evening Primrose Oil – a rich natural source of gamma-linoleic acid, encourages healthy skin and helps hormonal balance, reduces PMT and menopausal stress.

Herbal teas can also help: for instance, peppermint to calmdigestion and disease. Chamomilesoothes and relaxes, and fennel combats constipation.

Herbs

The information available to date suggests that menopausal symptoms may be alleviated for some women by using herbs, particularly black cohosh.  Symptom improvement is different for each woman, however – some women have a noticeable improvement insymptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, and insomnia, while others notice no change or only experience relief for a short period of time.

Black Cohosh (cimicifuga racemosa)Black cohosh is used to relieve symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, irritability, mood swings and feelings of depression. This herb is considered a safe and effective alternative to estrogen when hormones cannot be used.

Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis)Dong quai, in combination with other herbs, has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine to relieve symptoms of menopause.  While there continue tobe reports of improvement in symptoms using this herb, the effect of using dong quai by itself varies from woman to woman. Clinical studies comparing dong quai only to a placebo do not confirm a specific benefit of this herb. In general, however, dong quai is thought to be safe for relief of menopausal symptoms, particularly if hormones cannot be used.

Red CloverRed clover contains high quantities of plant-based estrogens called isoflavones that may improve menopausal symptoms, reduce the risk of bone loss, and lower the risk of heart disease by improving blood pressure and possibly by increasing HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind of cholesterol).

Asian Ginseng (panax ginseng)Menopausal women to reduce stress, improve general well being, decrease feelings of depression, and enhance memory may use Asian ginseng. This herb is thought to have estrogen-like activities, although not all studies support this assertion.

Wild Yam (dioscorea villosa)Many women claim that wild yam (when used as cream) improvesmenopausal symptoms, particularly vaginal dryness. While this extract has been converted to progesterone inlaboratory test tubes, the value of wild yam for menopausal symptoms has notyet been fully evaluated in people or even in animals

Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)Some women report that evening primrose oil diminishes the frequency and intensity of their hot flashes, but these claims have not been proven by scientific studies. Although the herbs have not been investigated in clinical studies, a professional herbalist will carefully evaluate an individual woman and may consider prescribing one or more of the following to alleviate symptoms of menopause.

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) Stinging nettle (Urtica dioca) Saw palmetto (Serenoa rapens) Uva ursi (Arcotostaphylos uva ursi) Valerian root (Valerina officinalis) Angelica root (Angelica archangelica); Purplestem angelica (Angelica atropurpurea) Hot Flash Cocktail 400 IU vitamin e (mixed d-tocopherols) 500-600 mg calcium citrate with 400 IU vitamin D 200 mg magnesium citrate 500 mg vitamin C with bioflavonoids Omega-3 fatty acids (equivalent of 360 mg DHA & 240 mg EPA) Take a.m and repeat in p.m.