INTRODUCTION: Menopause is the point in a woman’s life when menstruation ceases permanently, signifying the end of her ability to have children and is diagnosed when a woman has gone without a period for twelve consecutive months. It is considered premature if it occurs prior to the age of 40, or artificial if radiation exposure, chemotherapeutic drugs, or surgery induces it. Menopause is something that happens to all women as they grow older.
HOT FLASHES: Hot flashes are perhaps the most troublesome symptom associated with approaching menopause and are experienced by a majority of women during the transition period (no pun intended). An ancient Chinese therapy offers some menopausal women another option for their hot flashes.
For others however, the decreasing levels of estrogen associated with menopause may produce more distressing symptoms that include: Mood swings – Reduced sex drive – Hot flashes – Sweating – Racing heart (palpitations) – Headaches – Vaginal dryness and soreness – Trouble sleeping and Thinning bones (osteoporosis). These symptoms can last from a few months to up to 10 years.
HORMONES: Known as the “change of life”, It is the last stage of a gradual biological process in which the ovaries reduce their production of female sex hormones–a process which begins about 3 to 5 years before the final menstrual period. When you are in your mid-30’s, your ovaries begin to change how much estrogen and progesterone (two female hormones) they make.
During this period, called perimenopause, which can last anywhere from five to fifteen years, the brain continues to send out hormones trying to stimulate the development of ovarian follicles, and it is normal for a woman’s ovaries to respond erratically, so that her hormones fluctuate a great deal from month to month. It continues to produce hormones even after ovulation stops, producing some estrogen and also androgens (male hormones) including testosterone.
To best understand what occurs during menopause, it is helpful to know about the physiology of menstruation and the hormones that are involved in your monthly cycle. Changes in hormones are a major factor in that sense of physical, mental, and emotional imbalance that may characterize a woman’s experience of menopause.
A lot of women discover that the right combination of herbs, exercise, nutritional support, and natural hormones helps them to control most of their symptoms. Eventually your ovaries stop creating estrogen and other hormones.
CANCER: Your risks for heart disease, cancer, and bone thinning (osteoporosis) increase after menopause. You should be checked for colon, rectal and skin cancer. If you have a family history of breast cancer, check with your doctor about your risk. If you have a uterus and decide to take estrogen, you must also take progesterone to prevent endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus).
“There’s been much experimental evidence and patient experience showing estrogen given alone can cause endometrial cancer,” says FDA’s Smith. Endometrial cancer is not the only risk from estrogen use. It is not understood whether estrogen use increases the risk of breast cancer, or what effect adding progestin might have on this risk. In recent years, several studies on breast cancer and estrogen use have been carried out, with conflicting results, says Smith.
TREATMENT: Menopause has become increasingly medicalized, which means it is viewed as something that requires intervention and treatment rather than as a natural life transition that may benefit from support. You don’t need treatment for it unless your symptoms bother you. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your possible health risks before you start a treatment for menopausal symptoms.
There are also “natural” treatments for the symptoms that can be bought over-the-counter, without a prescription. You can begin or end the treatment at any time.
CONCLUSION: Menopause is a natural process and not a disease. It is a normal part of life just like puberty. Part of the stigma is its association with aging, but we age no more rapidly in our 50s than in any other decade of life. In the United States, the average age is 51, with most women usually reaching natural menopause somewhere between 40 and 58 years of age. If you’ve never been an exerciser, it is a great excuse to make the change.