menopause

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By: sharon norling, m.d.
A Leading Expert in Functional and Integrative Medicine Early Education and Medical Training Dr. Sharon Norling, a highly respected figure in the medical community, embarked on her journey at ...

Menopause Balance Hormones Alternative Medicine Good Nutrition

Traditional medicine or alternative medicine? Who’s right when it comes to treating menopause? Where is the balance? Do women need any hormones or natural remedies during this natural ageing process?

The literature is vast, and the messages are confusing. So, how do you decide what is best for you during this transition in life?

The average age of menopause is 51, with a range of 40-58. Both premenopause and menopause can create dramatic changes.

These experiences often create memories that remain with women for life and are the subject of stories, humour, books and movies!

Also read >>> Yogic Wisdom: Remedies to Heal the Symptoms of Menopause

Key Takeaways

  1. Menopause Age Range and Impact: Menopause typically occurs around the age of 51, with a range of 40-58 years. This period can bring about significant physical and emotional changes.

  2. Diverse Therapeutic Approaches: The management of menopause can include a variety of therapies such as hormone replacement, lifestyle changes, nutritional adjustments, exercise, supplements, acupuncture, and mind-body techniques.

  3. Importance of Hormone Balance: Balancing hormones is crucial during menopause. This can be achieved through lifestyle changes, stress management, and possibly hormone replacement therapy. Regular monitoring of hormone levels is essential.

  4. Findings from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI): The WHI study raised concerns about Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT), linking it to increased risks of stroke and breast cancer. However, these findings are specific to older postmenopausal women and synthetic hormones.

  5. Role of Bio-Identical Hormones: Bio-identical hormones, structurally identical to human hormones, offer an alternative to synthetic hormones. They can be customized for individual needs to minimize side effects.

  6. Lifestyle Changes for Menopause Management: Key lifestyle recommendations include not smoking, eating a balanced diet, managing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, and staying active.

  7. Use of Natural Botanicals: like black cohosh, natural botanicals may help manage menopausal symptoms. It’s essential to consult healthcare professionals before starting any herbal supplements due to potential interactions.

  8. Personalized Treatment Decisions: Decisions about hormone therapy should be made individually, in consultation with healthcare providers. Being informed and actively participating in the decision-making process is crucial.

  9. Holistic Health Focus: A comprehensive approach to menopause should include considering a range of therapies beyond just hormonal treatment, such as acupuncture, massage, and mind-body therapies.

  10. Advocacy and Informed Choices: Women are encouraged to be their advocates, seek physicians who listen, and stay informed to participate actively in their health decisions

Comprehensive Menopausal Therapies

menopause

Menopausal therapies include hormones, mind-body support, exercise, good nutrition, appropriate supplements, acupuncture and laughter. The primary purpose is to manage the transitions, prolong life and preserve a healthy, active lifestyle.

The approach to achieving these important goals is to normalize as many hormones as possible using conventional pharmacology or natural therapies. The choice is yours.

Hormones are great messengers between the cells and the systems of the body. If your hormones are deficient or out of balance, you may not feel well, or your body may have accelerated metabolic aging.

Balancing Hormones through Lifestyle Changes

You can improve the balance of your hormones by practising good nutrition, decreasing stress and implementing an appropriate exercise program. Replacement of hormones can also improve the balance.

Multiple hormones are vital to your well-being. Some of these include cortisol, insulin, estrogen, progesterone and thyroid. Request that your physician order specific labs to determine your levels and ratios.

Many physicians recommend that women obtain a 2- and 16- -OH estrogen levels test before and after taking estrogen.

This test determines how you are metabolizing estrogen (16-OH is stronger) and may help you and your doctor identify if you are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer.

Supplements like indole 3 carbinol are available to increase the protective 2- OH estrogen.

The Impact of the Women’s Health Initiative Study

The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a 15-year research study launched in 1991, stunned the medical community, as well as women nationwide, with results that reported Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT) actually posed more health risks than benefits for women in the clinical trial.

The data confused people – and scared them. A 41% increase in strokes? The percentages seemed high. What were the real numbers?

Out of 10,000 women on the Estrogen-Progestin arm, there were 29 cases of strokes as opposed to 21 in the placebo group.

The rate of breast cancer was 38 per 10,000 hormone-using women as opposed to 30 per 10,000 non-hormone users, but there were no deaths from breast cancer in either group. The media rarely mentioned the absolute numbers.

There were fewer osteoporosis-related hip fractures and colorectal cancer in the HRT group.

Later, the Estrogen (CEE) arm with hysterectomies women was discontinued. The results showed there was actually less breast cancer in the hormone group.

There was no increase in heart disease but an increase in the number of strokes.

The WHI’s population consisted of older postmenopausal women. Participants had an average age of 63 at the start of the study.

What is less certain is whether the study findings can be applied to younger women, such as the women who typically start estrogen therapy early in menopause.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the data analysis revealed that participants ages 50-59 who took estrogen experienced fewer heart attacks and deaths from coronary heart disease than participants who took the placebo.

Later analysis also indicated better mental function in this group using the hormones. The WHI only studied Premarin and Prempro synthetic hormones. The bio-identical hormones were not studied.

The Role of Bio-Identical Hormones

Bio-identical hormones are structurally identical to the hormones produced by the human body and are intended to replace these hormones when levels decline due to ageing, disease or surgery.

Customization through a compounding pharmacy can maximize the therapeutic effects while minimizing the potential for adverse effects.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic surveyed 176 women taking naturalized micronized progesterone who had previously taken synthetic progestins.

After one to six months, the women reported an overall increase in satisfaction compared to their previous hormones, and they reported the following improvements: 50% fewer hot flashes, 42% less depression, and 47% lower anxiety.

However, there have not been large clinical trials studying the risks and benefits of bio-identical hormones.

Making Informed Decisions on Hormone Therapy

Decisions about whether to stop, start, or change your hormones should be made on an individual basis only after consulting your physician and a knowledgeable pharmacist. Whatever choice you make, it needs to be taken seriously.

Your body’s response needs to be tracked with lab tests and physician follow-up. Levels of estrogen and progesterone need to be measured every six months or sooner, depending on your symptoms.

The consultation results provide an exchange of important information and allow the woman to participate in the decision-making process.

Lifestyle Changes for a Healthy Menopause

menopause

A healthy start includes lifestyle changes:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Eat low-fat (but include “good” fats), high-fibre and several servings of fruits and vegetables.
  • Manage stress.
  • Maintain a normal weight.
  • Be physically active.

Supplements include the following: a high-quality multivitamin, which does not contain iron unless there are specific indications for it; calcium (1500 mg); and vitamin D3 400-800 IU.

To manage menopausal symptoms, natural botanicals may also be considered, such as black cohosh, a perennial plant native to North America.

Remifemin, which contains black cohosh extract, has been the most studied, with patients using 20-80 mg twice a day on average.

Before taking any herbs or botanicals, check with your physician and a knowledgeable pharmacist, as there are herb-herb interactions, herb-drug interactions and supplements that interact with both.

Take only what you need as determined by your health care provider to improve your health or minimize your symptoms.

Your family history and your personal health history are keys to your health path.

Embracing a Holistic Approach to Menopause

Often, when we focus on only one aspect of a health condition, such as hormones, we are treating the “tip of the iceberg.”

A range of therapies such as massage, homoeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, and mind-body therapies have all been shown to help during this transition period.

Medical acupuncture is rapidly gaining recognition in the Western world as an effective treatment. Many integrative medicine practitioners offer medical acupuncture as one of many options.

They also design a healing program and partner with the patient in the decision-making and healing journey.

Key Considerations for Menopausal Health

Important considerations:

  • Choose a physician who allows you to tell your story and is an engaged listener.
  • Be knowledgeable and participate in the decision-making process.
  • Use the lowest dose of hormones and only what you need in supplements.
  • Be your own advocate.

Read next >>> Keeping the wind at bay

FAQs

The average age of menopause is 51, with a typical range of 40 to 58 years. This period is marked by significant changes in a woman’s body and can have a lasting impact on her life.

Menopausal therapies are diverse and can include hormone replacement, mind-body support, exercise, good nutrition, appropriate supplements, acupuncture, and even laughter. The goal is to manage the transition, prolong life, and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.

Balancing hormones can be achieved through good nutrition, reducing stress, engaging in appropriate exercise, and possibly hormone replacement therapy. It’s important to monitor hormone levels through lab tests and consult with a physician for personalized advice.

The WHI study reported that HRT posed more health risks than benefits, including increased risks of strokes and breast cancer. However, it’s important to note that the study had limitations, such as focusing on older postmenopausal women and not including bio-identical hormones in the research.

Bio-identical hormones are structurally identical to the hormones produced by the human body and are used to replace hormones that decline due to aging, disease, or surgery. They are customized through compounding pharmacies to maximize therapeutic effects and minimize adverse effects, unlike synthetic hormones.

Recommended lifestyle changes include not smoking, eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, managing stress, maintaining a normal weight, and staying physically active. These changes can help alleviate menopausal symptoms and improve overall health.

Yes, natural botanicals like black cohosh can be considered for managing menopausal symptoms. Black cohosh extract, found in products like Remifemin, has been studied for its effectiveness in reducing symptoms like hot flashes. However, it’s important to consult with a physician before starting any herbal supplements due to potential interactions, for menopause.

When choosing a treatment plan, it’s crucial to consult with a knowledgeable physician and pharmacist, consider personal health history, and be an active participant in the decision-making process. Treatment should be individualized, and hormone levels should be regularly monitored to treat menopause.