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What You Need to Know About Menopause

As women age, they go through various life phases:  There’s the teen years, childbearing years, and then menopause. During menopause, you can no longer get pregnant and will no longer have a menstrual cycle. When I was in my teens up to my thirties, menopause seemed so foreign to me. I never gave it a single thought until I was in my late forties. That’s when I wanted to learn more of what to expect and what tools would help me have a healthy transition into this phase of life.   

Symptoms of Menopause 

Menopause can sneak up on you, where you don’t realize what’s happening until you see your doctor about odd physical or mental symptoms. Some women do get perimenopause first, where you experience some menopause symptoms prior to actually having menopause. This is actually a good thing because you have this for about a year before menopause.  You then have plenty of time to adjust to the changes in your body. That’s what happened to me. At around age forty-eight, my periods were heavier, and would occasionally skip a month or two. At fifty, I began to have hot flashes that lasted a several minutes. It did feel strange and the fact that it could happen at any moment and anywhere made me feel anxious. One time I was at work and with a client when I felt a sense of heat rise up into my head. I just knew that my face was red and quickly excused myself. As I opened the bathroom door, I walked past the mirrors and saw blotches of red on my neck, and face. It was beyond blushing. I waited out the hot flash which was about three to five minutes. I wondered if anyone noticed and what they were thinking. I was relieved my client didn’t say anything. If someone did ask, I could have said, “I’m a hot mess,” and laugh it off. It was kind of the truth at the moment.  

Symptoms can vary. Some women have severe hot flashes accompanied by sweating, while other women don’t have them at all. With a decrease in estrogen, the ability to regulate insulin becomes more important. Eating high sugar foods that trigger an insulin spike are associated with more hot flashes, so it’s in your best interest to decrease or eliminate processed carbohydrates like wheat-based breads, pastas, sweets, soda, candy, fruit juices, and increase your proteins and healthy fats.  

Aside from the hot flashes, you won’t have any more periods. PMS symptoms will be different than they were before. You might have a little weight gain, especially around your midsection. You may also have vaginal dryness, as a result of the decreased hormone levels in your body. While you can no longer get pregnant naturally, you may still be able to carry a baby through in-vitro fertilization. 

When You Will Go Through it?

You can go through menopause at different ages, but the majority of women experience it between 45 and 55. Some women have it much younger, starting with perimenopause first. Other women luck out and last until 60 or older before going through menopause. The average age for experiencing early stages of menopause is about 51 years of age. I was 51 when my periods completely stopped. If you haven’t had a menstrual cycle for two years, you’re in menopause. It takes a while for your body to adjust fully to menopause, and if you’re having a hard time, I recommend an integrative M.D as they are well versed in holistic options for treatment protocols. They also have a greater knowledge of nutrition, herbs and supplements compared to a typical western trained M.D whose background in nutrition is very little.  

Potential Complications 

While menopause is completely normal and something most women will go through, there can be issues that may affect some percentage of women.  For example, you might experience a steep decline in your sexual interest due to vaginal dryness and changes in your mood and physical health.  This typically improves over time as the body adjusts to the hormonal changes. However, if you see no improvement, then, as I mentioned, seek out an experienced integrative M.D. who specializes in women’s health to do a full panel hormone test.  

There’s the potential risk for medical conditions like osteoporosis when you go through menopause, but there is a caveat to this. I’m always on the lookout for solid science - based research that disputes or challenges the conventional ideas of mainstream medicine. Yes, there is absolutely a place for medical intervention in certain situations where it is warranted, but it often comes with side effects with long term use. Over the last century, medicine has moved away from its origins of being plant and food based to being chemical and mechanized. In other words, there’s less trust and belief that our bodies have a natural intelligence to bring about homeostasis when provided with the right substances from nature and correct life style changes.  

In the article, “Reversing Osteoporosis With Hormone Balance,” on Hormones and Balance (dot com), Magdalena Wszelaki, in her blog says, “age isn’t even the primary risk factor for osteoporosis – it can be a hormone imbalance and poor nutrient absorption. She goes on to say, “Promoting hormone balance inside our bodies should be the first step in preventing osteoporosis. Our body thrives on homeostasis. When one simple hormone or nutrient is imbalanced that sends a trickle-down reaction throughout our whole body.” 

*1 In a letter to the editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), published in 2005, a British researcher Ellen C.G. Grant MD stated: “Contrary to popular belief, the evidence from past studies and the study in contention showed that the root cause of osteoporosis among post-menopausal women was not calcium deficiency and falling estrogen levels. Rather, she contended, that low serum bone alkaline phosphatase activity is responsible for the changes that cause osteoporosis.” 

“Alkaline phosphatase is an enzyme that contributes to bone formation. When the activity of this enzyme is diminished, calcium is stripped from the bones. The reduced activity of alkaline phosphatase is actually due to low serum levels of 3 key nutrients: zinc, manganese and magnesium.  

“The author continues in her letter to discourage high-does calcium supplementation as well as hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT has been shown to lower blood levels of zinc, magnesium and alkaline phosphatase. Studies show that people on HRT lose more zinc through urinary excretion.”   

Dr. Grant backs up her conclusions in a published observation that bone fractures among women between the ages of 35 to 65 years were the highest in countries where hormone replacement therapies are frequently prescribed.  

When I looked into the research on this topic, I felt that it gives many women hope and safer options to use for menopause related conditions such as osteoporosis.  The key to prevention is a multi-pronged approach. Diet and nutrition are absolutely integral, so is exercise and mind set.   

The transition into menopause can be a great opportunity for learning about your body, what it needs, and a holistic self-care routine to help you thrive.  

Menopause is like a magical doorway that up opens you up to the infinite wisdom that you’ve always had.  

References: 

*1 The Relationship between Zinc, IGF-1, and Osteo 

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