Ask any woman going through menopause, how she feels about the process, and invariably the response will be that this menopause thing is a major imposition in their lives and a demon to be contended with. Is this statement true? True for some but in actuality, women experiencing severe adverse symptoms associated with menopause are in the minority. Menopause is a transitional time in a woman’s life and let me say from the start, it does not have to be laden with all the negative connotations associated with this shift. Some terms attributed to this process, as coined by a leading gynecologist of the ‘60’s- Dr. Robert A. Wilson, include, “dried up, cranky, sexless, old hags”. I don’t know about other women, but I suspect they may feel insulted as I do by these terms.
Certainly there can be some very unpleasant feelings associated with the process of menopause, including feeling blue-which does not necessarily mean depression although depression may also be present, hot flashes, night sweats and anxiety. Depending on your personal situation, you may have more to add to this list or perhaps less. Personally, I see it as a time of ripening or coming of age. In Chinese Medicine, the significant times of change in a woman’s life occur every seven years. Menopause falls roughly in the 42-49 year range and is the seventh of these cycles.
So what is happening in your body at this time? During this time, the female sex hormone, estrogen, gradually decreases and the adrenals begin to make estrogen and androgen to replace it. In some cases, women may experience estrogen dominance syndrome where too much estrogen is produced especially if more calories are consumed, in Estrogen Replacement Therapy, use of birth control pills, hysterectomy, pre or post-menopause. Progesterone production may decrease as well and this may be evident in the perimenopausal stage when ovulation is missed. In either case, the symptoms associated with menopause are experienced.
Hormones which go by another name steroids, are regulators of many of the body processes. Steroid production begins with cholesterol, which is needed by the body for synthesis of hormones. Regulation of the body hormones is a complex interplay of cholesterol, hormones, and minerals and vitamins. All of this comes together in the auto-regulation process that occurs in the brain, specifically in the hypothalamus. Our brain knows how to recognize the hormones being produced and like the furnace in your house when it is working correctly, adjusts the production as needed by the body. However, the brain does not recognize synthetic hormones in the same way as it does natural hormones. Studies have shown that hormone replacement therapy or HRT, may have severe repercussions including; stroke, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, uterine fibroid enlargement, gallbladder and pancreatic disease, worsening of asthma conditions and depression, to mention a few.
Don’t despair, there are steps you can take to help yourself through this process and ease some of the uncomfortable symptoms without resorting to HRT. A few considerations towards lifestyle can make a world of difference. Exercise is a very important component that helps to boost the levels of seratonin which acts to lift your mood. Eat more bean products, walnuts, and vegetables and avoid spicy foods, coffee and caffeine, alcohol and high salt content foods.
Inclusion of magnesium and vitamin D in supplement form, or preferably on a sunny beach in Greece, can assist with calcium absorption, which is a common problem associated with menopause. In addition, it is recommended that one take vitamin E, B complex, C & A as well as calcium to relieve the discomfort associated with menopause. Vitamin E is particularly useful as it increases the amount of estrogen produced naturally.
Wheat germ and wheat germ oil are good sources of Vitamin E. In addition, they tonify the yin portion of the body. A deficiency of yin implies a diminishment of yin fluids in the body, the function of which is to calm and relax the liver and moisten and cool the body generally. Yin qualities include a cool, calm demeanor, reflective and compassionate personality. Foods to help build the yin include along with wheat germ, mung beans and mung bean sprouts, string beans, seaweed, spirulina, millet, black beans, tofu, kidney beans, barley and black sesame seeds. Saffron is particularly good in encouraging the yin in the body and in order to preserve its essence, it is added in small quantities-1/10 of a teaspoon after or at the end of the cooking process.
Royal jelly, food of the queen bee, greatly tonifies the female hormonal system, builds yin and improves qi energy. Normal dosage is 100-400 mg daily. Chinese herbs including formulas, Zhi bai di huang wan, Lieu wei di huang wan, or my favorite, Women’s Precious Formula, may also be recommended and dispensed by a qualified herbalist. Acupuncture is also very effective in moderating and balancing the hormonal processes in the body. In addition, Homeopathics, as recommended by your Naturopathic doctor, are an effective solution to dealing with menopausal symptoms.
In summary, what to do; get plenty of rest, eat nutritionally, exercise regularly, practice qi gong or tai chi, avoid stressful situations or find effective ways of dealing with stressful situations before they sit and stay in our body causing further problems.