Whether women decide to take hormones or not, it is important that they take a serious look at their lifestyle to determine if they are nourishing their body from the inside out. Have you ever wondered why some women experience debilitating menopausal symptoms, while others experience comparatively mild symptoms of menopause?
The list of symptoms experienced by women going through menopause is a long one, and any help that can diminish or alleviate these symptoms is highly sought after.
The best approaches involve diet and exercise, while some women seek out the use of synthetic or bio-identical hormones.
Menopause means one year with no menstrual period. The average age of menopause is 52, with some women starting as early as age 35 and others in their 60s. It is related to aging, but can also be surgically induced by the removal of a woman’s ovaries.
The primary symptoms of menopause are:
• Hot flashes
• Menstrual irregularities
• Vaginal dryness
• Depression and mood swings
• Weight gain
In 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative Estrogen and Progestin Study (WHI) was halted due to serious safety concerns. The WHI study found that women taking a combination of synthetic estrogen and progestin had a 26% increase in invasive breast cancer, a 29% increase in heart attacks, double the risk of dementia, double the risk of blood clots and a 41% increase in stroke. It also found that breasts became so dense that breast cancer could not be read on a mammogram, and asthma and hearing loss were also increased. Millions of women threw their hormones in the garbage. At this point, women did not know what to do to take control of their symptoms of menopause, and now began to worry that taking hormone replacement therapy may have increased their chances of the symptoms they had hoped would diminish. With this decline in synthetic hormone use, the number of estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer for woman aged 50 to 69 also decreased. – Dr. John Lee, M.D.
Dr. John Lee was a pioneer of the term ‘natural progesterone therapy.’ Before his death, Lee worked tirelessly to convince the medical establishment that too much estrogen – and not a deficiency of estrogen – was the root cause of most women’s hormonal problems.
Today women face another obstacle in their quest to balance their hormones: Xenoestrogens (pronounced ‘zeno’ estrogens). These estrogen-like compounds can have a negative effect not only on women, but also on girls, boys, men, children and babies. These estrogens can be found in the environment in common places such as cosmetics, cleaning products, plastics, water, dairy products, red meat, chicken and pesticides. Xenoestrogens, which enter your body when you eat, drink and breathe, are then distributed throughout the body.
The body’s built-in detoxification system gets rid of excess estrogen when it’s working well. But when our nutrition is compromised and our health diminished, this natural detoxification method is negatively affected, causing excess chemicals to accumulate in our bodies. This is proof positive of the old adage that ‘we are what we eat.’
Choose to eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables: brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and kale contain certain plant nutrients that help keep estrogens healthy and stop them from converting to cancer-causing estrogens. Wash all fresh produce – even organic.
Drink organic milk and eat organic yogurt and cheese. Purchase organic beef when possible to avoid the meat of cows that have been fed grains sprayed with pesticides, which are then concentrated in their milk and meat.
Increase your consumption of fibre (through organic whole grains, vegetables and fruits). Fibre helps the removal of toxins.
Don’t burn wood that has been treated or painted, since burning materials that contain PCBs can create dioxins and furans.
Minimize your use of plastics, and never microwave or put hot liquids in plastic products. Use glass, stainless steel or ceramic dishes.
Look for tolulene and phthalate-free nail polish, and let your dry-cleaned clothing air out of the plastic bags before wearing. Ideally, switch to an organic cleaner or iron your own clothes.
When purchasing personal hygiene products, visit your local health food store and purchase unbleached feminine hygiene products.
Increase your consumption of purified water.
Reduce your stress. Chronic stress can lead to adrenal exhaustion, which can impact hormonal balance.
Exercise regularly. Exercise promotes good hormone balance. Aim for one hour of moderate intensity activity every day. The key words are ‘moderate’ and ‘daily’. Remember that cleaning the house is considered a moderate activity, so put the music on and enjoy!
Use healthier alternatives to pesticides on your lawn or garden. Look after your liver. Along with performing hundreds of functions, your liver is your key detoxifying organ, helping in the removal of excess estrogen along with the numerous toxins to which we are exposed daily: cigarette smoke, alcohol, pain killers, prescription drugs, cleaning products, shampoo, make-up, soaps, toothpaste . . . and the list goes on. Your liver is also responsible for producing cholesterol, the starting material for all sex hormones, including estrogen and testosterone.
When choosing a form of birth control, remember that the birth control pill contains higher levels of estrogen than would naturally be produced by a woman’s body. Try to limit their use, and when taking the pill, be sure to eat healthily.
There is a lot of talk about Bio-identical Hormones Replacement Therapy (BHRT). Unlike synthetic hormones, bio-identical hormones use hormones identical to those produced naturally by the body, and have been prescribed by physicians for over 15 years. Although BHRT has not been associated with the negative effects (e.g. heart disease, breast cancer) found with the use of synthetic bio-identical hormones, it is important to note that large-scale trials of bio-identical hormones have not yet been carried out.
Lifestyle changes and nutritional supplements alone are often successful in restoring hormone balance for both men and women. Bio-identical hormones are said to be natural, and because they come from animals, are said to more similar to our own hormones.
When diet, exercise and lifestyle changes are not enough to ease the negative symptoms of menopause, bio-identicals may help. But this is a question for you and your doctor to discuss, along with the best method of testing hormonal balance, whether through urine, saliva or blood tests. There are pros and cons to each test.
When it comes to health, prevention is the best key. From today make positive changes in your diet and lifestyle – changes that will take you through every stage of life, including menopause.
In this article, we have concentrated on the estrogen hormones, but to be truly healthy it is important to bring all hormones into balance.
Progesterone: needed to balance the effects of estrogen, etc.
Cortisol: the major stress hormone released by the adrenal glands.
DHEA: the storage form of the adrenal hormone DHEA, used to make estrogens and testosterone.
Testosterone: maintains muscle mass and bone, improves sense of well-being and sex drive.
The interaction between the four hormones listed above, plus estrogen, are fundamental to a woman’s overall health and well-being. Their balance, or lack of, can have a positive or negative effect on:
• Weight gain
• Hot flashes
• Bone loss
• Sleep disturbances
• Breast cancer
The information contained in this article is not meant to replace the advice or guidance of a healthcare professional. Read up on the subject and the latest developments, seek professional advice – but most of all, take control of your life by loving yourself and being good to yourself.
Consult a health care specialist prior to taking any herbal supplement, especially if you are taking any other herbs, prescription drugs or supplements.
Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa): Black Cohosh is the most thoroughly studied herb in the treatment of menopausal symptoms and other female hormone imbalances. New research has found that black cohosh may affect serotonin receptors, enhancing mood.
Black Cohosh has proven effective in the treatment of the following symptoms: hot flashes, profuse perspiration, headaches, PMS, sleep disturbances, vaginal atrophy or dryness, heart palpitations, depression, nervousness and irritability, dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) and loss of concentration. It is important to talk to a healthcare provider or nutritionist when considering any kind of herbal supplement.