Managing Menopausal Changes by Terry Wingo, RPh
If changes are inevitable in every life, and changes, even positive changes, add stress to our already stressful lives, why don’t we plan for change? Why don’t we take charge of those inevitable changes so that we can minimize disruption in our lives? More specifically, why do some women transition so smoothly through perimenopausal and menopausal changes yet others view this time of life as a major crisis? Good genes? Sure, that plays a part. The right prescription drugs? Sorry, wrong answer. Healthy dietary choices, regular exercise, adequate sleep, loving relationships? Absolutely. So what can we do to assure smoother sailing through those troubled seas? Read on…
Menopause is considered a “disease” only in the more technologically advanced parts of our world. The simpler lifestyles of less “advanced” cultures seem to impart a resistance to this disease. In fact, many cultures don’t even have a specific word for menopause. I’m not suggesting a move to a third world country, but I am suggesting that a move to a healthier diet and lifestyle can help us prepare for hormonal transitions. Our bodies, every organ and every cell, are constantly repairing and rebuilding. Today’s body is not last year’s model. And next year’s body- well, we don’t even have all the material yet to build that. We constantly rebuild with available material- what we eat or drink or breathe- so with every meal we are choosing the building blocks of our own health. When we build a house we look for skilled workmen, quality bricks and mortar. Shouldn’t we be as vigilant about our health?
Our good health requires adequate supplies of quality protein, healthy fats, and a broad variety of fresh vegetables and whole fruits to provide as much of the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, amino acids, enzymes, and other nutrients as possible. In contrast, our average diet provides starches, high glycemic foods, high trans fatty acids, and hidden sugars everywhere we turn. We can change our health for the better by actively choosing foods for nutrient value. Our core diet should include lean meats, poultry, fish, and eggs, a broad variety of non-starchy vegetables, fresh whole fruits, raw nuts, and pure water. Avoid all convenience foods, all sugars, limit grains and dairy products. Read The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain or other books on healthy eating. Pay attention to those that question conventional wisdom- after all, it’s our cultural standards that got us where we are.
Next on our list is exercise. Exercise is not a four letter word, and it doesn’t require a gym membership (although that may be motivation). Regular physical activity is necessary for bone building and adequate circulation and improves cardiovascular health, immune response, endocrine (hormone!) function, and sleep. That’s right, better sleep. Sleep and physical activity feed on each other- anytime we limit one, we eventually impair the other. Sleep is a necessary time for the body to repair and rebuild, to prepare for another day. And while we’re choosing, let’s choose how we fill those days. We need stimulation, mental challenge, and laughter in our days, not passive entertainment. We need family and fun to balance work. We need to work on loving relationships. Optimum health and smooth transitions require balance in physical, mental, and emotional aspects of life.
I hear the questions already. What about right now? What about those of us with no time to prepare? What about those who take synthetic hormones and want to stop without crashing? Okay, let’s talk about how we might restore balance. Overall, our focus should be to support the body’s normal production and repair processes when possible. We want to focus on improving balances in the body, not just mitigating symptoms, on reducing risks and improving health long term.
Menopause is not just an estrogen issue as the medical model would sometimes have us believe. Hormones don’t exist in isolation but in relationships, balances of activity, with other hormones. As ovarian function declines we continue to produce estrogens, progesterone, and testosterone primarily from the adrenal cortex. Our entire endocrine system, including hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, ovarian, and pancreatic islet cell hormones, is highly interactive, with each gland’s hormones exerting influence on another. Hormone production, and therefore symptom experience, is also affected by stress, by diet, by sleep…you get the picture.
In addition to the lifestyle changes we’ve discussed, the natural management tools we might consider include nutritional agents, herbals, homeopathics, hormone precursors, and bio-identical hormone therapies. Our biochemical individuality dictates that any therapy should be selected and tailored specifically for individual needs. No one-size-fits-all regimen works. Certainly there may be much overlap and many generalities, but providing balance for optimum health requires individual assessment and therapy. In our next article we will discuss specific natural therapies, including bio-identical hormones, in greater depth.