A Woman's Change of Life: Menopause Revealed
There is a period of time for both men and women that is the natural and normal transition from reproductive hormone levels to post-reproductive hormone levels. Menopause is the term for the female side of this change, while andropause is the term coined for the male version of this change of life. This time should be a normal, transitional experience, but often women experience uncomfortable symptoms for years. Even physicians lead women to believe that this transition cannot be accomplished without replacement hormonal therapy. What can you do? Lots... There is a period of time for both men and women that is the natural and normal transition from reproductive hormone levels to post-reproductive hormone levels. This means that the body shifts from a focus on the ovaries and testicles as the center of hormonal production to the adrenal glands and liver as the sources of hormones and at a lower level than during the reproductive years. Menopause is the term for the female side of this change, while andropause is the term coined for the male version of this change of life.
What happens during this transition? Both men and women can begin to experience changes in mood, body temperature, energy level, muscle strength and development. This transitional period can last for several years and the symptoms experienced are in accordance to the general level of health. Now physicians have even begun referring to the beginning of this time as peri-menopause with its own litany of symptoms.
The process begins for women with the gradual development of fewer ovarian follicles and so the maturing of the egg becomes erratic. Bleeding irregularities occur because of the fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone and the irregularity of egg maturation. During this time the liver and adrenals need to increase in their function, and so often the first signs of an issue will actually liver and adrenal symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, skin issues, itching, dryness and even allergies. What are referred to as peri-menopausal symptoms will therefore be primarily in people where these alternative organs are weakened.
So the first step with any symptoms at all is to strengthen your liver and adrenals with essential fatty acids from cold-water fish and a good complex of herbs and minerals for the adrenal glands, particularly boron which is important in the support of estrogen. It is also important to make sure there are enough B vitamins which can make a great difference in the health and energy of these vital areas.
This period of time can go on for years before a woman’s body no longer contains eggs and hormone production diminishes as a result. This is when the main change begins. During this period, hormonal levels can fluctuate and it is these changes that bring on many of the negative symptoms typically associated with menopause. One of the most common symptoms is hot flashes. These can cause as much as a two degree difference in the temperature of the skin, and can just as easily cause rapid chills. They tend to be aggravated by caffeine, sugar, spicy foods and alcohol, so if they are actually occuring during the night (typically called night sweats), then eliminating these substances at dinner and after can make a big difference. At the same time increasing more specific essential fatty acids such as Wheat Germ Oil and Evening Primrose can reduce them, as well as herbs such as Sage for night sweats and Black Cohosh which suppresses the secretion of Luteneizing Hormone.
It is also important to address the hypothalamus as the regulator of the hormonal organs with steroidal saponin herbs such as Wild Yam, Black Cohosh, Korean Ginseng, Shatavari and Tribulus. These herbs can alleviate many of the symptoms of estrogen withdrawal by binding to the vacant receptors in the hypothalamus. In this way it can soothe the body’s expectation of estrogen levels and help to adjust it to the levels produced by the secondary organs. The same effect can be derived in men with Withania and Tribulus providing the support of adrenal adaptagens.
Other symptoms which can become disabling are vaginal dryness and irritation. Decreasing levels of progesterone and estrogen can cause the mucous membranes of the body to thin out and become irritated and more susceptible to infection. Again black cohosh helps with this, but also vitamin E topically, massage of the mucous membranes to increase blood flow and elimination of all vaginal treatments including douches. Herbs such as Wild Yam, False Unicorn and Tribulus may help by interacting with hypothalamic estrogen receptors, thereby allaying the effects of estrogen withdrawal. This can be found in Wild Yam Complex (3-4 tablets per day) which contains False Unicorm, Wild Yam and Korean Ginseng. It is thought that Korean Ginseng can help to prevent cancer in women over the age of 50. Increasing foods that contain dietary sources of phytoestrogens are essential such as soy, apples, black beans, celery, dates, lima beans, pinto beans, alfalfa and flaxseed.
Memory and thought can also be affected. This is thought perhaps to also have an estrogenic aspect to it, but often it can be dietary. Levels of essential fatty acids and protein become more important than ever, and many women tend to ignore these dietary essentials, instead trying to lose weight by reducing fat. Ginkgo Biloba can be great, but it won’t have as much of an effect as a steak.
And what of hormone replacement therapy? Many women are now loathe to try HRT and instead feel they have to suffer with menopausal discomfort continually. Many women turn to HRT not because of debilitating symptoms but because they want to forcefully maintain high levels of female hormones and their effects. It is almost an attempt to avoid aging. In fact, this is not only unnatural, but even dangerous. We have experienced decades of hormone replacement therapy, and it has taken this long for it to be evident that there are serious side effects and fatal consequences to artificially changing our hormonal patterns. Premarin and Provera have caused cancers, heart problems and breast issues, many of which are still being realized.
The result has been the surge in the use of Bio-identical hormones made from soybean or extracted from mexican wild yams. But although these do produce shifts in hormonal balance, they do not reproduce our own inherent hormones. Human female hormones are made from cholesterol, and so differ from the extracts derived from plant material. Any application of concentrated hormones to the human body can produce side effects and bio-identical hormones have been linked with breast disease, heart disease and especially imbalances in our blood lipid profile.
And what about topical estrogen and progesterone creams? Well let’s look at Wild Yam as an example. Wild yam contains dioscin, the only natural pathway for the production of progesterone. But in order to work, it must be ingested and not simply applied to the skin. This is because the gut flora are needed to make it active and bioavailable to the body. And the levels needed are much less than in the reproductive years, because it is only used to balance estrogen at this stage. I make a formula that includes False Unicorn, Wild Yam, St. John’s Wort, Sage and Korean Ginseng which really helps to manage this transition in a natural way and handle many menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flashes and excessive perspiration.
So try managing your menopause with natural HRT. First by adding lots of whole foods and pure water which can do wonders to rebalance hormonal levels, and may be more important during these post-menopausal years than before. Also weight-bearing exercise is a must to develop body tissue for storage and strength. Adding iodine in a natural organic form can really power up the thyroid to make sure that the optimal levels of hormones are being released. It’s not about replacing, it’s about enhancing. So whole vitamin B, essential fatty acids and a good herbal complex for the glands can help women to be more energetic, less depressed, stronger and feel younger.
If you are already using HRT, then you can transition slowly and smoothly to natural support. It is important to do this at a gradual pace because of the hyper-stimulation of the estrogen receptors by most HRT compounds. It generally takes a while for the body to begin to function on its own, since the addition of exogenous hormones overrides the internal hormonal production that the patient has. This may also mean that some women will not be able to remove themselves from HRT, because the body has actually ceased making its own hormones.
To transition to natural menopausal support, begin taking 4 Mediherb Tribulus tablets, 6 Wild Yam Complex and herbal adrenal support as suggested by your professional practitioner. You can also add any of the suggestions below that meet specific needs you have. You will continue this protocol for three months. During the first month, you will also maintain the full dose of your HRT. In the second month, reduce the dose of HRT in half. For the third month, reduce the dose of HRT in half again. At the end of the third month, discontinue HRT altogether. If you have menopausal symptoms, maintain your protocol for an additional three months. If at this point you remain balanced and without symptoms, you can switch from your menopausal protocol to one that supports your individual needs.
For insomnia and nervous tension, particularly to calm frayed nerves try Valerian, Passion Flower and Spiny Jujube seed.
To balance glandular function between the thyroid, adrenal and gonads I like Standard Process Symplex F.
For daily fatigue try Eleuthero and Rhodiola with Panax Ginseng.
If you are concerned about osteoporosis, use a combination of Standard Process Biost and Calcifood.
Standard Process Ovex is a great formula that provides hormone precursors for frigidity and menopausal hot flashes. It helps to balance hormonal issues involving the ovaries.
Wheat Germ Oil / Evening Primrose Oil are excellent sources of fat-soluble vitamins, acting as sex hormone precursors and reducing hot flashes in peri-menopausal and menopausal women.
Sage is one of the most historical herbs for menopause by reducing spotting and excessive perspiration, particularly with night sweats.
Ashwaganda / Withania is one of the most effective adrenal adaptagens available for both men and women, helping with common menopausal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, poor concentration and hair loss. It is especially important to alleviate nervous tension.
Trace Mineral support plus B12 is a combination that does wonders to alleviate menopausal headaches by providing alkaline ash minerals to restore a balanced pH and hydration to the body tissues.
Tribulus is one of the best-researched steroidal saponins to normalize HGH and hypothalamus function. It not only modulates libido, but also provides support for the development and maintanence of lean muscle mass. It can also help with vaginal dryness and joint restriction.
The herb Shatavari when translated means "she who possesses a hundred husbands"(I don’t about you, but would you really want that?). It is considered both a general tonic and a female reproductive tonic, commonly used in Ayurveda. It is perfect for infertility and loss of libido in both sexes, and can increase lactation for women.
Rehmannia is the perfect herb for hot flashes. In Chinese medicine, as a woman reaches menopause her system displays less yin qualities (moist, receptive, passive) and becomes more yang (dry, hot, irritable). This is due to the rising kidney energy which is treated with Rehmannia, an herb that also balances the adrenal aspect of the kidney energy.