Menopause is something every woman has to go through eventually. It can be a gruelling experience that can tax the health of an individual to a great extent, with health repercussions that may last the rest of her lifetime. But it does not have to be this way. There are many natural, safe and healthy ways to glide, so to speak, through this transitional period with fewer unpleasant symptoms and with minimal deleterious effects on future health. Menopause is also not the tragic ending of fertility as some women would view it. I have spoken to very smart women in the past who said that menopause is very liberating. No more PMS, no more bleeding, no more mood swings due to menstruation cycles, and no more worries about birth control and unwanted pregnancies. But before we go any further, lets lake a look at what menopause really is.
By its official definition it is the complete cessation of menstrual flow due to cessation of ovulation (i.e. the release of ova or eggs by the ovaries). In more medical terms it is the complete loss of ovarian follicular activity. It is measured as a point in time after which there is no menstruation for a period of at least 12 months. Thus, the point of menopause is measured retrospectively. In other words, it is the date of the last period. However, in common terms, menopause means the entire period from the beginning of symptoms of menopause to the complete cessation of symptoms. The average age of menopause in North America is 51 and the entire period on average lasts about 4 years. However, it varies in women with the variation being anywhere from 2 to 12 years.
The cause of menopause is basically the cessation of estrogen and progesterone release (the two main reproductive hormones in women) by the ovaries. The reason for this (it is speculated) is that over time the eggs in the ovaries accumulate genetic mutations and eventually stop being viable. At first, there is lots of fluctuation in the levels of these hormones, but eventually the ovaries stop producing them altogether.
Symptoms and Health Implications of Menopause
The most common symptom is the well known hot flash. Women’s bodies become heated, sweaty, and the skin gets flushed. Apparently it’s quite an uncomfortable experience. Other common symptoms may be grouped into categories. Psychologically, women may experience depression and/or anxiety, fatigue, irritability, memory loss, problems with concentration, mood swings and sleep disturbances (the most common of which is insomnia). Sexual symptoms such as vaginal dryness, pain during intercourse, problems reaching orgasm and decreased sex drive are quite common. The skin becomes thinner and may lose some elasticity. Other symptoms on the skin are itching and pins and needles sensations. In the musculo-skeletal system there may be pack pain, muscle pain and join pain.
The biggest concerns in the long term are osteoporosis and heart disease. Estrogen protects the bones from losing calcium. It does this by inhibiting the cells that dissolve bone (i.e. the osteoclasts). It also increases the good cholesterol (i.e. HDL) and decreases the bad cholesterol (i.e. LDL); thus protecting the heart from fatty cholesterol plaques. It also increases the contractility and the efficiency of the heart. Losing estrogen from the ovaries also means losing these health protective qualities. However not all estrogen comes from the ovaries. Some is also formed in fatty tissue. Thus, there is still some protection even after menopause.
Natural Menopause Symptom Relief – What To Eat
So what can we do to decrease these unpleasant symptoms and decrease the chances of developing osteoporosis and heart complications? There are many natural remedies that are quite effective. Here is the list of the most effective ones:
Soy beans, soy milk products and flax seeds. These products contain compounds called phytoestrogens which act in a similar way to estrogen.
Tofu products contain estrogen-like isoflavones in addition to phytoestrogens.
Dried apricots and garlic are both also high in phytoestrogens, and additionally, garlic increases immunity and protects the heart.
Multigrain breads containing oats, barley and rye also high in phytoestrogen lignans.
Natural Menopause Symptom Relief – Herbal Medicine
Black Cohosh. This plant was used by the Native Americans for centuries for gynecological problems, sore throat, kidney problems and for depression. Now it is mainly used for PMS (i.e. premenstrual syndrome) and menopause. The way it works is that it contains compounds that activate serotonin receptors (thus it has an anti-depressive and mood stabilizing quality). It also contains compounds that decrease bone loss and thus prevent the development of osteoporosis. There may be some side effects associated with black cohosh like dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, and nausea as well as decrease in blood pressure and heart rate. However it is theorized that these side effects are most likely due to poor identification of the plant species during collection. So pay attention to which brand you use. The ones at Vitarock.com are proven to be of high quality and always pure, green, safe and fair.
The Common Sage. This plant is very rich in flavones, flavonoid glycosides and other estrogenic compounds. It effectively decreases hot flashes, sweating and bad cholesterol. It was also found to be effective for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease thus it may also be helpful for some memory loss experienced by some women during menopause.
Red Cloves. This plant is also very high in phytoestrogens. It has been shown to be effective in decreasing hot flashes and decreasing the risk of developing osteoporosis.
Mexican Wild Yam. This vegetable contains a compound called Diosgenin which has estrogenic activity. Please be aware that this is not the same as sweet potatoes.
Loss of libido is also a concern during menopause, and a lot of women complain about this symptom. There are some natural remedies that can alleviate this. DHEA (i.e. dihydroepiandrosterone) is a naturally occurring androgen in women and men and can be taken in supplement form. Plants such as Tribulus terrestris, Epimedium (i.e. horny goat weed), Testofen (i.e. fenugreek extract) as well as magnesium (Natural Calm brand is the best), vitamin D, zinc and garlic are all involved either in androgen production or androgen increase in blood by releasing androgens bound to a protein called sex hormone binding globulin. Bound androgens have no effect where as the free ones perform their actions including increasing libido.
In Part 2 of my blog posts on Menopause, I will discuss proper dietary changes that should be implemented during menopause, the controversial topic of hormone replacement therapy, and the summary of the most effective natural remedies for the most common symptoms of menopause. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!