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Menopause: Dreadful Affliction or Glorious Transition?

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A mouse click on the Internet gives you more than 167,000 references for menopause, and a search at amazon

A mouse click on the Internet gives you more than 167,000 references for menopause, and a search at amazon.ca results in a huge choice of books available in Canada a different one to read for every day of the year, if you wish. The sampling of menopause books we have here in our own library at alive Publishing Inc. has shown me the divergence of opinions on this matter.

Some authors look at menopause from biological medicine's point of view as the most natural and uncomplicated phase in a woman's life. As with puberty and childbearing, they write, menopause is a perfectly normal change and not to be considered some sort of disorder or
ailment. Women in other cultures known for a healthier lifestyle apparently do not experience the same distressing symptoms of menopause. Other authors, meanwhile, see this "change of life" as the most dreaded time a woman can experience, making no connection to many years of eating a poor, nutritionally insufficient diet that finally results in aggravated symptoms.

In our North American, youth-oriented culture, menopause is often perceived as the "beginning of the end." Declining estrogen levels are accompanied by emotional instability and irritability, hot flashes, night sweats and other physical conditions ranging from onset of osteoporosis to menopausal arthritis. Some women experience very traumatic feelings when menstruation stops and ovaries become less active. In their minds, they have lost their feminine sex appeal and youthful attractiveness.

Menopausal Market

Whether this belief is real or imagined, the pharmaceutical industry has taken advantage of this market opportunity by offering drugs for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) accompanied by a "fountain of youth" promise. The most commonly prescribed estrogen is Premarin, with more than 22 million prescriptions filled every year in the United States alone. Side-effects listed in the Physician's Desk Reference include fluid retention, withdrawal, bleeding, breast tenderness, abdominal cramps, anxiety, irritability and others. Ironically, these very side-effects are the same-menopausal symptoms for which doctors prescribe estrogen in the first place.

Recently, prescription estrogens have been shown to increase a woman's risk of developing breast and uterine cancer. In spite of this, pharmaceutical companies keep promoting drugs for HRT. How deeply rooted the practice actually is was pointed out more than 20 years ago by Dr. Sheldon H. Cherry of Mt. Sinai Medical School. In The Menopause Myth (Ballantine Books, 1976), Dr. Cherry wrote that the "indiscriminate use of estrogen therapy, as advocated by some, is not warranted; indeed, it may well be dangerous. Many scientists are now discrediting estrogen replacement therapy as it doesn't help wrinkles, doesn't keep women young and doesn't prevent aging."

Natural Body Function

What many people seem to have forgotten is that hormones, including sex hormones, are made from nutrients supplied by food. Healthy functioning of the body and the correction of disorders depend on nutrients. Ailments do not exist because of a drug deficiency. Therefore, any effort to relieve menopausal symptoms should be based on a nutritional approach with nature's biological medicine.

A good start is to supply the body with needed nutrients by adopting a whole foods diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, whole grain baked goods and pasta, and salads topped with unrefined, freshly pressed oils. The elimination of junk foods especially those with white sugar and bad, artificially hardened fats that are heat-damaged by hydrogenation and refining is certainly an important step in restoring the body to optimum function. It is also a good idea to include some soy foods such as tofu, tempeh and miso in the diet, as they provide phyto-estrogens ("phyto" means plant-based), which help regulate hormone levels.

Nutritional Supplements

Studies from around the world support the use of vitamins, minerals and herbs as an alternative to HRT. Some nutrients and essential fatty acids have a specific enhancing effect on the body's own hormone production. There is a constant interplay between vitamins and hormones, and a deficiency of one may lead to a deficiency or imbalance of another.

Vitamin E stimulates estrogen production and can relieve symptoms associated with menopause within a few weeks after supplementation of 400 to 800 IU daily.

The B vitamins help the liver detoxify excess hormones. Try 100 milligrams of a B-complex one to three times daily.

Vitamin C with bioflavonoids strengthens cell walls of blood vessels and capillaries. The recommended daily dose is 1,500 mg.

Vitamin A stimulates production of estrogen in menopausal women. Use as directed.

Vitamin D helps in absorption of calcium for the prevention of osteoporosis. Take 400 to 800 IU daily.

Calcium is often depleted during menopause. Take 1,000 mg daily, along with 500 mg magnesium.

Primrose Oil

It is also recommended to add essential fatty acids to the diet either as food in forms such as flax oil, hemp or pumpkin seed oil, or as nutritional supplements. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), found in evening primrose oil, is highly effective and recommended for easing symptoms of menopause. Menopausal symptoms are one of the top reasons women use evening primrose oil.

Herbal Relief

Clinical herbalists have had excellent results using herbs for relief of menopausal symptoms. Every herbalist may have a favourite herb or formula. This is why there are many herbal preparations available in health food stores in the form of teas, tinctures, tonics or capsules. Most of them include one or more of the following successful herbs for easing menopause.

Black cohosh, due to its estrogenic effect, is the most widely used herbal remedy for menopause. In Europe, it is the most popular remedy for menopausal discomforts.

Dong quai comes to us from the Chinese herbal tradition as a treatment for many female hormone conditions.

Licorice, like black cohosh, has an estrogenic effect and is good for adrenal gland insufficiency.

Chaste tree berry acts on the pituitary gland to stimulate and normalize hormonal functions.

False unicorn root stimulates ovarian hormones. It is mostly used in combination with other herbs, such as sarsaparilla, blessed thistle and red raspberry leaves, to help ease menopausal symptoms.

Motherwort tea helps reduce tension and anxiety. It is used for palpitations of the heart due to functional nervous disorders associated with menopause.

You may want to ask the nutritional consultant in your local store what combination of products would be most beneficial for you.

Menopause is a natural, normal process in a woman's lifecycle, a time of maturation when the focus shifts from raising a family to developing one's own interests, increasing reflection and gaining wisdom. Properly understood, menopause can be a glorious and fulfilling experience!

For more information, please read Menopause Normally and Naturally, Natural Health Guide #23 (alive Books, 2000).

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