By Catherine Stack
The Tonawanda News
— Aging is not supposed to be degenerative, it should be a time of wisdom. When done right, it can be the best part of life.
For women, the aging process includes menopause, defined as the absence of menstrual flow for at least 12 straight months.
Fortunately — or unfortunately, depending on how you look at things — menopause does not happen overnight. Peri-menopause, the precursor to menopause, can last up to 10 years.
The average age menopause takes place is 51 years, but it can occur as early as the mid-30s up into the 60. Unfortunately there is no predictive lab test to determine when this will occur, so most of us are left to guess when the irregularity and sometimes uncomfortable symptoms will end.
Why do some women seem to pull it off without a sweat, while others are doomed to insomnia, hot flashes, weight gain and mood swings that have their family fearing for their dear lives?
Hormone balance is directly related to stress levels, nutrition and environmental exposure to toxins. Obesity is a hormone imbalance. What many health care professionals fail to realize is that most women are suffering from symptoms of low progesterone. This is difficult to assess with blood testing, as it fails to look at the ratio between estrogens and progesterone. Typically all that is looked at is an estradiol, FSH and LH level.
A woman feels defeated when she is told everything is normal and yet she feels as if she is losing her mind. Saliva and urine testing are much more revealing, but most insurance companies will not cover the cost.
What we need to remember is that menopause is not a disease, but basically a transition between one’s childbearing years and the larger segment of life where there is no longer monthly flow or the concern of becoming pregnant.
The most common symptoms of low progesterone (estrogen dominance) are anxiety, insomnia and a bit of weight gain even when diet has not changed. When a woman goes to her doctor and states she is tired, they typically take a look at the thyroid but fail to consider a low progesterone level as what is keeping her from sleeping at night.
Many women are given a bit of estrogen at menopause to help with symptoms — but this rarely helps and they don’t tend to stay on it for long. Some doctors still believe that once the uterus is removed, there is no need for progesterone in the body. This could not be further from the truth.
Estrogen excess predisposes us to fibrocystic breasts, weight gain, hot flashes and mood swings. Combine that with a normal to high testosterone level, and type II diabetes is soon to be knocking at your door. Many breast cancers are estrogen-dominant situations, and a healthy progesterone level may have run interference (along with a healthy vitamin-D3 level).
Women who typically have a harder time with menopause are overweight. Fat cells hold estrogen — so anyone who is overweight is already estrogen-dominant. Artificial sweeteners, food preservatives and an unhealthy diet that is overabundant in breads and sugar is a surefire way to sign up for a difficult transition through menopause.
So what should you do if you are suffering from symptoms of peri-menopause/menopause? I would avoid synthetic hormones at all costs. These pharmaceutically engineered hormones do not match your own, leaving you predisposed to heart disease, stroke, blood clots and some cancers.
If you choose bio-identical (matches your molecules) hormones, be certain they are compounded by a very reputable compounding pharmacy with plenty of experience. Pine Pharmacy of Williamsville is by far one of the best I have ever worked with and they even ship to patients across the country. By using low-dose hormones you will also be saving those bones from the dreaded osteoporosis.
A good diet cannot be overstated. Those who eat a diet abundant in vegetables, lean proteins, healthy omega-3 fats and drink plenty of pure water will suffer far fewer menopausal symptoms than those who eat prepared foods from a box. Exercise, even just walking, goes a long way in protecting your health and longevity.
Supplements to focus on would include omega-3 fats, vitamin-D3, and a high-quality B-complex. Herbs that have shown promise include phytoestrogens, green tea, black cohosh and more. Some even contain helpful ingredients when it comes to sleep.
Over-the-counter progesterone creams are available and sometimes helpful. The problem is it is difficult to know how much you are taking, as dosing is difficult to determine. The balance of all hormones is key in preventing degeneration and protecting longevity.
Catherine Stack is a doctor of naturopathy and a certified nurse midwife. Her practice is located at Journey II Health in Niagara Falls. She can be reached at 298-8603 or at her website at journeyiihealth.com.