The word "menopause" means the cessation of menstrual bleeding. It results from the inability of the ovaries to manufacture the sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone. The average woman will reach the menopause somewhere between the ages of 45 to 55 years. At this age, the ovaries simply run out of follicles (eggs), and it is the follicles within the ovaries that produce the vast majority of estrogen and all the progesterone.
What are the symptoms?
The signs and symptoms that we associate with menopause are due to the deficiency of estrogen and can be divided into those that occur immediately (acute) and those that occur in the long term (chronic). Early signs include:
- Hot flashes and/or excessive sweating
- Crawling or itching sensations under the skin
- Muscle or joint aches and pains
- Vaginal dryness
- Frequency of urination or urinary incontinence
- Dry and aging skin
- Sleep problems
- Poor memory and concentration
- Reduced sexual desire (libido)
- Emotional changes including depression, anxiety and irritability
Because the ovaries continue to produce the male hormone testosterone for a couple of years after the menopause, the subsequent higher ratio of testosterone to estrogen in the menopausal woman may lead to an increase in facial hair, thinning of the scalp hair and shrinkage of the breasts.
The menstrual periods don't disappear overnight but rather gradually tend to become irregular and less frequent. The early signs and symptoms of menopause usually begin before the complete cessation of the menstrual periods, and so if you are suffering any of the above complaints, even if you are still menstruating, don't disregard menopause as being a possible cause. Your doctor can perform a simple blood test to determine if this is the case.
Menopause and osteoporosis
The long term consequences of estrogen deficiency are an increase in the risk of both cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Prior to the menopause, estrogen provides some protection against coronary heart disease but after the menopause a woman's risk rapidly catches up to that of men. The most important factor appears to be that the loss of estrogen results in unfavorable changes in the blood cholesterol levels. Osteoporosis is the abnormal loss of minerals from the bones, which causes them to weaken and become susceptible to fractures. It is the reason why we so commonly hear of elderly women breaking their hips after a trivial fall, and why they develop a 'dowager's hump' due to compression fractures of the bony vertebrae of the spine. The loss of production of estrogen and progesterone at the time of the menopause is the major cause of osteoporosis. The earlier the menopause the greater the risk. The women most at risk are those who have had their ovaries surgically removed, especially if before the age of 45.
Of course, not every woman will suffer menopausal symptoms or be at particular risk of heart disease or osteoporosis. Indeed, many women are fortunate enough to sail through the menopause and never turn a hair. However, for those who are not so lucky there is no need to suffer in silence as there are a variety of options available to you, so please read on!
- "Hormone Replacement - The Real Truth". This book provides detailed information on how to manage the symptoms of menopause.
- "Magnesium: The Miracle Mineral". This book discusses magnesium as being essential for hundreds of chemical reactions that take place in the body every second, with recent findings also indicating that it offers a wide range of important health-promoting benefits. See page 9 for these benefits.
Treatment and general recommendations
Regular weight bearing exercise such as walking, jogging or aerobics is vital, ideally for a minimum of thirty minutes daily. Start off slowly and build up gradually. This type of exercise protects your heart and bones, and will also improve your general sense of well being, important for those suffering the emotional changes of menopause. Smoking should be avoided as it will rob your bones of calcium and contribute towards the development of atherosclerosis (blockage and hardening of the arteries).
- Many different plants contain small amounts of weak natural estrogen-like hormones (phytoestrogens). When consumed regularly these foods can exert a mild estrogenic effect, but are quite safe and will not cause some of the side effects associated with conventional hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Some of these foods include - alfalfa, soya sprouts, soya beans, linseed meal, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, aniseed, split peas, chick peas, lima beans, pumpkin, carrots, cabbage, beetroot, green beans, peas, marrow, potato, squash, apple, rhubarb, plum, cherries, olives, olive oil, corn, wheat, oats, rice, barley, rye, parsley, garlic, fennel. We recommend you eat around two cups of a variety of these foods daily. See "Hormone Replacement - The Real Truth" for list of phytoestrogenic foods and recipes.
- It is also important to drink 8 glasses of water daily to reduce hot flashes and relieve dry itchy skin and vaginal dryness.
- To maintain healthy bones, menopausal women need 1000 to 1500 mg of calcium daily. Foods which are high in calcium include - calcium enriched soya milk, yogurt, feta cheese, ricotta cheese, tinned fish like salmon, tuna and sardines (with bones), almonds, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds, tahini (sesame paste), tofu, rhubarb, soya beans, chick peas and to a lesser extent other fruits and vegetables.
- Minimize alcohol and caffeine intake, as heavy consumption may deplete the bones of calcium.
- Avoid processed foods and soda pop, which contain phosphorus and phosphate additives, as these can also rob minerals from your bones. Finally, your diet needs to be low in fats to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
- You may eat pastured red meat 3 to 4 times per week.
- Eggs can be consumed daily.
- Avoid processed packaged foods which often contain a lot of hidden fat. Breakfast cereals are one such example. Good low-fat alternatives to processed breakfast cereals are oatmeal porridge, barley, brown rice or natural unsweetened muesli.
- Mono-unsaturated oils can be beneficial to the health of our arteries. Choose cold pressed olive, canola or linseed oils, as when oils are heated at high temperatures they form chemicals which attack and destroy blood vessel walls. As an alternative to butter or margarine use a spread such as tahini, avocado or hummus on your bread or crackers.
- To help lower cholesterol include often - oily fish, vitamin C rich foods (citrus fruits, cabbage, green leafy vegetables, kiwi fruit, capsicum and strawberries), garlic, onion and foods containing soluble fiber like legumes, cereals, grains, oat bran, fruits and vegetables. It is also important to avoid salt, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
Juice recipes recommended from "Raw Juices Can Save Your Life" book.
- 2 sticks celery
- 1/2 cucumber
- 1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts
- 2 iceberg leaves [lettuce]
- 2 inch (5 cm) slice pineapple
- 3 spinach leaves
- Wash, trim and chop and pass all through the juicer.
- 4 string beans
- 1 carrot
- 2 spinach leaves
- 2 sprigs parsley
- 1 pear or 1 apple
- 2 Brussels sprouts
- 1 inch (2.5 cm) slice beetroot
- Wash, trim and chop and pass all through the juicer.
Orthodox medical treatment
The menopause is a time when a full check up by your doctor is worthwhile. An examination of your heart, blood pressure, blood vessels, weight, thyroid gland, breasts, abdomen and pelvis is important. If due, a pap smear and mammogram should be performed. A bone mineral density test is also very useful to help determine your risk of osteoporosis. Your doctor may recommend blood tests to check your hormone levels and cholesterol/triglyceride levels.
Recommended supplements for menopause
Take 2 capsules twice daily - A good formula contains a mixture of phytoestrogens from herbs and foods, combined with vitamins and minerals, including four different types of calcium and will assist with balancing your hormones naturally.
- Magnesium Tablets or Powder
Take 2 tablets twice daily or 1 teaspoon daily - Magnesium is very beneficial for anxiety and insomnia or for those suffering from poor memory and concentration.
- Bone Build
Take 2 - 3 capsules daily with food - A good formula will contain everything your bones need to maintain their mineral, collagen and matrix content. The formula will also be of use to those with arthritis and fibromyalgia. It also helps the cartilage strength and flexibility, which is good for those with joint pain and spinal pain.
These can make a tremendous difference to the health and well-being of the menopausal woman and can be used instead of or in conjunction with hormone replacement therapy. Certainly, for those women who cannot or choose not to take estrogen, they can be very helpful in reducing troublesome menopausal symptoms.
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.