Menopause is the physiological cessation of menstruation, which usually occurs between years 45 and 55 of a woman’s life and most commonly within two years either side of the age at which the individual’s mother went through menopause. Colloquially known as ‘the change’ and medically termed the climacteric, this period of transition commonly lasts 2-5 years but can be noticed for up to 20 years.
Thought of as a diminution in the oestrogen levels produced by the ovaries, the menopause is actually a drop in the levels of oestrogen and the cessation of production of progesterone. Most of the symptoms of menopause are created by the loss of both progesterone and oestrogen and their effects on the blood vessels, which tend to dilate causing blood flow changes, and also on the nervous system directly. These effects cause:
Psychological symptoms – mood swings, short temper, depression, anxiety, usually lowered but occasionally raised libido, and insomnia.
Physical symptoms – hot flushes, sweats , water retention, fat deposit increase, headaches, aches and pains, malaise and lethargy, and cystitis-like symptoms.
Physical signs – loss of breast tissue, vaginal dryness, osteoporosis and skin changes such as water retention, fat deposit increase, change in texture, wrinkling and dark ‘staining’.
These symptoms and the pharmaceutical industry make the menopause sound like a disease process, which of course it is not. Many men who do not have such a dramatic drop in hormone levels will also have many of these symptoms. It is a natural change and one that has been going on since the human race began.
Seven out of ten women will have some or all of these symptoms for a short period, say up to six months, but one in two will have some or all of these symptoms for anywhere up to five years. There are in fact three stages of menopause:
Premenopause – where periods are still regular and present but any of the above-mentioned symptoms may set in.
Perimenopause – where the periods become irregular.
Postmenopause – no more periods. It is fairly arbitrary as to how long a woman must go without a period but generally 6-12 months without a period would suggest that the postmenopausal stage has arrived. Periods recommencing after that are unusual and need to be reviewed by a gynaecologist.
Follicle-stimulating hormones is the hormone produced by the pituitary glands that promotes the development of eggs in the ovary. Levels of FSH will rise in an attempt to stimulate eggs in the ovaries but if the normal cycle does not actually take place then the negative feedback mechanisms that suppress FSH production are not activated. The levels therefore remain high and can be measured scientifically to define menopause.
Other investigations that can be undertaken at the time of the menopause include saliva and blood tests for oestriol and oestradiol, the main oestrogen sub-groups. Progesterone and testosterone levels may also be informative as may the levels of dehy-droepiandrosterone , as discussed later.
A urine test can be carried out for two proteins excreted in the urine as a byproduct of bone metabolism. Raised levels of these proteins indicate increasing bone loss and preventative measures can be taken if necessary . We can also perform ultrasound bone density scans and I recommend this at the beginning of menopause for comparison every two years. Unlike the orthodox use of X-rays of the spine and hip, these techniques are simple and harmless. Analysis of the body levels of calcium, vitamin D and toxins that may affect bone structure, such as fluoride, can be performed through blood, cell and hair analysis. These may or may not be indicated, depending on each individual.
FOR HOT FLUSHES, SWEATS, PALPITATIONS AND HEADACHES
Try vitamin B6 , vitamin E , inositol , zinc , gammalinoleic acid and calcium and magnesium . If the symptoms are improved, then reduce the doses of these vitamins one at a time until you find the minimal required dosage. You may not need to take all of these.
Clary sage essential oil and Aloe vera essence can be used in the bath or inhaled by wafting the aroma from a bottle held three or four inches away from the nose.
Aloe vera taken at night and before meals may be beneficial.
The Chinese/Tibetan herb Dong quai can be used, as may Siberian gingseng .
Review from your preferred homeopathic manual the remedies Belladonna, Lachesis, Amyl nitrate and Veratrum viride. The right remedy should be taken at potency 12 or 30 every 2hr for five days and then whenever symptoms come on.
Eliminate stimulatory foods such as alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods. Stop smoking or taking any other drugs because these will contribute to flushes and sweats.
Low blood sugar and adrenaline will sensitize the system and make all symptoms seem worse. Learn a meditation or relaxation technique, use counselling or psychotherapy, and strictly avoid refined sugars if not eaten with other complex carbohydrates or proteins.
The following botanical extracts may be considered and taken in divided doses per foot of height during the day just before meals: Angelica , glycyrrhiza from liquorice and Agnus castus . Other herbs have been shown to be useful but should be prescribed by a herbalist.
Natural progesterone or oestrogen creams can be used but need to be prescribed by a specialist in this field.
Symptomatic relief has been shown to be obtainable through osteopathy, Shiatsu and acupuncture.
Massage and especially aromatherapy may well be of benefit. 1 Only if symptoms are unbearable and success is not forthcoming after following the above recommendations should an individual consider using HRT.