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March 20, 2018  |  Login
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

Menopause is a good example of Western medicine's focus on disease, rather than on health and wellness. In this case, a natural state-the end of menstruation-is defined by many conventional doctors as a disease that must be treated with medication. Women who don't take their estrogen pills, Western medicine implies, will lose their femininity and their value to society. Luckily, many women instinctively know better, and studies have proven that there are extreme health risks with synthetic hormone replacement. To these wise women, menopause is a time of freedom from the menstrual cycle and the onset of wisdom and power. And it's no coincidence that these women, who refuse to view themselves as "diseased," experience far fewer (and sometimes none) of the problems usually associated with this change of life.

Since attitude plays a significant role in the physical response to menopause, it helps to understand the changes that are taking place. These changes can start several years before menopause proper actually sets in, with erratic periods or unusually heavy or light bleeding. This phase is called perimenopause or premenopause and provides an opportunity to prepare emotionally and physically for the larger transition to come. During premenopause, the ovaries no longer ovulate on a regular basis. This is the basis for the cycle changes and the beginning of symptoms such as hot flashes. Menopause itself usually begins in the mid-forties to early fifties. When the ovaries stop producing significant amounts of estrogen and progesterone, the menstrual cycle ceases; a woman who has had no periods for a year is said to be menopausal.

Women's reactions to menopause vary widely. Some enjoy the change, while others suffer from problems like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, heart palpitations, and mood swings, often for years. But if a woman is healthy, active, and well nourished, her adrenal glands will usually respond to menopause by creating precursor hormones such as pregnenolone and DHEA, which are then converted into estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. And if she takes natural steps to encourage this process, it is likely that she can avoid harsh and possibly dangerous medications altogether.

The days of routinely prescribing synthetic estrogen, synthetic progesterone, or both, should be over. Several studies, including the well-publicized Women's Health Initiative Study, which involved over 16,000 women, concluded that the "benefits did not outweigh the risks" of using the combination of synthetic estrogen (Premarin) and synthetic progesterone (Provera). A significant increased incidence of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease stopped this study short of its completion.

There are also times when menopause really is a disorder or a serious problem. If menopause arrives for unnatural reasons, such as from anorexia, bulimia, or extremely intense exercise, the root cause must be treated so that the cycle returns. When menopause is brought about by a hysterectomy or removal of the ovaries, natural hormonal replacement therapy may be necessary to counter the sudden depletion of estrogen and progesterone and the resulting bone loss.

We believe that every woman must be addressed individually. Optimally, it is best to get a hormone test done to find out which hormone imbalances you may have. Saliva testing is a good option. For women with mild to moderate symptoms of menopause, we generally recommend the use of diet, exercise, and nutritional supplements, especially herbal and homeopathic remedies. The beauty of this approach is that these natural supplements balance the hormones that are already present in the body. In addition, the use of natural progesterone appears to be very safe and effective when a stronger approach is needed. Likewise, precursor hormones, such as pregnenolone and DHEA, may be helpful. more

Next: What are the Symptoms of Menopause

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