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Too many doctors and women don’t understand what happens in the body during menopause. But if you can grasp how this stage of life alters hormonal balance and changes other functions, you can cope more effectively with menopause and its symptoms.
What many women don’t know about menopause
Most women probably know that menopause is defined as the time in your life when your ovaries no longer release eggs, naturally ending your reproduction at 40 to 50 years of age. Not only are your eggs gone, but your body responds to rapidly fluctuating and dropping hormone levels. The symptoms of perimenopause vary greatly from person to person. During the few years before menopause (when your periods end), your ovaries produce decreasing amounts of estrogen, triggering a host of possible symptoms. These symptoms usually lessen during the postmenopausal years.
Yet did you know that even after menopause, estrogen continues to be manufactured by your adrenal glands and your body fat? But these two sources normally produce much lower amounts of estrogen than your ovaries used to make, and they cannot keep up with your body’s demands for estrogen when menopause comes.
I think it would be interesting for you to know all the important functions of estrogen in a woman’s body. Natural estrogen:
- Increases sexual interest.
- Improves mood by increasing brain serotonin; less depression, anxiety and irritability.
- Enhances energy and improves sleep.
- Keeps skin thick and soft, maintains skin collagen, decreases wrinkles and helps you retain your teeth.
- Regulates body temperature. (Hot flashes begin when estrogen is low.)
- Helps maintain muscle and prevent muscle damage, and helps fine motor skills.
- Helps keep memory strong and protects you from Alzheimer’s disease (via acetyltransferase stimulation); improves reasoning, concentration and creativity.
- Decreases the overall risk of heart attack by 40 percent to 50 percent when it: decreases blood pressure by keeping arteries elastic and naturally dilating them, decreases oxidized LDL (bad cholesterol); increases HDL (good cholesterol); inhibits platelet stickiness; decreases arterial plaque accumulation; decreases lipoprotein; reduces homocysteine
- Improves insulin sensitivity (decreasing diabetes risk).
- Maintains bone density.
- Decreases risk of cataract and macular degeneration.
- Decreases risk of colon cancer.
As you read this list, you can see why decreasing estrogen levels of menopause can so adversely affect a woman. You can also see that the degree of symptoms caused by estrogen deficiency in perimenopause can vary and is affected by your underlying health.
According to the Center for the Advancement of Health, menopause symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats affect Japanese women significantly less than their North American counterparts. Only about 10 percent of women in China and 22 percent of women from Japan report hot flashes, compared to an estimated 75 percent of women in the U.S. over age 50.
The explanation could relate to dietary health: U.S. women eat much more meat, approximately four times the fat, and less than half the fiber as do Asian women whose diet is high in rice. From the higher-fat diet we expect higher estrogen levels, and with the rapid drop in estrogen levels from menopause the effect is much more dramatic in U.S. women than Asian women. Also, soy (tofu, miso, tempeh) is a staple food in Japan, and it contains genistein and daidzein, which are estrogenic.
Some women feel that dairy products in the U.S. contribute to the hot flashes of menopause. It has been observed that diets high in cold-pressed oils, green leafy vegetables, nuts, and other mineral- and fiber-rich foods decrease the symptoms of menopause.
Without sufficient estrogen, any woman will eventually feel symptoms. You may not even realize they are related to estrogen deficiency. Here are some symptoms and signs of menopause.
- Weight gain
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood swings, depressed mood, anxiety
- Breasts that shrink, sag or lose plumpness
- Breast soreness
- Loss of shapeliness at the waist
- Wrinkles around eyes
- Irritability, panic attacks
- Loss of sexual desire
- Facial hair growth, hair loss (head)
- Strange dreams
- Urinary leakage, urinary tract infections, frequent urination
- Vaginal itching
- Lower back pain
- Bloating, gas, indigestion
- Aching joints (ankles, knees, wrists, shoulders, heels)
- Heart palpitations
- Varicose veins
- Dizzy spells
- Memory lapses
- Migraine headaches
- Painful intercourse
- Lower back pain
- Vertical lines above mouth
- Dry or irritated eyes
That is quite a list. I have good news about the safety and effectiveness of using natural hormone replacement which I’ll discuss in future articles.
To feeling good in life,
Michael Cutler, M.D.
- Menopause Affects Japanese Women Less Than Westerners — Center For The Advancement Of Health
- Ho SC, Chan SG, Yip YB, Cheng A, Yi Q, Chan C. “Menopausal symptoms and symptom clustering in Chinese women.” — Maturitas. 1999;33(3):219-27.
- Melby MK. “Vasomotor symptom prevalence and language of menopause in Japan.” — Menopause. 2005;12(3):250-257