Menopause is a state of transition that can be both liberating and unsettling that brings about menstrual, emotional, and physiological changes. It is a common time when larger health issues are discussed such as the degenerative process of aging, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and increasing incidence of breast cancer. In cultures where elders are revered, menopause is seen as a sign of maturity and experience where women become sources of wisdom and guidance within the community. It is a time where estrogen, the hormone of nurturing/relationships/giving, declines bringing the woman’s focus inward towards self-cultivation and discovery of areas not yet explored. Perimenopause, the transition towards menopause, provides an opportunity for health screening, recognition of otherwise silent diseases, and motivation for a healthier lifestyle.
What is Menopause?
Menopause arises as follicles in the ovaries become depleted over time. Hormone levels decrease and cause the hallmark symptoms of hot flashes, night sweats, palpitations, headaches, irritability, mood swings, dry vaginal tissue, decreased libido, increased urinary infections, and incontinence. Depression and anxiety are sometimes prominent aspects for a menopausal woman because hormones affect the production, release, and breakdown of neurotransmitters. As estrogen levels decrease, the breakdown of norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin increase. Lower levels of serotonin increase anxiety, pain, depression, and poor sleep. Decreased levels of norepinephrine increase depression while balancing anxiety, pain, and heart palpitations.
What about my hot flashes?
Lots of medical conditions can cause hot flashes and need to be given thought such as diabetes and thyroid disorders. But most commonly, hot flashes are related to the vasomotor changes caused by fluctuating levels of estrogen and norepinephrine. Because reproductive hormones have such a systemic affect, it is also important to look at other organs that have a close relationship with hormone communication such as the thyroid, adrenal glands, ovaries, liver, and gastrointestinal health.
What are some basic treatments?
Because menopause is a complex transition and each woman will have a unique experience, it is important to seek care for individualized treatment. In the meantime, here are some basic treatments you can think about:
- Exercise – Not only does regular exercise decrease hot flashes, it increased brain circulation, increases serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, and increases resistance to stress.
- Botanicals – to maximize the effectiveness of herbs, each herb must be matched to each unique menopausal presentation. Some of my favorites include: black cohosh, sage, vitex, maca, and arctium lappa. Specifically black cohosh improves hot flashes and plumps up vaginal tissue, arctium lappa helps support the liver’s metabolism of hormones, sage will help cool of my hot females, vitex exerts a progesterogenic effect, and maca is an aphrodisiac and an overall hormonal and adrenal tonic.
- Oils – a good source of oils like fish oil to nourish the brain and support the skin.
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