General Guidelines for a Natural Menopause
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Menopause can be a confusing and turbulent time in a womans life. As if both repeating her puberty and then some, she will suffer through nightsweats, hot flashes, temporary loss of libido, mental confusion, depression, and mood swings. She will feel a new loss of control difficult to reconcile in her adult life. Upon reaching menopause, women are frequently presented with two options: take some form of replacement hormonal therapy or have significant symptoms and risk osteoporosis. For the average woman, estrogen replacement therapy is unnecessary.
There are, however, a few important situations in which hormone replacement therapy is appropriate. A woman who has prematurely reached menopause resulting from surgery needs hormonal support. A woman with a family history of osteoporosis, who has 4 or more of the major indicators, and has not taken any preventive action like exercise or calcium supplementation in her thirties and forties need hormonal replacement. A woman with a family history of heart disease who has not taken any preventive action to increase her heart health prior to menopause and is not willing to during menopause.
Naturopathic medicine treats the menopausal woman on all the levels that she is affected - mentally, emotionally and physically. One of the ways in which we do this is by giving herbs that affect the hormonal balance to make a smoother transition from a menstruating to a non-menstruating woman. We can also balance the mental, emotional and physical levels with a constitutional homeopathic remedy.
Equally, if not more important as the physician in the health of the menopausal woman, is her own participation in the health process. The following are general guidelines that will improve her quality of life and decrease the potential risk hazards of osteoporosis and heart disease.
Diet: When treating menopause dietarily, focus on foods that will be both supportive and protective of your heart and bones. By 40, most women are losing bone mass. Estrogen prevents further bone loss after several months of continued bone loss but does not reverse it. There have been several studies showing that the postmenopausal woman can reverse bone loss with calcium supplementation and exercise. It is important to eat food that is rich in absorbable forms of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium.
Foods to eat in abundance: Salmon, mackerel, halibut, leafy greens (kale, collard greens, chard, spinach lettuce doesnt count), fruit, blueberries, black berries, and any form of soybeans.
Foods to avoid: Coffee, alcohol, pop, high protein foods (cut back on meat), high fat foods.
Foods to eat in moderation: All the foods you normally eat that are not included under foods to avoid.
Hot Flashes: While
avoiding all hot flashes may be unrealistic, it is possible to decrease
them by testing the triggers below and seeing which ones affect you
and then avoiding those.
Physical Activity: Often this is the most difficult part of the treatment plan. Some tend to think of it as optional. Because of the osteoporosis and heart disease risk, it is not optional. It is important to find some sort of physical activity that you can stick with. Take up gardening, learn how to dance, find someone to bike with, walk (with others or your dog), consider yoga or tai chi, and definitely take every opportunity to walk by parking farther away from the grocery store or climbing up the stairs rather than taking the elevator. Stress the social aspect of exercise; otherwise it will be hard to maintain after the first few weeks. Dont be too ambitious to start. Thirty minutes, 3 times a weeks is fine for most people. Then work this up to 1 hour 3 times a week as that is the exercise amount that the studies showing positive bone gain were maintained.
Spiritual, Mental, Emotional: Even though tens of million of women are menopausal in our society, we try not to talk about it or even admit that it is happening. Somehow, there is a shame in entering this new phase of a womans life. Some experience a sense of loss; others take estrogen to delay or deny its affects.
Menopause is a natural phase of a womans life. It can be a time of great introspection that can end in a new freedom. A womans ability to bear children is over, yet 1/3 of her life is still ahead. Many great and influential women have made significant contributions in their postmenopausal years: Madeline Albright, Shirley Temple Black, Dr. Margaret Mead, and Queen Elizabeth II.
Rethink menopause. Read books, talk to other women going through it. Talk to younger women. Consider getting together with other women and celebrate the change.