By Carol Van Kirk
Menopause. Just the word itself conjures up negative images of your Aunt Katherine, wild-eyed and crazy with raging hormones, fanning herself and carping at everyone around her. Sleepless nights and hot flashes, dowagers’ humps and broken bones, the end of a woman’s vitality and sexuality. The dreaded Change of Life.
This was the prevailing notion on the subject until modern science and the Baby Boomer generation embraced Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which promised to not only alleviate the symptoms of menopause but also to ensure youthful skin, strong muscles, healthy hearts and perfect memories. In short — HRT was touted as the veritable fountain of youth, as well as a shield against diseases of old age such as heart condition and osteoporosis.
Then a funny thing happened — the incidence of breast cancer began to climb. And in 2002, the Nurses’ Health Study, the largest clinical trial for women’s health issues ever undertaken, reported that HRT increased a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer by 26% and their risk of contracting endometrial cancer was six times greater than women not using HRT.
Furthermore, hormone therapy provided no protection against heart disease as had been earlier claimed. Immediately, many women stopped their HRT regimens, others flooded their doctors’ offices with questions, and everyone was confused. How could this happen? How could medical science get it so wrong?
To start at the beginning, let’s first define what menopause is. Strictly speaking, menopause is the cessation of the menses during which time estrogen levels drop dramatically and the menstrual cycle becomes erratic and eventually stops. This typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, but can begin earlier and or later in some women.
There is also a transitional stage that can last from five to ten years called perimenopause. This phase is typically marked by irregular hormonal swings that may cause irregular bleeding, mood swings, irritability, changes in memory retention, sleep disturbances, increases in vaginal and urinary tract infections, headaches, and general aches and pains. A woman is considered to have reached menopause when she has been free from menstrual periods for one year.
Menopause is not, however, a disease but a life transition. Only in Western industrialized cultures does menopause manifest itself as a series of symptoms. The phenomenon of menopause does not occur in the animal kingdom. Most mammals remain fertile for their entire life. In many non-Western cultures, menopause occurs asymptomatically, without the debilitating and traumatic side effects that occur today in our society. Furthermore, there is not much medical evidence that menopause was such a problem in ages past as it is now.
Some experts have theorized that perhaps women were intended to simply die at younger ages when fertility ceased, as animals do; that our statistically longer average life span is unnatural, created by better nutrition and fewer illnesses and predators. But statistics are not always clear. The term average life span does not mean that the average person died at a certain age, but that the age of death for a large number of people was calculated as a numerical average.
For example, if half of the children died before age two in a certain period, and the other half lived to be eighty, the average life span would be about forty years. As it turns out, the average life span has increased as a result of the decrease in childhood deaths from infectious diseases. There have been plenty of women in ages past who lived to be ripe old ages, and still no mention of horrible “women’s troubles” in journals and writings.
Most Asian women continue to navigate menopause with little or no symptoms. Other cultures such as Pacific Islanders and certain African cultures report few problems also, although the incidence of menopausal symptoms is on the rise even in these areas where industrialization is occurring.
The fact is, however, that many women in our society do indeed suffer menopausal disorders which cannot be exorcised with the latest magic pill. Surely the pollution present in our environment and in our food has some effect in producing these symptoms. Add to it our lack of exercise, appetite for junk food, and abundance of stress and anxiety.
Working 60 hours a week while simultaneously taking care of children, a home, and elderly parents is not conducive to optimum health. This can lead to hormone burnout and imbalance, leaving the woman with little reserves for dealing with this natural resetting of the body for the second half of life.
In the past, women had an innate wisdom about their own bodies which unfortunately has been largely lost in the emphasis modern medicine has placed on treating health problems with a war metaphor — find the enemy and destroy it. Dealing with menopause issues is best accomplished through a careful analysis of the symptoms with a resultant combination of diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes as well as natural remedies of herbs and alternative natural treatments. Women have access to many sources of information now, and with the guidance of a professional trained in the arts of natural healing, they can successfully navigate this transitional phase of their lives with a minimum of distress and an enhanced sense of well-being and self-worth.
Margaret Mead, the well-known anthropologist, coined the term PMZ or post-menopausal zest, to describe the period that follows menopause. Any woman can enter this last third of her life with a healthy body, positive attitude and a zest for life if she finds the right treatment and a healthy path through the menopausal period.
Menopause can be entered into naturally using therapeutic doses of herbal extracts, supplements, diet and lifestyle change. There has been recent media attention about bio-identical hormone creams with very little research to support the claims of any long-term consequence, and it is still a synthetic form of hormones.
Dr. Strande has helped many women transition through menopause or perimenopause without the dangerous side effects seen in other traditional synthetic therapies. His approach is evaluating each patient individually to have an overview of the underlying issues that can contribute to a difficult transition through menopause. With the right approach and a commitment on the part of the patient and doctor, menopause does not have to be a debilitating or negative experience.
Alex Strande, PhD is a Naturopath and Microbiologist. His special interests are difficult conditions, and he can be reached in hisoffice at for questions and appointments. You may find more information about Dr. Strande’s background, articles published and testimonials at www.simplyhealingclinic.com
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