Menopause is a very common condition in women. However, it’s important to realize that menopause is not a disease condition that requires treatment, as many would have you believe. It’s a natural and normal event in every woman’s life that occurs when you stop having your period.
Menopause is typically related to aging, and generally occurs around the age of 50. But it can also be due to a number of other circumstances. Surgically induced menopause, for example, occurs if you have your ovaries removed.
There are a number of symptoms associated with menopause, which makes it such an important topic for many women – probably the most debilitating of which are hot flashes. So it’s important to have an effective strategy to deal with those symptoms.
How Do You Know if You’re in Menopause?
You can determine whether or not your symptoms are due to menopause by completing a simple blood test to check your hormone level. The FSH test is a universally accepted test to determine your level of follicular stimulating hormone.
Hormones are produced by your pituitary gland, which is under ‘negative influence,’ meaning that if it detects that your ovaries are not working, it will secrete follicular stimulating hormone, hence raising your FSH levels. So the higher your FSH level, the more likely it is that you’re in menopause.
The “normal” values vary among labs and methods used, but typically the “normal” range of FSH is considered to be between 5 to 20 IU/L, with levels above that indicating that you’re moving into menopause.
Why Conventional Strategies for Treating Menopausal Symptoms is a Health Disaster
There are a number of strategies for treating menopause, and the most common one is estrogen replacement therapy.
You may not realize this, but after finishing my medical residency training in the mid-80s, I was a paid speaker for the drug companies. I was actually paid to lecture physicians about estrogen replacement therapy because, at the time, I was convinced it was a great strategy for menopausal women, since it was replacing their hormones.
I still believe replacing your hormones can be a good strategy. But in my journey of learning about and truly coming to understand health, I’ve realized that using synthetic hormones, and even natural hormones from animals is not a wise choice – as have most of the conventional medical establishment, as this is now common knowledge.
In those days, the typical hormone used in hormone replacement therapy was Premarin, which stands for Pregnant Mare’s Urine, from which the estrogen was extracted. It was clearly effective, however it also had significant side effects. This became quite clear some 5-6 years ago, and it is now well accepted in the medical community that estrogen replacement therapy is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
Estrogen has also been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, and it also tends to raise your insulin levels.
It’s especially troublesome for women who still have their uterus, as it causes the endometrium to proliferate, which raises your risk of endometrial cancer.
Hence, if a woman still had her uterus intact, the standard protocol was to put her on Provera -- a progestin. Progestin does not actually exist in nature, but is a synthetic form of progesterone, and is well documented to have many negative long term side effects.
Progesterone, by the way, is the other primary female hormone. It is produced in the ovaries, and is the precursor for both estrogen and testosterone, as well as many other natural steroid hormones.
We now know that synthetic progesterone is likely even worse than the synthetic estrogens. So clearly, you do not want to be on either of those to treat your menopausal symptoms.
You may not realize this, but if you’re on birth control pills, which I strongly advise against, you are taking synthetic progesterone and synthetic estrogen – something that is clearly not advantageous if you want to maintain optimal health.
How to Manage Symptoms of Menopause
If you’re experiencing menopausal symptoms, there are a number of strategies you can use, related to optimizing your lifestyle, the most important of which include:
- Taking a high quality animal-based omega-3 supplement, such as krill oil, which has been shown to be far more effective and beneficial than fish oil. While it is important to also consume high quality plant based omega-3 supplements like flax and hemp, they are not a replacement for animal based omega-3 fats.
- Selecting locally-grown, organic foods, and making sure your diet consists of the correct balance of fats, protein and carbohydrates for your unique biochemistry. If you have not yet investigated nutritional typing, my Getting Started With Your Optimized Nutrition Plan page is a great place to start.
Additionally, natural phytoestrogens (plant-estrogens) found in plants like licorice, soybeans, alfalfa, and many others, in small amounts. Phytoestrogens are weak estrogens and block the stronger forms.
A diet abundant in phytoestrogens before menopause will do much to moderate the day-to-day estrogen level so that when menopause arrives, there will not be such big drop.
Refined carbohydrates, hard fats, empty foods -- and too much of it -- all serve to raise your estrogen to abnormal levels, as much as twice the normal, which are maintained for the better part of the adult lives of most American women. This is a MAJOR contributing cause of menopausal symptoms in the first place.
- Implementing a regular exercise regimen to optimize your insulin levels and balance your estrogen levels. Estrogen levels are much lower in women who eat little and perform strenuous physical work, as in locales with a non-industrialized lifestyle.
The opposite is true for American women who typically eat too much and gets little exercise: abnormally high estrogen levels are the direct result of this kind of lifestyle.
- Get plenty of vitamin D! Vitamin D -- which your body produces naturally when you expose your skin to sunlight -- optimizes and up-regulates over 2,000 genes in your body. One study mentions up to 3,000 genes, but it may be even greater than that. I have written extensively about the health benefits of optimizing your vitamin D levels, and the dangers of being deficient in this essential nutrient. I recommend viewing my one-hour video lecture to get a solid base of information about vitamin D
These lifestyle changes will help control symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, without doing anything else.
But if you’re still experiencing challenging symptoms, you can also use bioidentical hormones. These are natural hormones that are bioidentical to your own.
One of the pioneers and innovators in this area is Dr. Jonathan Wright, one of my early mentors, and I’ve interviewed him a number of times.
He’s written a number of books and has a solid program that you can use to safely go on bioidentical hormone therapy. There are also a number of other good resources on bioidentical hormones out there.
So, these are some simple strategies you can use to address this very common challenge. And please remember: menopause is a natural event – a period of years in a normal woman's life in which gradual hormonal changes bring about a shift away from the physical powers of childbearing, in favor of a more mature condition of mental development and wisdom.
The unpleasant symptoms we have come to associate with menopause are common only in a small group of women in history: American and Northern European women in the past 75 years. Outside that group, menopause is not so problematic and is taken more in stride as a natural phase in a woman's life, with little fanfare. It seems that the more simple the lifestyle, and the more simple the diet - the more effortless the transition.
So if you lead a healthy lifestyle, and apply the principles I teach on my site, the likelihood of you experiencing any side effects with menopause is actually pretty low.The ideal strategy is to act preventively, and to apply these strategies to help you and your family take control of your health.