Optimizing Your Health, Part 8: Menopause
Is it time for your 45,000-mile tune-up?
No, I'm not talking about your car. I'm talking about your body. And those 45,000 miles are 45 years — the four, five or more decades on your body's odometer.
That's about the time when most women start to experience the drop in estrogen, progesterone and other hormones that first triggers perimenopause (the length of the menstrual cycle start to change, and there are missed menses) and then menopause (12 months after your final period).
It's important to remember, however, that neither perimenopause nor menopause are diseases, any more than puberty is a disease. They are natural phases in the process of life.
Some women cruise through menopausal changes without a stall or breakdown. Other women find that they feel healthier and younger with a "tune-up" — and why not!
Your car gets a major tune-up when you've driven it 45,000 miles — and your body deserves one, too! This article presents a 6-point "checklist" for your 45,000-mile tune-up: 6 ways to optimize your health during perimenopause and menopause.
Your 6-Point Menopause Checklist
Estrogen helps optimize health in many ways, including: optimal sleep, brain function, sexual function, and autonomic function (the part of the nervous system that controls temperature, pulse and blood flow). Progesterone helps you maintain a calm mood. (Feeling peaceful and satisfied is definitely optimal!)
When estrogen dips, symptoms can include hot flashes, poor sleep, memory problems, low libido and vaginal dryness. When progesterone dips, you can have anxiety and mood swings.
Here are 6 ways to address those concerns and optimize menopause:
1. Eat a daily handful of edamame.
For many women, all they need to do to handle menopausal symptoms is eat a daily handful of edamame, or soybean pods — a standard appetizer in Japanese restaurants. Edamame is rich in phytoestrogens, a plant-based, weaker version of estrogen. So eating a handful a day raises your estrogen levels naturally. You can find edamame in the frozen food section of most supermarkets and health food stores. Eat the pea-like beans inside the pod, not the pod itself. Add a little garlic or paprika — yum! (See Soy Cools Hot Flashes for a new study on the benefits of soy in menopause.)
2. Take a black cohosh supplement.
Research showsthat black cohosh can help promote a balanced autonomic function, which can reduce hot flashes. Take it daily for 2 months (it takes about that long to see the full effect). After that, stay onit, but you can usually lower the dose.
3. Talk to a holistic physician about using bioidentical hormones.
Natural bioidentical hormones are exact replicas of the chemical structure of your own hormones, and they're derived from plants. They're much safer and more effective than synthetic hormones, which aren't chemically the same as those produced by your body — and in many cases are largely a concoction of lab-invented chemicals.
For my perimenopausal and menopausal patients, I often prescribe the bioidentical estrogen Biest (starting with 0.1 to 0.25 mg daily), along with a natural progesterone (30 milligrams). These hormones are compounded into a cream by a compounding pharmacy (the type that makes customized medications on-site). You simply apply the cream to your skin each evening.
You may also want to ask your doctor to test testosterone levels. In a middle-aged woman, low testosterone can cause problems similar to those caused by low testosterone in middle-aged men: fatigue, depression, osteoporosis, weight gain, muscle achiness and low libido. Bioidentical testosterone replacement therapy can help with all those symptoms.
Many women who use bioidentical hormones feel healthier and younger. Among many other benefits, they report more energy, better sleep, healthier hair and skin, and a stronger sex drive, with better lubrication. Bioidentical hormones are a reasonable choice for any woman to consider.
4. Have a DEXA bone scan.
The medical profession has finally (and wisely) come to their senses with formal recommendations for eliminating many unnecessary and harmful medical tests.
But some professional organizations overdid it when they recommended an end to DEXA scans for bone density. That may be a smart recommendation for conventional doctors, since their only response to a finding of low bone density is to write a prescription for bone-building medications, which research shows are more toxic than helpful. But many natural remedies (like a supplement of the mineral strontium) can help promote bone health, without the toxicity. I recommend a DEXA bone scan at 45 years of age, and every five years thereafter.
5. Get a colonoscopy.
This is one of the cancer screening tests I think is truly helpful in preventing cancer. I recommend a colonoscopy at age 50, and every 10 years thereafter.
6. Check your blood pressure.
It's a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. And there are lots of conventional and natural ways to get high blood pressure under control. Most supermarkets have a machine where you can check your blood pressure for free. Do it once or twice a year. Each time, take two or three readings and compute the average.
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of four research studies on their treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.