Editor's Message: Menopause and andropause are a natural part of life. Embrace it as it opens up a new chapter of life which can be as vibrate and colorful as the path below. Yes, there are health implications with the transition. However, there are many natural health options available today to help minimize the symptoms and address the underlying health concerns. Read on, two practitioners examine the causes of the symptoms and offer treatment recommendations.
By Maegan Knutson, ND, L .Ac
While scientists debate global warming we would like to take a moment to discuss menopause. Menopause is defined as the permanent cessation of menses (periods) for 12 months and is caused by the decreased production of sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) by the ovaries. It is a natural life transition that some women breeze through while others struggle with symptoms like mood changes, weight gain, insomnia, headaches, low libido, joint pain, hot flashes, etc. You know the question: Why is that?
OK, we here you and will do our best to explain. In the U.S., menopause is often associated with a multitude of symptoms, while in many cultures the transition is associated with relief and the honor of becoming an elder. Why are some women affected so negatively by a normal & natural transition in hormones? (And why is it so hot in here?) Some researchers blame a high stress lifestyle, cultural bias, or environmental toxins. Others fault the Standard American Diet (highly refined foods, high in trans-fats, high in sugar, and low in fiber). A S.A.D. diet indeed!
Sex Hormone Changes in Women
A woman's hormones often begin to shift 10 years before menopause during the perimenopausal period. The average age to begin menopause is 51 with some women noticing changes as early as their late 30's & early 40's. Symptoms are often the result of fluctuating hormones. As the ovaries begin to shut down, progesterone production decreases initially and is followed by a decrease in estrogen. The hormone signals from the brain (FSH, LH) continue to elevate in an attempt to increase estrogen & progesterone production. These high hormone signals from the brain can disrupt the hormone balance further by increasing androgen (testosterone like) hormones. It is actually the imbalance of the sex hormones that leads to many of the unpleasant menopausal symptoms. It's ok, it's not your fault; close the freezer door before you read on.
Many women struggle with hot flashes and night sweats. These symptoms are caused by the dilation of peripheral blood vessels, which leads to an increase in skin temperature, flushing and often sweating. The female hormones are transitioning and during that transition mood swings and other symptoms are the result. You may find yourself lying awake in a puddle of sweat and completely annoyed. That's not just the weather. Chronically disrupted sleep not only leads to fatigue but can contribute to many chronic diseases such as high blood pressure. Get support, you don't need to suffer. Natural treatments are extremely effective at reducing or eliminating these symptoms.
Natural Treatments to Ease Menopause Symptoms
If you or your loved ones experience symptoms, there are many treatment options. Possible therapies include lifestyle changes, nutrition, herbal medicine, targeted amino acid therapy, bioidentical hormones, and conventional hormone replacement therapy. Many women find that they can get relief with natural lifestyle changes. Here's the hard part ladies. Research supports simple lifestyle changes in reducing menopausal symptoms. Decreasing alcohol, caffeine, refined sugar, hot drinks, & animal proteins, while increasing fiber, exercise and drinking plenty of water (60+ ounces a day) is a great start. Some women have more severe symptoms and require the support of herbs, specific nutrients and natural neurotransmitter support. When considering using hormone replacement therapy, there are serious risks that should be discussed with a physician. Note that bioidentical hormones are being used with great success for controlling symptoms while avoiding the potentially detrimental effects of synthetic hormones. Naturopathic Physicians are specifically trained in botanical medicine, nutrition, homeopathy, balancing neurotransmitters and bioidentical hormone therapy. Consider consulting a Naturopathic Physician if you are interested in safe and effective treatment for menopausal symptoms. Smile, you have a whole new phase of life to live with an average of 30yrs left to live it!
By: Dr. Alex Kraft
Have you ever wondered why there is so much emphasis on women's midlife hormonal changes (menopause) but there doesn't appear to be a similar change in men? Why is that?
The reality is that there is such thing as male menopause. It is officially called Andropause and is the time after middle age where there is a decline in function of the man's reproductive organs and consequently the hormones they produce. Since men don't have menstrual cycles the change is generally less noticeable than in women, but the changes of andropause have been known since the early 1940s. While symptoms similar to those seen in andropause may be due to other health conditions, for many men this drop in testosterone can directly cause health effects such as mood changes, fatigue, decreased sexual function, and a decrease in lean muscle mass. In addition to this, in the same way that a drop in estrogen levels in women can accelerate bone loss and lead to osteoporosis, it has been shown that declining testosterone levels also cause similar bone loss in men. Since women are affected by osteoporosis five times more frequently than men, oftentimes symptoms of osteoporosis in men is overlooked until it has progressed to the point where fractures have already occurred.
Sex Hormone Changes in Men
In case you're wondering, andropause cannot be corrected with a shiny new sports car or sudden interest in extreme sports, but there are ways to help maintain testosterone levels and reap the benefits that this hormone does provide. While some of the decline in testosterone is a normal process, other factors such as high stress levels, physical and psychiatric illness, obesity, and malnutrition can all affect the central nervous system in ways that influences testosterone levels. If any of these conditions are present, they should be the first to be addressed for optimal health. As one of the guiding principles of Naturopathic Medicine states, first identify and treat the cause.
Natural Treatments to Ease Andropause Symptoms
If the aforementioned health conditions are not present, it is possible to support the body's own production of testosterone or, under a doctors supervision, provide testosterone replacement therapy. Potential benefits of this include increased lean muscle mass, osteoporosis prevention, increased sexual function, and even a slowing of the cognitive impairment that can accompany andropause. To date the research on an association between testosterone replacement and prostate cancer has not shown an increased risk, but appropriate levels do need to be maintained and monitored for cardiovascular health.
Are declining testosterone levels a natural part of the aging process? The answer is clearly yes. Declining testosterone levels are not an inherent problem for all men and do not necessarily predict future illness. This being said, there is evidence that for some men, moderating this change can have positive health implications as they continue to age after 40.
Maegan Knutson, ND, L. Ac. and Dr. Kraft, ND, L. Ac. practice at Health Moves. Health Moves treats patients with the highest level of care using non-invasive techniques. The clinic offers Naturopathic Medicine & Acupuncture treatments.