Studies show that the average age for menopause is between 50 and 52. Some women experience menopause as early as 40 and as late as 55, as each woman’s body and medical and genetic history is unique. A good indicator is if your mother goes through menopause at a certain age, you will more than likely do the same. What exactly is menopause and what are some common symptoms and problems associated with this new chapter in a woman’s life?
Menopause occurs when a woman’s ovaries make less of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone, although menopausal symptoms can begin as early as 5-10 years before the onset of menopause (perimenopause). Some of the symptoms include:
- Restless sleep, insomnia
- Weight gain
- Hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue
- Irritability, mood swings
Sounds pretty bleak, huh? The culprit seems to be the decline of female hormones. When estrogen is depleted, serotonin (chemical in the brain) also decreases. Serotonin affects melatonin, a sleep hormone. It’s no mystery as to why women experience sleep disorders and insomnia as they transition into this new phase of life. The question becomes how to treat it—holistically or through HRT (hormone replacement therapy)?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Attitudes about hormone therapy changed abruptly in 2002, when a large clinical trial found that the treatment actually posed more health risks than benefits for postmenopausal women.”
Many women stopped their treatment abruptly without consulting their physicians. As physicians uncovered more of the health risks associated with HRT, women and their doctors began to discuss alternative methods of relieving the symptoms of menopause. The general consensus seems to be that women can safely use HRT if their symptoms become unbearable and greatly affects their quality of life (such as chronic insomnia), but for the shortest amount of time possible (two to five years) and at the lowest possible dose. Still, some women choose other alternatives since synthetic hormones (a combination of estrogen and progesterone) are associated with serious health risks such as heart disease, breast cancer, stroke, and blood clots.
On the flip side, young women who experience premature menopause or ovarian failure have a different set of health risks and may actually benefit from HRT. According to an article by the Mayo Clinic Staff, Hormone therapy: Is it right for you?, these women may reduce their risk of osteoporosis, coronary heart disease, and breast cancer by undergoing HRT.
According to a study conducted by the MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, “Estrogen therapy is felt to be safe after hysterectomy with moderate cardiovascular benefits.” The study also concluded that a decreased risk of heart attacks and hip fractures due to osteoporosis “are well established.” As with any treatment, a woman’s personal medical history should be considered and discussed with her physician.
What about those who choose the alternative methods to relieve insomnia and sleep disorders associated with menopause? Are there effective treatments? Many physicians and holistic practitioners tout the benefits of phytotherapy, the use of plants and herbs in whole food form or extracts and supplements.
Dr. Tori Hudson, a Naturopathic Physician, strongly believes in the use of phytotherapy. In her article, Menopause Botanicals,” she writes, “Botanical therapies for menopause symptoms are taking an increasingly important role. Many women are determined to utilize therapies that are herbal or nutritional, natural hormones, or lower dose hormones in combination with botanicals, in order to create a risk to benefit ratio that they feel comfortable with.”
Some herbs associated with alleviating menopausal symptoms include:
- Black cohosh
- Red Clover
- Passion Flower
- Wild Yam
Whether you choose HRT, phytotherapy, or simply “powering through” your own unique symptoms, consulting a trusted physician is key to accepting, adapting, and embracing this natural and wondrous chapter of your life.