Menopause and alternatives to HRT

by Rachael Forrest

The great news for  women born between 1946 and 1964 is that they are now the most affluent and influential group in the world. A woman born in 1900 could only expect to live until she was 40 but today, a woman’s life expectancy is 84. That means that women will live another 30 to 40 years beyond menopause so, instead of being seen as the end of life, it can be seen more positively as a transition towards a time of greater freedom.  

Research into changes taking place in the during the menopause show that in addition to hormonal shifts, there are also intricate changes to our nervous systems. Just as in puberty, our brains are being rewired, changing how we think and respond.  Being mainly free from childcare responsibilities and caring for aging parents, this time of life can be filled with possibilities. It is a developmental stage that holds promise for new directions, careers, and purpose.

During this transitional process women will notice menstrual cycle changes and erratic ovulation patterns over a 4-8 year period of time. The menstrual period may become heavier or lighter and cycles may be delayed or more frequent. Whatever it is, a woman will know it is not her usual pattern and change is underway.  Menopause is said to have occurred when a period has been absent for 12 consecutive cycles.  Menopause can also occur in a woman at any age if the ovaries have been surgically removed or damaged through disease or toxic agents and we treat quite a few younger women in this situation. 

Menopause, in this country, is associated with various symptoms and hot flushes are, by far, the most common uncomfortable symptom for almost 85% of western women. About 20% of women experience no symptoms at all. In some cultures such as Japan and China it is reported that women do not experience any or very few of these symptoms.  British women are reported to suffer the most.  We 're still not sure why there is such a discrepancy in symptoms between East and West but most would put it down to diet, lifestyle choices and the increased intake of (non- GMO) soya in Eastern diets.

image: ladycarehealth,com

image: ladycarehealth,com

A hot flush is caused by an increase in the core temperature. In an attempt to cool the body, surface blood vessels dilate, especially in the area of the chest, neck and head, perspiration ensues, followed by chills. Sometimes the woman gets noticeably red in the face, other women sweat and some feel the heat without any outward symptoms.   Most women feel very self-conscious when they experience a hot flush, which can make matters worse.

Some sources say 45% of women experience hot flushes  for longer than 5 years. Night sweats are nocturnal hot flashes which contribute to insomnia, accompanied by fatigue the next day, feeling foggy headed, forgetful, irritable, anxious, headachy and depressed.  Not to mention vaginal dryness and low libido.   All of these symptoms can be effectively addressed through acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and nutritional changes.

Medical management of menopause for many years relied on hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It was thought that a dose of oestrogen, or a combination of oestrogen and progesterone, would not only improve the symptoms women were experiencing, but also provide  protection against coronary heart disease, breast cancer and osteoporosis in post-menopausal women.  A large study of 160,000 women, concluded that the risks of HRT actually outweighed the benefits.  More recent studies indicate that a brief course of HRT early in menopause is safe and may provide some lasting relief of symptoms.

Many of the women are looking for a safer, more holistic approach to managing their menopause symptoms. Acupuncture, herbal remedies and nutritional changes are the tools we employ when addressing menopausal symptoms.  We take into consideration the whole person, knowing that every aspect of a woman’s life can be impacted by this challenging and exciting time. Healthy diet and lifestyle therapies have no risks attached and can also be used in conjunction with HRT.