Menopause

The transition between fertility and menopause is technically known as perimenopause (or climacteric), but most people simply call it menopause.

Menopause is the end of menses, and it's official when a woman hasn't had a period for twelve consecutive months. The average age of menopause is fifty-one, but anything between forty-one and fifty-nine is considered normal.

Symptoms

Menopause produces a few distinct symptoms, all the result of the shortfall in the hormones estrogen and progesterone created when the ovaries stop producing them.

The best-known menopause drug, Premarin, contains conjugated estrogens taken from the urine of pregnant female horses (its name is an abbreviation of “pregnant mares' urine”). Despite its side effects (including cramping, bloating, breast pain, hair loss, irregular bleeding, and Candida infections) and protests against the inhumane treatment of the “donor” mares, it's still routinely prescribed by conventional doctors.

These symptoms, which can go on for as little as a few weeks or as long as a few years, vary greatly among women. The most common include:

Vasomotor Symptoms

Menopausal vasomotor symptoms — those involving constriction or dilation of blood vessels — include hot flashes and night sweats.

Hot flashes are the most common symptom of menopause; almost all menopausal women have them. They are marked by a warm sensation that travels from your chest up into your head, often in waves, accompanied by a flushing in your skin and, in some cases, dizziness, nausea, headache, and rapid heartbeat. Hot flashes that come on at night are called night sweats (for obvious reasons).

Emotional and Cognitive Changes

Many women experience changes in mood — including depression and anxiety — during menopause. Other problems, like difficulty with concentration or memory, are also common.

Help for Menopausal Symptoms

Conventional medicine generally treats menopausal symptoms with hormone-like drugs that mimic the effects of estrogen and progesterone.

Until fairly recently, conventional doctors routinely prescribed the long-term use of drugs known as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to both ease the symptoms of menopause and protect postmenopausal women against estrogen-mediated diseases like osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, and cardiovascular disease.

Insomnia is a common complaint among menopausal women. But several herbs used in aromatherapy (and inhaled or applied to the skin via massage), including lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and jasmine (Jasminum officinale), can help you get to sleep without the side effects of pharmaceutical sedatives.

But recent research has shown that HRT actually increases the risk of cardiovascular problems (including stroke and heart attack), breast cancer, gall bladder disease, and dementia. These days, doctors usually prescribe HRT only for the short-term relief of menopausal symptoms.

However, even when it's used for a limited time, HRT has its side effects, including bloating, weight gain, and emotional problems like irritability and depression. But herbalism has a few alternatives:

Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, Cimicifuga racemosa)

Black cohosh extracts can significantly reduce hot flashes (one study showed an effect similar to a pharmaceutical estradiol patch).'

Dong quai (Angelica sinensis)

In a recent study, menopausal women who took a combination of dong quai and chamomile (Matricaria recutita) showed significant improvement in hot flashes.

Flax (Linum usitatissimum)

Taking flaxseed has been shown to reduce mild menopausal symptoms just as well as hormone therapy-without the side effects.

Kava (Piper methysticum)

Research has shown that kava extracts can reduce symptoms of anxiety and cognitive impairment in menopausal women-and results were seen after just one week.

Kudzu (Pueraria lobata)

Extracts of this Chinese vine, which is a traditional Chinese menopause treatment, seem to improve cognitive function in postmenopausal women.

Red clover (Trifolium pratense)

Red clover is a traditional remedy for menopausal complaints, and there is some evidence that it can reduce hot flashes, lower cholesterol levels, and improve cognitive functioning.

Soy (Glycine max)

Soy-both the dietary and the supplemental kind-can decrease the severity and frequency of hot flashes. In some studies, the effects were similar to those of pharmaceutical hormone therapy.

Saint John's wort (Hypericum perforatum)

Research shows that a combination of Saint John's wort and black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, Cimicifuga racemosa) can reduce depression and other psychological symptoms of menopause.

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