Menopause and Perimenopause
Menopause is defined as the point at which a woman’s menstruation ceases for an entire year. While the onset of menopause usually occurs around the age of 50, women can experience menopause-related changes much earlier, and for years afterwards. The stage leading to the eventual end of menstruation, called “perimenopause,” can last anywhere from 6 months to 10 years. During both perimenopause and menopause, some women may experience hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, mood swings, anxiety/depression, poor sleep, irritability, vaginal dryness, memory problems and other symptoms that lower the quality of life.
Andropause (“Male Menopause”)
As men get older, they produce lower levels of male sex hormones. Associated with prostate enlargement, this “andropause” can also lead to symptoms including hot flashes, decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, decreased muscle strength and size, loss of bone mass, decreased mental clarity, grumpiness and depression, low energy level, fatigue, poor blood sugar control, and heart disease.
Hypo- and Hyperthyroidism
The thyroid is a gland located just below the Adam’s apple that makes and stores hormones that help regulate the heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and the rate at which food is converted into energy. Thyroid activity is regulated by the dynamically-changing balance of many hormones, including the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Too often, doctors of conventional medicine prescribe targeted drugs that affect just one hormone produced by the thyroid, rather than all of them. Such treatment is insufficient because it frequently brings thyroid activity up to a level that is normal, but not optimal. Looking at the total picture – including the interaction of the thyroid with other types of hormones – is the best way to determine an effective treatment strategy for thyroid irregularity.
When the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone or produces too much, or if thyroid hormones are blocked from performing their function, the body’s metabolism will be too fast or too slow. Symptoms of hypo- and hyperthyroidism include fatigue, sluggishness, hyperactivity, depression, feeling cold, cold hands and feet, palpitations, weight gain or weight loss, thinning hair, brittle nails, dry or oily skin and constipation.
The most well known female sex hormone, estrogen is actually the family name for three other hormones – estrone, estradiol and estriol– that appear in both men and women and regulate many important body functions. Estrogen is produced naturally within the body, but the modern world is full of chemical estrogen “look-alikes” produced for use in agriculture, industry and food production. These synthetic compounds cause many women and men’s bodies to become overloaded with estrogen – and this is dangerous to our health.
Synthetic estrogens are used to make medicine, to fatten animals before slaughter, to get cows to give more milk, to kill bugs on our fruits and vegetables, and to produce industrial plastic and petroleum products. Over-exposure to environmental estrogens affects the balance between estrogen and progesterone – another female hormone. When progesterone levels drop off during menopause, the over-abundance of estrogen caused by the intake of chemical estrogen-like compounds increases the incidence and severity of menopause-related symptoms.
Estrogen dominance can also occur when progesterone production drops. This can occur during periods of high stress, and at any time in a woman’s reproductive life, from the time of her first period, after childbirth and especially during menopause. Estrogen dominance can cause thyroid problems, breast disease or tenderness, heavy or irregular periods, water retention, moodiness, weight gain and insomnia.
The adrenals are triangle-shaped glands that sit just above the kidneys. Our adrenal glands produce cortisol, a hormone that is released in response to stress, exercise and excitement. Cortisol is also involved in the body’s immune system and its response to inflammation, and helps metabolize glucose (sugar) in the blood.
Too much physical or emotional stress over a prolonged period can cause “adrenal exhaustion” – a situation where the adrenal glands don’t produce enough cortisol. People suffering from this condition can experience symptoms including fatigue, allergies, anxiety, nervousness, asthma, poor memory and sugar cravings. Ironically, the very things some of us turn to when we feel exhausted – stimulants like cigarettes, caffeine or sugar- and carbohydrate-rich pick-me-ups – actually reduce hormone production.
To combat adrenal insufficiency, be sure to get a good night’s sleep. Burning the midnight oil on a regular basis deprives your adrenal glands of the “down time” they need to catch up with the repair needed from a long day’s worth of stress.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a disease that may cause cysts to form in and on the ovaries, disrupting the process of ovulation. Women with PCOS can also experience infertility and other menstrual problems.
The experts have not come to a conclusion about the cause of PCOS, but the condition is marked by several hormonal imbalances, including the overproduction of estrogen and androgens by the ovaries. These excess hormones can lead to obesity, acne, the growth of facial hair, as well as the loss of hair from the scalp. Using bio-identical hormones to regulate the monthly cycle and to normalize excess male hormones is central to the BHRT treatment. Adrenal hormones are often out of balance in PCOS patients as well.
There is a strong link between PCOS and the onset of insulin resistance and type II (adult onset) diabetes. As a result, many doctors recommend a diabetes-prevention diet and careful monitoring of blood sugar as part of PCOS treatment.
Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS)
From the time of a woman’s first menstrual period until menopause, the rise and fall of hormone levels is a fact of life. Ordinary hormonal fluctuations should not trigger physical or emotional symptoms. However, serious difficulties can occur when the fluctuations are extreme.
For women who have a chronic problem of hormonal imbalance, the shifts that occur during the menstrual cycle can disrupt daily functioning and affect quality of life. PMS sufferers may experience painful menstrual periods, bloating, fatigue, breast tenderness, irritability, mood swings, depression, increased appetite and forgetfulness.
Osteoporosis – or the loss of bone mass – can occur in anyone, but is more common in women than in men. Common symptoms of osteoporosis are thinning and brittle bones, broken bones, loss of height and bone pain.
Osteoporosis is linked to age-related decline in the production of certain hormones including estrogen and progesterone and testosterone. An imbalance between hormones produced by the thyroid and the adrenal glands can also contribute to bone loss.
For example, we know that too much stress raises cortisol output, interfering with bone-building calcium absorption, while at the same time increasing the activity of bone destroying cells. We also know that smoking, alcohol intake and a lack of physical activity can contribute to loss of bone mass. A holistic approach that includes treatment with bio-identical hormones can prevent, stop, slow and even reverse osteoporosis.
Endometriosis occurs when cells that normally grow in the uterine lining escape from the uterus and migrate to other parts of the body (for example, into the pelvic cavity. These cells begin to be stimulated by hormonal changes that are part of the monthly menstrual cycle. This can result in severe, debilitating pain. In addition to pelvic pain, endometriosis can cause menstrual irregularities, inflammation and infertility. Women suffering from endometriosis have been helped dramatically by treatment with bio-identical progesterone.
The breasts should not be tender, painful or full of cysts even just prior to the menstrual period. If they are, this is a sign of a hormone imbalance that needs to be corrected. High levels of estrogen, or an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone (estrogen dominance) can cause uncomfortable symptoms that can be relieved through BHRT treatment.
When a couple is unable to conceive a child, or maintain a pregnancy, a hormonal imbalance is frequently at fault. Some possible reasons for infertility include abnormal estrogen production during the first phase of the menstrual cycle, and insufficient or unsustained production of progesterone during the menstrual cycle’s second phase. A woman may also be deficient in the male hormone, DHEA, or have a weak thyroid. BHRT brings hormones gently back into balance, without risking the health of the mother with exceedingly high doses of synthetic hormones.