By Cathy McNease, Herbalist
My last period came the day after I turned 56. For women around the world, average age is 51. The time leading up to the cessation of menstruation is called peri-menopause, and can last several years or more, with all sorts of irregularities. Menopause is officially here when you have not had a menstrual period for one year. Many women choose the hormone replacement (HRT) route when the symptoms are severe, but there are some serious possible side effects. The real dangers with HRT occur when used long term (more than 5 years) and in high doses. Personally, I had strokes, breast and uterine cancers in my family history, so HRT was never a safe choice.
The other danger with HRT, in my opinion, can be associated with the denial of the aging process, using hormones as a “fountain of youth.” The current craze (at least in California) is “bio-identical hormones” which logically sound safer than synthetic ones, but there are no long term studies done with them to actually confirm safety. I do, however, believe that bio-identical hormones are a better choice, if absolutely necessary. Much of the discomforts of menopause can be lessened greatly with herbs and nutrition. Menopause is NOT a disease, it is a life transition.
In her books, Christiane Northrop MD, brilliantly discusses this time as “a mind-body revolution that brings the greatest opportunity for growth since adolescence.” She also advises that peri-menopausal and menopausal women will control their weight more easily if they avoid refined grains, and limit grains in general. Laurie Steelsmith, naturopathic doctor, acupuncturist and practitioner of Chinese medicine, has written a great manual for women’s health. In it she describes menopause “not as a loss of youth but as a time of great potential and joy.” She quotes Dr Bob Flaws’ description of menopause as the time a woman becomes “the mother of her community and a fountain of wisdom.”