Thursday, June 30, 2011

Addressing Menopause, Part 1: What is Menopause and How Does it Change You?

In American culture, menopause is treated like a disease because of common problems associated with the normal hormonal changes. It can, however, be a fresh phase of life with new opportunities that a woman's wisdom of experience can direct. During this series we will examine menopause in the U.S. and look at past and current medical treatments as well as naturopathic therapies.

Part 1 - What is Menopause and How Does it Change You?

Every day, roughly 6,000 women in the US reach menopause - the stage of life when a woman’s ovaries stop producing eggs and menstrual periods cease. According to U.S. Census data from 2000, there are about 37.5 million women entering or currently at menopause (ages 40 to 59).  It’s estimated that in 2010, there were approximately 50 million menopausal women!  As recently as the 1980s, menopause was not something to be talked about, understood, or prepared for so much as it was to be endured. Women often suffered in silence through this inevitable transition. 

Luckily, our understanding of menopause and hormones has grown by leaps and bounds since then. We know more about the common symptoms that women experience, and we have better treatments to help them cope. We realize that the lifestyle habits that you maintain or adopt during this time of life can have a profound impact on your health and vitality in the future, especially when you consider that with today’s record-high life expectancies in the US, many women will live one-third or more of their life after menopause. 

The medical definition of menopause is for a woman to be menstruation-free for twelve straight months, however, surgery, such as a hysterectomy, can also induce early and sudden menopause and onset of menopausal symptoms. A better definition of menopause may be to have persistent symptoms of estrogen deficiency, which can include mood swings, depression, anxiety, heart palpitations, nausea, loss of memory, difficulty concentrating, night sweats, insomnia, headaches, joint pain, hair loss, skin changes (dryness, thinning), acne, facial hair growth, decreased metabolism and weight gain, hot flashes, (night sweats or sleeping problems that lead to feeling tired, stressed or tense), vaginal changes (the vagina may become dry and thin and sex may be painful) and thinning of bones, which may lead to loss of height and bone breaks. 

What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic Medicine is based on the belief that the human body has an innate healing ability. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) teach their patients to use diet, exercise, lifestyle changes and cutting-edge natural therapies to enhance their bodies’ ability to ward off and combat disease. NDs craft personalized and comprehensive treatment plans that blend the best of modern medical science and traditional natural medical approaches to not only treat disease, but to also restore health. Steeped in traditional healing methods, principles and practices, naturopathic medicine focuses on holistic, proactive prevention and comprehensive diagnosis and treatment. By using protocols that minimize the risk of harm, a ND helps facilitate the body’s inherent ability to restore and maintain optimal health. It is the ND’s role to identify and remove barriers to good health by helping to create a healing internal and external environment. NDs treat all medical conditions and can provide both individual and family healthcare. Among the most common ailments they treat are allergies, chronic pain, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, obesity, respiratory conditions, heart disease, fertility problems, menopause, adrenal fatigue, cancer, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. NDs are trained to utilize prescription drugs, although the emphasis of naturopathic medicine is the use of natural healing agents.

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