What is Menopause?
Menopause is a normal biological event that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. Menopause is the transition period in a woman’s life when her ovaries stop producing eggs, her body produces less estrogen and progesterone, and menstruation becomes less frequent, eventually stopping altogether. On average, menopause occurs at age 51; but like the beginning of menstruation in adolescence, timing varies from person to person.
“One must understand that the sole purpose of the entire process is for procreation of the species. That is why the cessation of the menses is called menopause, i.e. the pausing of the menses.”
Today, an estimated 60 million women in the United States have reached menopause, and most women will spend at least one-third of their lives in or beyond menopause.
“By the year 2015 the number of menopausal women worldwide is expected to reach approximately 1.7 billion.”
Menopause is the last stage of a gradual biological process in which the ovaries reduce their production of female sex hormones. Estrogen production in the body diminishes slowly over a period of years as does testosterone, DHEA, and thyroid. Progesterone begins its decline as early as the age of 35. A deficiency of progesterone often is present in young ladies.
In the menopause years, the decline in hormones, particularly estradiol, commonly results in hot flashes, irritability, night sweats, mood swings, and memory loss.
It should be noted that many women do not experience these symptoms. However, all women have a decline in hormones. Further, it is the decline in hormones that contribute greatly to the aging process which all women will experience. All postmenopausal women, will be subjected to the disabilities of aging (heart disease, cancer, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease), to the loss of libido, reduced muscle strength, poor quality of sleep, weight gain, low energy and other “symptoms of aging.” Most of these, if not all, can be prevented or lessened with bioidentical hormones.
Hysterectomies. Another type of menopause, known as surgical menopause, occurs if both ovaries are removed for medical reasons. This may be done at the time of a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus). A woman who has surgical menopause at a young age, may prematurely begin her aging process. She may develop all of the symptoms (and often disabilities) of a menopausal women. Often, she gains substantial body fat.
Signs and Symptoms
Each woman experiences her own variation of the typical symptoms of menopause. Some studies even suggest that the signs and symptoms of menopause may vary between cultural groups. For example, up to 80% of American women experience hot flashes during menopause while only 10% of Japanese women experience that symptom. Some researchers speculate that these differences may be due to differences in diet, lifestyle, and/or cultural attitudes toward aging.
In general, however, the loss of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and thyroid that occurs during menopause causes the following symptoms:
- Irregular menstrual cycles—menstrual bleeding slows, becomes erratic, and then stops permanently (the process takes about 4 years).
- Hot flashes—flushing of face and chest (may be accompanied by heart palpitations, dizziness, headaches).
- Night sweats.
- Cold hands and feet.
- Vaginal changes—dryness, itching, bleeding after intercourse.
- Urinary changes—frequent urination, burning during urination, urinating at night, incontinence.
- Mood changes—depression, irritability, tension (usually occurs with sleep disturbances).
- Loss of skin tone leading to wrinkles.
- Weight gain and change in weight distribution with increased fat in the central abdominal area.
Over time, depleted hormonal levels can contribute to the development of more serious medical conditions, including the following:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Macular degeneration (a serious eye disorder and the leading cause of blindness in the Western world)
- Colon cancer
- Breast Cancer
- Uterine Cancer