Menopause is a word that is all too often associated with unpleasant symptoms for women. As women approach their 40's and 50's there is a decline in function of the ovaries and associated sex hormone production, mainly estrogen and progesterone. It is estimated that in the next 20 years 40 million American women will reach the age of menopause. The definition of menopause is the cessation of a woman's menstrual cycles, a natural and perfectly normal occurrence. Pre-menopause, or perimenopause, is the years in a woman's life leading up to this last menstrual cycle. Menopause and pre-menopause, therefore, are not something technically problematic. It is just is so common to have symptoms with this change in women's bodies that it has become associated with problems: moodiness, skin changes, decrease in libido, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, trouble sleeping, bone loss, heart disease, arthritis, increased cholesterol, and bone fractures. It does not have to be this way though. Many women go through the decline of ovarian function with no problems at all. Some women report that the only thing they noticed about menopause was that they stopped having their menstrual cycles, nothing else.
So why do some women seem to fall to pieces while others sail through menopause with no problems? There are many reasons why women have symptoms associated with menopause but there is one in particular that I want to talk about, the adrenal glands. They are of vital importance for women. After the adrenal glands I will discuss the most common problems that can negatively affect mature women's health... and also affect younger and middle-aged women as they are beginning to mature.
The adrenal glands are small hormone factories responsible for making DHEA, adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and other hormones. Because they are responsible for making estrogen and progesterone, the adrenal glands help to replace declining levels of estrogen and progesterone when a woman's ovaries decline in function. Healthy women with healthy adrenal glands are able to maintain estrogen and progesterone at higher levels as ovaries taper off with production of these hormones. Women with unhealthy adrenal glands (for various reasons) are not able to replace declining levels of these hormones. They just have decreasing levels of hormones because their backup system is not working. The adrenal glands may be tired or over-worked. At the time in a woman's life when they need to kick in and start making a little extra of these vital hormones, they are unable to do so. It is like trying to whip an exhausted horse into running when all it can do is barely walk.
A large part of my health focus on menopausal women is to screen for adrenal dysfunction and if indicated help improve adrenal health. The first step for helping the adrenal glands to heal is to eliminate stressors from the body. Food allergies particularly stress the adrenal glands so food allergies need to be identified. Emotional stress can also be draining for the adrenal glands so it is often beneficial to identify emotionally stressful areas of our life and do what can be done to calm down stressful areas. All stress, emotional, chemical, and physical, causes the adrenal glands to work hard. You can understand that a lifetime of stress from unidentified food allergies would drain the adrenal glands! The second step for adrenal return to health is nutritional medicine for the adrenal glands. This may include specific vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and herbs. Sometimes homeopathic remedies may be called for or perhaps Bach flower remedies may help support calming down emotional responses to stress.
Occasionally it is helpful to support a woman with hormones themselves such as estrogen or progesterone. It may be helpful in the short run but in the long run I want a woman's body to make its own hormones so hormone replacement therapy is not in the long term scheme of things. For a while a progesterone cream or wild yam extract may be beneficial.
It is also worth mentioning that symptoms and complaints associated with menopause may be coming from other sources than adrenal dysfunction. I will discuss these next.
Infections, especially low-grade and long-lasting infections are found in almost every patient that I treat. Women suffering from menopausal symptoms, fibromyalgia, headaches, PMS, chronic fatigue, and others diseases invariably have one or more infections bringing down their health and causing symptoms. Some major symptoms of chronic infections can be fatigue, poor memory, brain fog, hypoglycemia, vaginal itching, depression, moodiness, irritability, food and chemical sensitivities, constipation or diarrhea, insomnia, headaches, stomach pain and bloating, obesity, PMS, chronic rashes, and poor absorption of foods. With such a large range of serious health problems caused by unrecognized infections it is easy to see why I must screen and treat for infections if indicated. Here are the categories of infections that I commonly find:
*yeast/fungal/mold- this is a common infection these days. It is found in 90% of the patients that I treat. Exposure to high levels of antibiotics, steroids (topical or ingested), hormones (birth control pills, artificial thyroid hormones, synthetic estrogen replacement therapy, etc), or a high sugar diet makes individuals prone to yeast problems. To clear out a fungal or yeast problem a patient (and often their spouse) need to take special yeast killing medicines and follow a strict diet for 3 weeks. Occasionally women may need to stop taking any hormones, steroids, or antibiotics for a yeast infection to clear up. It seems that certain chemicals and artificial hormones make a bad problem worse in the case of yeast infections. In worst case scenarios houses and air quality may need to be screened. Occasionally a "sick building" will be at the root of sick people's fungal illness and resultant complaints.
*parasites- a common infection found in my patients. Exposure to poorly handled meats or vegetables, poor water supply, pets, or travel to foreign countries may increase risk of parasite infections. Parasites need to be treated with special antiparasitic medications. Antibiotics will not work on parasites.
*viruses- many people have compromised immune systems. With lowered immune system function certain people are prone to long standing viral infections. Viruses are not easily eradicated except by your own immune system and white blood cells. Antibiotics do not affect viral infections at all. Any therapy for viral infections needs to be aimed at improving immune system function. Specific herbs, vitamins, and minerals will help.
*bacterial infections- certain bacteria are long term infections such as H. Pylori (a type of bacteria that lives in the stomach and upper digestive tract and causes ulcers and digestive problems). Although most major bacterial infections are caught and treated at the hospital or a visit to your medical doctor, certain bacteria may have missed being identified. Some bacteria are resistant to antibiotics. Some bacterial infections are so low grade as to escape notice and therefore they go untreated. Bacteria need to be treated with antibiotic herbs or medicines.
Ask your health care provider to screen for systemic yeast infections, parasite infections, viral burdens, and possible low grade bacterial infections. The most common way to screen for yeast and parasite infections is with a stool sample being shipped to a qualified laboratory such as Great Smokies Labs for analysis. Infections are a chemical stress on the body and thus stress the adrenal glands. Infections in the digestive tract can lead to Leaky Gut Syndrome by degrading the lining of the intestines.
This syndrome describes a condition where a person's intestinal lining has become damaged and is not controlling what is entering the blood stream efficiently.
It allows undigested food particles into the blood stream, producing stress on the immune system. Eventually allergic and autoimmune reactions or unpleasant side effects begin to occur. Leaky gut syndrome is often caused by long term exposure to intestinal infections and the inflammation that follows. These allergic reactions that follow leaky gut syndrome also stress the adrenal glands.
Leaky gut syndrome often spontaneously heals when infections are removed. Occasionally herbal formulas and certain vitamins, mineral, or amino acids are required to speed healing of the intestinal lining. When the intestines begin to repair allergic reactions to foods greatly decrease.
Most people with health complaints also seem to benefit from identifying foods that they may be sensitive to. There are at least 2 different types of allergic reactions to foods...
*Fast response food allergies (IgE mediated responses)- some food allergies react quickly, with in 10 to 15 minutes and are characterized by swelling, itching, breathing difficulties, and redness. One way for detecting IgE allergies has been the skin scratch method. The problems with the skin scratch test is that it only tests for IgE mediated allergic reactions and does not test for ANY other types of allergies. This is like only looking for half or one third of the possible problems. I find that in most of my patients who have allergy problems it is not IgE allergies that are the real burden but rather slow response or IgG allergic reactions.
*Slow response food allergies (IgG mediated responses)- most food allergies that seriously affect the health and cause headaches are slow response allergies. It is important also to mention that these delayed response food allergies are usually not identified or realized. These allergic reactions may cause headaches, fatigue, asthma, sleepiness, moodiness, depression, pain, and may eventually lead to autoimmune problems if exposure is long enough. Commonly blood testing is done to identify these types of allergic foods. A problem with most blood testing is that a large amount of false positive results are found which leads to too many foods being identified as allergic. Because of the large percent of false positive food allergies with blood tests, I often start testing patients with a quick neurological screening first
Because allergic reactions to foods can cause so many terrible symptoms I always check every patient for food sensitivities. If a person is allergic to foods that are predominant in the diet such as wheat, milk, corn, or soy then a person is literally being hurt every day of their life. These foods are usually in every meal or at least every day. Because of this they need to be identified and strategies implemented to calm down allergic reactions.
Leaky gut syndrome is often a leading cause of allergic reactions by allowing undigested food particles to be absorbed into the blood stream where immune system responses often cause headaches.
All possible allergy-causing foods need to be identified, a desensitization protocol done, and an avoidance period of usually 3 weeks is needed to usually permanently correct food sensitivities. It is rare for food allergies and sensitivities to be permanent. Ask your health care provider to test for both IgE and IgG mediated allergies, then follow a desensitizing protocol such as NAET, and after a period of time re-introduce the foods back into the diet.
Heavy metals are involved in many patients suffering with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, headaches, PMS, and menopausal symptoms. Our exposure to toxins such as mercury, lead, aluminum, arsenic, copper, cadmium, and others is increasing with time. After exposure to toxins our body often stores toxins that it is not able to detoxify. As each person's body has higher levels of toxins problems with body function increase such as endocrine problems, hormonal imbalances, loss of menstruation in women, mental problems, autoimmune problems, headaches, joint pains, loss of flexibility, and obesity. Heavy metals need to be identified and a gentle detoxification protocol implemented. Ask your health care provider to screen for heavy metal toxins. It is worthwhile to note that one source of mercury poisoning may be from mercury amalgam (or "silver") fillings. I would encourage everyone to NOT use mercury amalgam fillings in their mouths. Rather, use ceramic or other non-toxic fillings.
The function of the spine is to support the weight of the body allowing it to move and to protect and carry the spinal cord. From the spinal cord comes smaller, peripheral nerves that exit between spinal bones and travel to muscles, organs, skin, etc. If the spine is out of alignment this can allow a compression of a nerve as it exits between vertebrae. A compressed nerve will not carry information properly and can lead to dysfunction in internal organs or muscles and also lead to abnormal physical sensations. It is only common sense to make sure that spinal vertebrae are aligned and properly moving for optimal movement and internal nerve supply to organs and muscles.
Certain traumas to the skull can also lead to dysfunctional movements in the skull. Although minuscule, these movements in the skull profoundly affect the movement of cerebro-spinal fluid, the fluid which nourishes and bathes the spinal cord and brain. Dysfunction in movements of the skull, therefore, can affect the movement of cerebro-spinal fluid, or CFS, and lead to further dysfunctions and deterioration of health.
Although small, the TMJ joint, in the jaw can strongly affect the health of the body. A very large proportion of the brain is dedicated to interpreting sensations from the mouth and jaws. Dysfunctional jaw movement, misalignment of the teeth, or trauma to the TMJ will affect the brain, cause pain(often headaches), and affect acupuncture patterns throughout the body.
Something as simple as a stubbed toe can also disrupt the acupuncture meridians, or energy channels, in the body. If a certain acupuncture meridian passes through a toe that is jammed or dysfunctional, it is possible to have symptoms in the head, chest, or abdomen from this seemingly small, distant problem. Resolution of upper body symptoms can be achieved by attention to a problematic toe! My experience as a doctor teaches me that it is truly necessary to look at a patient from head to toes in order to get the speediest, deepest, and longest-lasting results.
For these reasons it is helpful to have an examination and treatment from an experienced chiropractor or osteopath trained in spinal manipulation, cranio-sacral therapy, etc. Please take advantage of these non-invasive treatments whenever available.
The acupuncture system can affect any and all areas of the human body. It is my experience that most disease processes, including menopause, benefit from balancing of the acupuncture meridian flow. Acupuncture needles, acupressure, lasers, or small electric currents can be used to stimulate specific acupuncture reflexes and bring changes in energy flow in the body. I have noticed that the more nutritionally healthy a person is, the less they need attention to acupuncture points. For this reason I give more attention to nutritional needs. At times acupuncture therapy is invaluable. Acupuncture points are stimulated with a cold laser in our office.
Nutritional deficiencies in general may be behind certain health problems. Today, more than ever, people are mineral and vitamin deficient. We don't have to just eat junk food to be lacking in vitamins and minerals. Often "healthy" foods- vegetables, fruits, and meats from the grocery have less than half of the mineral content of foods 60 years ago. Shopping for foods that are grown organically helps with this. Sometimes multivitamins are recommended. A sign of a poor vitamin is one that has the toxin stearic acid, magnesium stearate or calcium stearate. Stearic acid is a saturated fat that makes absorption of the vitamin much more difficult. I suggest looking for vitamin manufacturers that encapsulate rather than make vitamins in tablet form. Also a sign of a poor vitamin is one that uses the poorly absorbed calcium carbonate. If your calcium is in the form of calcium carbonate, in my opinion, it is worthless. Vitamin E, Vitamin C, B complex vitamins, Calcium, Magnesium, and certain essential fatty acids such as Omega 6 oils have been shown to be generally helpful for menopause. However, I do want to say that each woman is different and I have never found any two patients needing the exact same nutrition. Because of our differences in genetics and differences in stresses we all need differing nutrients and often differing doses of nutrients. Discuss with your health care provider which nutrients will be helpful for health in general and also helpful for menopause.
A normally functioning liver will help to detoxify the body of toxins AND filter the blood before it enters the rest of the body. A normally functioning liver produces bile salts which aid in digestion. The function of the liver is extremely important for people with chronic illness, especially asthma, allergies, and hormonal problems. Since the liver is so important for cleaning and detoxifying it needs to working properly because people with menopausal symptoms are usually extremely burdened with toxins. Toxins will eventually begin to affect the hormonal systems of the body. It is usually not possible to detoxify the body well if the liver is not working well. So detoxifying must also include support for the liver. If a person is attempting to detoxify heavy metals with a congested liver, metals may just circulate in the blood stream and never really leave the body, which does the person no good. It is like shaking out a dusty carpet inside the house with all the windows closed. You may get some dust off the carpet but now everyone is coughing and choking with no open window (healthy liver). This is extremely stressful for the body. So certain vitamins, minerals, herbs or dietary changes may be needed to support liver function and help the liver to do its job of detoxifying.
Often people with menopausal symptoms have digestive dysfunction. Often they are not absorbing the nutrients that they are eating or they are absorbing things that they should not be. A person may have leaky gut syndrome which lets toxins and undigested food particles enter into the blood stream. Some people may not be making enough acid in their stomach and can benefit from acidic enzyme therapy such as hydrochloric acid tablets with meals. Some people may have poorly functioning pancreatic function and so may benefit from pancreatic enzymes. Some people may have a poorly functioning liver and gall bladder with low secretion of bile salts. Bile salts may be helpful for digestion and emulsification of fats. To summarize, if a person is only digesting 50% of their food, then at most 50% of the nutrients are getting into the blood that they need. An internal deficit of hormones may come from an internal deficit of key vitamins and minerals... which may come from an absorption problem... which may come from a digestive problem! So it is logical to check digestion when a person has health complaints. A certain person may benefit from specific digestive enzymes to help return to health. Ask your health care provider to screen for digestive function of the pancreas, liver, and stomach.
Although not a complete discussion of possibilities, this is intended to give an overview of the most common reasons for menopausal complaints. If you have unpleasant symptoms from menopause please consider these natural therapies and treatment possibilities. At the Nutritional Healing Center we strive to check all of these possibilities. It only takes one dysfunction to lead to serious health complaints. Often women have multiple dysfunctions that need to be corrected. When the real problems are addressed and corrected, symptoms go away.