The gradual loss of our sex hormones as we go through “the change” can be disorienting. There goes our sleep, libido, energy, temperature regulation, moods and more. What’s a body to do?
Estrogen, progesterone and testosterone have defined our lives from puberty until ~ age 50, when their insidious decline signals menopause and andropause (male menopause).
This wasn’t of concern for most of the human life cycle, when we were lucky to make it to age 50. But with our lifespan now approaching ~80 years of age, we need to consider how the loss of these hormones impacts the last three-plus decades of our lives.
For some women, the menopausal symptoms of hot flashes, night sweats and the accompanying insomnia and fatigue, vaginal dryness and mood changes can be crippling. And go on for a decade or more! Other women barely notice the transition.
Most men are completely unaware of the slow drop in testosterone that occurs from ~ age 40-60, and chalk up their loss of muscle mass and libido, fatigue, depression and brain fog to “getting old”.
While menopause and andropause are part of the natural life cycle, we do have choices about how to proceed. Simply ignoring these changes can leave us frustrated and resigned to the fact that it will only get worse. And it often does, with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and cognitive decline becoming more apparent over the decades.
So let’s use the transition to menopause and andropause to take a good hard look at our lifestyle and take this opportunity for a metabolic reset!
Here are 5 ways to improve your quality of life as you go through menopause and andropause:
1) Exercise is the antidote to lower hormonal levels.
Make it a point to get engaged in whatever exercise makes you want to move! That could be going to dance class, joining a gym, finding a yoga class or a hike that makes you sweat and build muscle mass. You’ll quickly feel the difference in your energy!
2) Clean up your diet.
Trade out the sugar and simple carbs for fruit and veggies that promote the production of “nitric oxide”. Healthy arteries make nitric oxide naturally, which helps lower blood pressure and improve erectile dysfunction. Apples, blueberries, citrus, nuts, broccoli, beets and other plants with high levels of flavonoids help the arteries produce nitric oxide to promote arterial health and eliminate E.D. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12899583
3) Get a handle on stress.
You’ll certainly feel less stressed when you exercise and get rid of sugar, but it will likely take more. We humans always had plenty of free time to contemplate life before the digital age; now we need to prioritize time for ourselves to rest and breathe. Just a few minutes of meditation each day has been shown to lower blood pressure, cortisol levels and promotes wellbeing. Give (inner) peace a chance.
4) Sleep is the flipside of exercise.
Prioritize sleep by creating a bedtime ritual: turn off electronics one hour before bedtime, make your room cool, dark, quiet and a sacred space for rest. For more, check out this post: https://www.drsallyskitchen.com/blog-main/2018/2/22/7-steps-to-a-solid-nights-sleep
5) Consider BHRT (Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy).
If you can’t sleep due to night sweats, then now is time to have a frank conversation with your doctor about hormone replacement therapy. Now I understand that this topic is rife with controversy, but I also know the difference it can make in quality of life.
Take Julia (not her real name). Julia is a 52 year-old nurse who came to see me at the referral of a friend. She hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in months due to such intense and frequent night sweats that she had to change her bedding multiple times a night.
Her libido had withered and vaginal dryness made intercourse painful. She was teary, weary and worried she couldn’t go on. Her serum estrogen, progesterone and testosterone were rock bottom.
Now Julia had no history of fibroids or hormone related cancers and begged me for the most natural solution to her menopausal concerns. Together we made the decision to do a 3-month clinical trial of a low dose, transdermal (topical) estradiol patch along with oral natural progesterone and then reassess the situation.
Bioidentical means that the structure of the estrogen and progesterone is exactly the same that the female body makes. (And to be clear, this is NOT the synthetic estrogens and progestins that brought the Women’s Health initiative to an abrupt halt in 2002, after finding increased incidence of breast cancer, heart attacks, blood clots and stroke in participants).
Low dose, natural, transdermal bioidentical hormonal treatments do not appear to have the same risk that the earlier synthetic versions did, but little in the way of human clinical trials have been done, so the jury is not yet fully in.
As Julia completed her 2nd month on her new BHRT treatment, she was sleeping well and feeling like herself again! At that time, I ran a hormone metabolism test and confirmed that her body was breaking down the hormones appropriately and we’d achieved therapeutic levels that should help to reduce her risk of osteoporosis, heart disease and maybe even dementia.
I’ve seen a similar response in men with low testosterone and symptoms of “mano-pause”.
I’ve personally been using BHRT for 15 years and know it is a part of the health plan that has kept me biologically younger than my chronological age. With excellent self-care, regular breast self-examination and mammograms, low dose natural hormones started within the first ten years after menopause, the rate of adverse events is very low.
So, I encourage you to take charge of your health. Knowing how to address these root causes gives you the power to intervene early in this process and reduce your risk of a range of chronic health problems.
If you’re suffering from symptoms suggestive of hormonal imbalance, see your doctor for an assessment and a “risk to benefit” discussion about the use of natural hormones for your unique situation.
Next week I’ll share a checklist of lifestyle strategies to reduce your risk of breast and hormone driven cancers.
A santé! (to your health)
#hormonehealth #healthyaging #menopause #andropause #wellness #naturopathicmedicine #functionalmedicine #breastcancerawareness