ACH Blog

Menopause and beyond

Isobel Cosgrove - Monday, September 30, 2013

Women who are in menopause or just past menopause (this can be anywhere from early forties to late fifties), often ask me for help to manage this transition into the next stage of their lives.

Youth, or the Alpha stage of an adult woman's life, when we leave home, go out into the world, think about mating and reproducing ( if we choose to do so) is held in high esteem in Western cultures. Whereas the middle and later years of a woman's life are not. Phrases like '60 is the new 40' appear in the national press, and articles are written, often by 'celebrities' describing how they have stopped the age clock , and telling us that we are as young as we feel.

It is certainly a good idea to plan to stay active and healthy as we approach and enter menopause. On the other hand it is unwise to deny that throughout our lives our bodies  experience changes biochemically, physiologically and hormonally,and we need to respond to the changes in ourselves.

HRT was hailed as the answer to all menopausal symptoms a decade or so ago. Often women would be prescribed HRT and stay on it 10 years or longer. The drug halts the progress of hormonal change, giving our bodies extra oestrogen, and keeping us longer in the Alpha phase of our adult lives. It buys into the longing for eternal youth. Gradually, over the last few years, medical research has shown that being on hormone replacement drugs for more than 5 years can lead to some serious side effects. Women are now being advised by their GPs to take them when menopausal symptoms are severe, for a short time, and then slowly reduce the dose and come off altogether.

Understandably, many women worry about symptoms returning. The body adapts best to a series of small changes over a period of time. This gives the hormonal system, which is on hold during HRT treatment, a chance to gradually rediscover its own regulatory rhythms once the drugs have left the metabolic system. This is an argument for reducing the dose of HRT in small steps. Chinese herbal formulas have been used for many decades to regulate body temperature and hormonal stability when hot flushes and night sweats occur. Acupuncture is also very effective in maintaining good hormonal regulation in menopause and after.

I recommend strongly that if you are having these menopausal symptoms you try acupuncture or herbs, or both,as an alternative to HRT. If you are already on HRT, please consult with your GP about the possibility of gradually reducing the dose over a period of time. To help you do this, both acupuncture and herbs will support the transition off the drugs.

In addition, we need to think about making some small changes to lifestyle, pacing, nutrition,and the balance between activity and rest. Menopause asks us to think about taking more quiet moments in the day, having foods which do not overheat the body( saturated fats, strong spices), reducing the number of strong stimulants we have each day(coffee, tea,sugar) and avoiding situations which cause us to be stressed. Working late into the night is overstimulating. Some exercise routines are overstimulating in menopause( boot camps for example). Our culture reveres youth and fitness in the 21st century. We use drugs, surgery, and often anything which will perpetuate the illusion that we can prevent ageing and live youth fully forever. To be seen to be getting older is often seen as a defeat. We are frequently asked to deny the ageing process, get out to the gym, or running track, and use stimulants to keep ourselves in familiar activity.

Healthy walking, dancing, yoga, taichi, Qi gong, swimming and other more contemplative forms of exercise are more congruent with the changes in our bodies that occur during and after menopause. To deny this has costs and consequences. To work with the changes, to enjoy finding new rhythms and pacing, new exercise, new lifestyles is the opportunity we can take.

The elder in traditional Chinese and other East Asian cultures was seen as the keeper of wisdom. As youthful energy changes as we get older, so wisdom born of extra life experiences increases.

This is the gift of menopause

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