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When our hormones stage a coup

January 24, 2020 by Kimberly Drake

There’s a civil war going on in some of us gals, and it’s a war that every woman must deal with in one form or another. This conflict, called menopause, has two main opposing sides, one named estrogen and the other progesterone, with other hormones, like testosterone, occasionally coming in from flanking positions. 

These forces begin their upheaval when a woman hits middle age, at times overtaking the battleground in full force and, on some occasions, completely going AWOL. If you’re trudging through this mid-life battle, you may have noticed there isn’t much ammo left in the menopausal support arsenal to fall back on. Hormone replacement is controversial, and alternatives rarely have the science behind them to prove their effectiveness. Well ladies, it’s time to take back our homeland and bring peace to the valley we call life by calling in some backup. Let’s pull up our bootstraps and dig in the trenches to find out what works and what doesn’t work to smooth out the transition during this hormonal change of command.

Well, it works, but it’s definitely controversial

Hormone replacement therapy, also known as HRT, is the use of varying doses of hormones estrogen and progesterone, with testosterone sometimes thrown in, in either pill form, skin patches or creams. Although these prescriptions are proven to alleviate the symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, mood swings, night sweats and reduced libido, with some studies showing their use helps with depression, bone health, and heart-related issues, many women and a majority of physicians are hesitant to utilize them. 

According to the British Journal of General Practice, around 80% of women going through this shift in hormonal command experience symptoms, but only a small fraction of them take HRT. The main reason for this can be traced back to the 2002 and 2004 Women’s Health Initiative reports that showed women who used combination HRT were more likely to develop breast cancer.

Recently, in a review of research published on Sept. 28, 2019, in The Lancet, researchers found more evidence backing up those earlier reports. According to the analysis, compared to those who never used hormone replacement, women who used HRT had a significantly higher risk of developing invasive breast cancer, and the risk increased the longer HRT was used. Also, this elevated risk remained for more than a decade after they stopped taking the prescription. Interestingly, this result was linked to progesterone/estrogen combination therapies and not estrogen-only versions.

HRT also carries with it a risk of blood clots. However, that risk may be dependent on the mode of delivery, with oral pills having more impact on blood clotting mechanisms than transdermal patches.

Not sure it works, but it might be better than nothing

Because symptoms of menopause can last for around four years, with many women still fighting this internal tyranny after 10 years, most seek out some sort of relief. Alternatively speaking, there are a few things that might help tamper down the effects of menopause and be worth bringing up at your next doctor’s visit.

Herbal ammunition

Black cohosh, red clover, valerian root, evening primrose oil, and wild yam are a few natural supplements that some find helpful. Chastetree/Vitex is an herb recommended for women in early menopause experiencing irregular menstrual cycles, due to its proposed ability to increase progesterone levels. Although scientific studies are lacking, Chastetree/Vitex is used extensively across the globe and is an approved medicinal for premenstrual syndrome by German health authorities. 

Supplements to fight the good fight

Vitamin E, vitamin D, vitamin A, and vitamins B6 and B12 are thought to be essential for boosting the body’s ability to handle the onslaught of “meno-battle” related symptoms. One casualty of this war can be the gradual loss of bone strength that sometimes leads to osteoporosis, and this is thought to occur because of low estrogen levels in the postmenopausal years. 

Contrary to popular belief, calcium alone is not enough to keep bones strong. The right combination of this element, along with magnesium and vitamin D3 is a better defense against the risk of osteoporosis. Magnesium is often overlooked entirely, which is unfortunate because this mineral not only helps with bone strength but may help with reducing the insomnia, constipation and depression that can accompany menopause. 

Also, because an imbalance of hormones can bring on the aggravating symptom of “brain fog,” one dietary supplement that needs an honorable mention is Omega 3 fish oil. This fish-derived nutrient has some research behind its ability to get the battle-weary brain thinking straight again, which for some women, can be life-changing.

HRT naturally? 

Suzanne Somers and Oprah are big proponents of it, and alternative health practitioners swear by it, and for some, it can be a great option. “It,” is bioidentical hormones, and these preparations consist of naturally derived progesterone and estrogen that’s chemically identical to those your body produces. 

After visiting a provider for hormone testing, a compounding pharmacist creates a specific formula designed to meet your needs. Bioidentical preparations are like traditional HRT, except they are not FDA approved. These formulations can carry similar risks to conventional hormone replacement therapies, so caution is warranted when bringing this weapon into your menopausal defense arsenal, and finding a reputable health care provider that specializes in this form of treatment is critical. However, for many women who have unpleasant side effects with conventional HRT, bioidenticals can be an option that works.

Though this hormonal “changing of the guard” is not a disease, there are days where you feel like you’re being dragged through hades by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The key to relief is consulting your health care provider and finding the right battle strategy that works for you. Although there is no doubt this natural process can be challenging, rest assured ladies, there is a “peace treaty” in sight.

Kimberly Drake can be reached at [email protected].

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