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Newsletter Archive

Hormones and Menopause

September 29, 2011

Menopause is a time of hormonal transition when reproductive function ceases. Many women are familiar with the standard estrogen and progesterone replacement, but not all of them know that other hormone-producing glands are equally as important in the range of symptoms which can develop during this transitional time. All of the endocrine glands need to be in balance or the standard hormone replacement therapy (HRT) won't be effective in managing symptoms. The adequacy of all hormone levels is affected by lifestyle factors, stress levels, and unresolved emotional issues.

In addition to estrogen and progesterone, the thyroid and adrenal glands are major players in the hormonal symphony involved in the menopausal transition:

26% of women in or near menopause are diagnosed with hypothyroidism. If estrogen levels are low it can block the action of thyroid hormone. Common symptoms are depression, low energy level, weight gain, mental confusion and sleep disturbances.

These symptoms can be compounded when a woman is prescribed supplemental estrogen.

Adrenal glands produce epinephrine, cortisol, and DHEA. These are the 3 hormones that help us weather the stresses of life by regulating our energy levels, our immune responses, and sleep patterns. Low levels of adrenal hormones are associated with chronic exhaustion, sleep and mood disturbances, immune system deficiencies, and blood sugar abnormalities. Standard HRT may successfully treat some menopausal symptoms but can exacerbate the problems of adrenal insufficiency by allowing it to continue for longer periods of time.

What leads to inadequate levels of hormones? Excessive exposure to stress of any kind. Stress can come from anywhere, including unbalanced diet, overwork, unremitting worry, anger, guilt, depression, lack of or excessive exercise, chronic exposure to toxins, insufficient sleep, unhealed injury, chronic illness, surgery, etc. All of these areas and countless others which result in a lack of general well-being can lead to an imbalance in the conditions which supply basic biochemical pathways with adequate levels of nutrients necessary for hormonal production.

During the menopausal transition, hormones often get the blame for all the discomfort a woman is experiencing in her life. While

inadequate levels of hormones do result in symptoms such as hot flashes, heart palpitations, and sleep disturbances, a stressor from a non-hormonal area such as an imbalance in the family support system, can actually be at the root of a woman's adrenal fatigue. Consider a mother who works a full-time job, then shuttles children to and from after-school activities, cooks, cleans, and makes tomorrow's lunches while her out-of-work husband and children watch TV after dinner. An unresolved emotional issue, such as feeling powerless and not speaking up for what she needs in the form of support, could be at the root of the family's daily chore distribution. Supplementing an adrenal hormone or estrogen will not fix the imbalance in this woman's life, although it could help her mood and her hot flashes.

The heart of natural medicine is to treat illness at its root cause. If you are in or approaching menopause and suspect that your hormones are out of balance, they should be tested to assess where natural endocrine support may be necessary. Five Element diagnosis and acupuncture uses a very comprehensive framework to assess where imbalances may be hiding, by walking through all the quadrants of your life, such as family, relationships, work, moods, etc., in addition to physical symptoms. If you suspect that fluctuating hormones are simply highlighting another area of your life where other specific issues could use focus, attention and support, Five Element acupuncture combined with hormonal support can be very helpful to balancing your health and life during the menopausal transition.

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