Seasons of passage

The ''M'' word, menopause, is like a bad omen come visiting, dreaded, feared, an unspoken taboo that is not discussed in polite company. The worst of it all, many times it comes at a time when career, family and community obligations are in full swing. The changes signaling menopause, scanty periods, sleeplessness, emotional upsets, night sweats, a sometimes waning sex drive, have been gradually accumulating like growing storm clouds. Still the first time we miss a cycle, we're shocked, panicked.

The misconceptions that flood our minds: I'll get depressed, I'll loose my looks or my sex appeal and fade into the woodwork. The truth of the matter, our bodies are changing but we don't have to lose anything except the annoyance of our menstrual cycles. When we look deeper into the misconceptions surrounding menopause, we find they are the work of a youth-obsessed society. The stigma of aging keeps us silent about this natural process and closes us off to the help that we need, each other!

Most women find themselves reporting in to their primary care physician or their gynecologist, which is not unacceptable. The medical model of menopause is one of deficiency that needs correcting, therefore hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be all that is offered. HRT is not an incorrect decision, either, but it is not the only one. HRT should be considered a very personal decision based on knowledge, lifestyle and health history. If HRT is chosen, it should be considered a trial at which the end of you can determine how you feel and if the symptoms you were experiencing have improved.

Menopause, in part, is the natural cessation of a woman's menstrual cycle due to waning estrogen production and marks the end of her reproductive years. The changes a woman undergoes during the time of menopause is not restricted to the ovaries. Hormones being produced by the liver, pancreas, thyroid and hypothalamus change as well.

These changes will be more difficult for some than others. The degree with which one handles these changes can be greatly determined by her current physical and emotional health. Remember, this is a time of change that even the most healthy, well-adjusted woman facing menopause seldom breezes through in the blink an eye.

Many women will choose the medical model of HRT. It fits our western life style. It's easy, it's quick and we don't have to take much responsibility for our health care and our menopausal years. Unfortunately, it isn't easy and it isn't quick when we don't feel any better. Enter blended therapies.

We can ease into menopause more gracefully with or without HRT by using a total fitness approach including diet, exercise and natural supplementation. We may not discuss menopause with one another but can learn the ropes through one of several resource books now available on menopause.

Some musts:

Adequate, good quality calcium is first on the list. Calcium must be coupled with magnesium and vitamin D from the sun. (Vitamin D supplements have been shown to cause joint pain and discomfort.) Magnesium, considered by many to be ''the lubricant of life'' is just as important. Magnesium will balance calcium, keeping your bones strong, it protects the heart, calms frayed nerves and allows for sleep.

Vitamin E is a key nutrient in the production of estrogen. Just because you've stopped menstruating, unless you no longer have your ovaries, doesn't mean you are not producing estrogen. Feel better? Other important vitamins are A and C and a good B complex.

Phytoestrogens, plant-like estrogen compounds, can be a safe alternative to HRT. These plant like estrogens are derived from various sources, soy and herbals including black cohash, dong quai, red clover and evening primrose oil.

Some weight-bearing exercise is necessary to prevent bone loss. Walking 20-30 minutes daily is the preferred exercise and doesn't stress the joints as much as some of the aerobic exercises you did in your youth.

And lastly, its time. Time to give up all those unwise habits of youth like smoking, excessive drinking, caffeine, diet pop and too much couch potato time. Woman, you still have lots to do before you're old. You've changed, make it a change for the good!

Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online May 9, 2000

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