An underlying idea exists in North American culture - that becoming an “older” woman is a reason for panic. Yet, as life expectancy for women rises above 80, a new cultural mindset about menopause is required. Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of The Wisdom of Menopause, points out that if women are able to negotiate ways through the general negativity, they can expect to enjoy 40 years of relevance and satisfaction post menopause, a veritable “springtime of the second half of life.”
Menopause derives from the Greek meno (month, menses) and pausis (pause). According to the medical definition of this complex process, a woman has passed into menopause when she is a year free from flow. A full spectrum of experiences is related to menopause, ranging from women who sail through with relatively little noticeable difference, those who enter into the phase abruptly due to surgery and others who experience years of uncomfortable symptoms.
For women experiencing menopause, Western medicine often speaks about their bodies in terms of requiring “management” with hormones and other medications. Women are made to feel that if their bodies are not “controlled” in this way, they will, in a moment self-destruct.
In the past, the management method of choice for women was a prescription of synthetic estrogen sometimes with a small dose of synthetic progesterone-like medication. However, the largest trial of menopausal hormone therapy to date was abandoned early as results demonstrated that the therapy was unsafe for healthy menopausal women.
At a recent speech, Dr. Jerilynn Prior, founder of the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research explained to a room full of women the “estrogen myth.” It seems estrogen is not what “makes a girl a girl.” Rather, to become a healthy woman we require progesterone as well as estrogen. Ovaries make both.
Research conducted by Dr. Prior found that progesterone is as effective as, if not more effective than, estrogen for hot flashes and night sweats, the most troublesome experience of menopausal women. It has also been found that the form and type of hormone are important factors in how the body reacts to menopausal hormone treatment. For example, a pill form of estrogen carries with it the risk for blood clots, but an estrogen patch, gel or cream does not. And natural (bio-identical) hormone therapies (those that are designed to exactly fit the body’s hormone receptors) work very differently within women’s bodies than synthetic hormones.
For women with early menopause or severe hot flushes with osteoporosis, who require menopausal hormone therapy, natural estrogen with full-dose progesterone for five years is safe. And if severe hot flashes are a problem, research being conducted by Dr. Prior recently proved that oral micronized progesterone is highly effective. The days of estrogen prescription as a “cure all” are over, as women today find the opportunity to work with health practitioners who are able to individualize menopausal evaluations and prescriptions.
Dr. Prior’s research is also an interesting example of how a particular culture reacts to a new idea. In this case, it was the scientific and medical community who, for 13 years, refused to publish results showing medroxyprogesterone was as good as estrogen for hot flushes, because they found it difficult to believe there could be alternatives to an established belief.
The Tarahumara people in Northern Mexico are known to be fantastic runners. Interestingly, the runners with the best fitness, endurance and lung capacity are in their sixties. Dr. Deepak Chopra, an endocrinologist and expert on the mind-body connection, suggests that for this belief to translate into physical reality, the entire tribe has to believe it is possible.
In Canada’s youth obsessed culture, many women expect their bodies and minds to shut down, rather than believe in their ability to remain strong and vibrant. Although the collective cultural negativity about menopause and ageing is unlikely to change overnight, it is possible that as women in the boomer generation enter menopause in the millions, beliefs will be redefined. As Dr. Christiane Northrup suggests, the menopausal “experience will never be the same when we are finished with it.”
Dr. Northrup encourages women to realize their personal truths about ageing and menopause, and question, “What do you believe about your mind and body during and after menopause?” “What and who informs these beliefs; experiences of women relatives, the opinion of medical practitioners and/or pervading cultural attitudes?”
If these beliefs lead to panic rather than peace, challenge them.
As women begin to genuinely believe in their mature beauty, feel free to pursue a purpose and health regime that suits them, and share their knowledge, they will lay the way for future generations to forget the panic and find peace and meaning in the springtime of life.
SEPTEMBER 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
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