Menopause is inevitable, but the journey through it will be different for every woman. The topic at VVBW’s February event applied, on different levels and stages, to all the women in attendance. Dr. Jennifer Bettenhausen from Colorado Mountain Medical spoke on reproductive health and the basics of hormones at each stage of a woman’s life.
The informative talk began with what a woman can expect in her 20s, and moved through the reproductive cycles to post menopause and its typical symptoms.
The first stage of menopause is “premenopause,” which is broadly defined as the whole of a woman’s life before the menopause. Women typically begin to transition from this stage in their early to mid – 40’s. The second stage, “perimenopause,” is a time when ovulation and fertility slows down. Hormonal levels decline and in consequence it’s common to experience several unpleasant side effects, like hot flashes, night sweats or loss of libido. The third stage is actual “menopause,” officially marked by a woman going for one year without receiving a period. Unfortunately, many of the symptoms experienced during perimenopause can linger during menopause. The fourth and final stage is “postmenopause” and is characterized by a reduction in symptoms as the body’s hormone levels stabilize. However, because a woman now produces less estrogen, she is at a higher risk of contracting health conditions including: breast cancer, urinary tract infections, osteoporosis, and insomnia.
Dr. Bettenhausen touched on different treatment options and also discussed potential side effects for each treatment. One option is Bio-Identical Hormone Therapy. The term “bioidentical” means the hormones in the product are chemically identical to those your body produces, such as Progesterone, Testosterone and DHEA. The hormones may come from plant or animal sources, and not synthesized in a lab. However, many of these products still need to be commercially processed to become bioidentical. BHRT treatments include creams, lotions, injections, gels or tablets that have the goal of raising hormone levels. BHRT can help with defending again osteoporosis, raising energy levels, improving sex drive, reducing vaginal dryness or improving sleep quality. BHRT might help some women transition through menopause changes more easily, but this doesn’t mean that hormone treatments are always necessary or the best and only solution.
Bettenhausen stressed that women need to be aware of changes in the body and noting potential symptoms of the stages of menopause. Talk to your physician about treatments and educate yourself on potential side effects of any treatment. Also consider using the lowest dose that helps and for the shortest time period needed to help reduce the chance for side effects.
As is often the case, making positive lifestyle changes can improve your weight, sleep, mood and energy. Positive dietary changes include eating more fiber, getting more antioxidants from fresh veggies and fruit, and limiting refined carbs from too many grains. Exercise to reduce inflammation, improve your sleep and to help you stay at a healthy weight. Women in postmenopause can reduce the level of risk for health conditions like osteoporosis with a healthy diet, regular exercise and avoiding cigarette smoke. And exercise is a natural stress reliever.
Dr. Bettenhausen suggests two books by the author and OB/GYN Physician Dr. Uzzi Reiss: The Natural Superwoman and Natural Hormone Balance for Women.