Life After Menopause
Julian Whitaker, MD
The Hadza, a nomadic tribe of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, are among our planet’s few living Stone Age societies. Hadza women remain an integral part of their communities into their sixties, seventies, and eighties. In fact, “grandmothers” are the glue that holds the Hadza together. They gather more food than anyone else in the tribe, and the well-being of their grandchildren, pregnant and nursing daughters, and other relatives depends on them.
The “grandmother hypothesis,” which is discussed in Pulitzer Prize-winner Natalie Angier’s book, Woman, an Intimate Geography, gives credence to the idea that menopause is an evolutionary advantage. Rather than marking the beginning of the end, menopause for many women is the beginning of a new era. They have more freedom than ever before as their children leave the nest. New careers are explored, interests are cultivated, and relationships are renewed.
The Downside of Menopause
That’s not to say that there isn’t a downside to the postmenopausal years. At menopause, the ovaries, bereft of oocytes, or eggs, decrease the production of estradiol, the most potent form of estrogen during the reproductive years. After menopause, tissues throughout the body take over estrogen production, although on a much smaller scale. Fat cells, muscles, even bones and blood vessels transform precursor hormones such as DHEA, into weaker forms of estrogen.
However, overall estrogen levels fall dramatically, and this has significant repercussions. Some of the symptoms of estrogen deficiency are transient, coming and going during perimenopause, the years just before and after menopause. The most dramatic are hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia, which have their origins in the brain’s hypothalamus.
Estrogen Deficiencies Affect the Entire Body
Yet estrogen deficiencies have effects far beyond the usual menopausal symptoms. This hormone is very active in the brain. It enhances the production of important neurotransmitters, protects brain cells from free radical damage, and stimulates the production of nerve growth factor, which nurtures brain cells. Lower estrogen levels in the brain may explain why many women experience depression, anxiety, and/or memory loss during and after menopause.
Other common effects of estrogen deficiency include the drying and thinning of vaginal tissues, which contain an abundance of estrogen receptors. As a result, sexual intercourse may become uncomfortable, leading to a loss of sexual response and interest. The vagina and bladder also become more prone to infection, and urinary incontinence is more common.
Another serious effect of low estrogen is increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Estrogen receptors in the liver stimulate the production of protective HDL cholesterol, so after menopause HDL levels often plummet, while artery-clogging LDL cholesterol rises. Estrogen is also essential to the preservation of bone density, which explains the increased risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
HRT Counters Menopausal Declines
I am an enthusiastic proponent of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, which unlike side effect-riddled conventional hormones, are identical to those produced by the human body. My three decades of clinical experience have taught me that this is the best way to counter changes brought on by menopause, not just the short-lived symptoms but also the long-term risk factors discussed above.
At the Whitaker Wellness Institute we typically prescribe bi-estrogen, which contains 80 percent *estriol (a safe, but weak form of estrogen) and 20 percent estradiol (the strongest form of estrogen, described above), plus natural progesterone. These natural, human-identical hormones, which are mixed by a compounding pharmacist, are equally effective yet have far fewer safety issues and side effects than the unnatural and synthetic top-selling hormone drugs such as Premarin and Provera.
Unfortunately, most women are never given the opportunity by their physicians to try these safer forms of hormones. If you’ve been afraid to try hormone replacement therapy or have had a bad experience with these unnatural drugs, I strongly recommend you consider natural estrogen and progesterone.
*NOTE: In 2008, at the behest of a pharmaceutical company, the FDA began threatening physicians and compounding pharmacists that use estriol. To read more about this heinous action and how the FDA is functioning as little more than a puppet of Big Pharma, click here.
- To make an appointment with a Whitaker Wellness physician experienced in natural hormone replacement therapy, contact a Patient Services Representative at (866) 944-8253 or click here.
- For more information on natural hormone replacement therapy, click here.
- Angier, N. Woman, an Intimate Geography. Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1999.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 1999. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.