by Dr. Karen Miller
If you are a woman over the age of 40, you are probably concerned with how to successfully manage the aging process. Dealing with wrinkles is only one small part of age management for women. While there are a wide variety of methods to look younger on the outside, it’s important to understand what’s happening inside your body as well.
Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her menstrual period stops. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a treatment for replacing the female hormones that a woman’s body no longer produces because of this “change of life”.
Estrogen and progesterone play vital roles in the female body, and a drop in their levels leads to a wide range of physical and emotional issues.
During menopause, female hormonal levels can fluctuate widely. This can cause symptoms such like hot flashes, vaginal dryness and mood swings.
The main benefit of HRT (also called Estrogen Replacement Therapy) is that it has been shown to be very successful in controlling these symptoms. Estrogen replacement therapy can make a very significant difference in a woman’s quality of life and well-being.
Hormone replacement therapy can help restore a woman’s hormones to their previous levels, allowing her body to feel normal again. Hormone replacement therapy can also reduce a woman’s risk of developing brittle bones (osteoporosis), and colon and rectal cancers.
There are two types of hormone replacement therapy available to women: bioidentical and synthetic. Bioidentical HRT means that it’s an exact match of the molecular structure of the hormone your own body produces. Synthetic hormones differ from bioidenticals in their chemical structure, and are not identical to those produced in the human body.
Natural hormones are bioidentical in molecular structure to those made by the human body. They are manufactured from plant material and have the same effect as the body’s own hormones. Used under a doctor’s supervision, they work well for many women.
It is true that HRT involves certain risks as well. For example, it can increase the risk of breast cancer, stroke and heart disease. Risk factors can also vary depending upon each woman’s particular health circumstances, which is why your doctor will request a complete medical history before deciding to proceed with HRT.
HRT has been studied extensively and much is known about the risks and benefits. Most health experts agree that when used on a medium-term basis, (no more than five years) the benefits of hormone replacement therapy outweigh any associated risks.
A wide variety of choices exist for women who seek natural alternatives to hormone replacement therapy during menopause. Natural therapies effectively address both the symptoms of menopause and the long-term health risks associated with decreasing estrogen levels, yet are generally safer and gentler.
For example, medicinal herbs provide effective relief for women experiencing menopausal symptoms. Adaptogenic herbs are particularly useful due to their ability to effectively manage the stress and tiredness that come with menopause. In addition, they help to calm hot flashes, level out mood swings and improve one’s quality of sleep.
Vitamin and mineral supplements are a good way to make sure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs during this difficult stage of life. Since the body requires these nutrients for hormone production and tissue repair, taking basic nutritional supplements (for example, B complex with minerals and the antioxidant vitamins A, D, E and K) may be sufficient to avoid more complicated or expensive hormone therapies.
Regular exercise is also a good way to ease the symptoms of menopause. Research has shown that hot flashes and night sweats are milder in women who exercise during menopause than for women who don’t. Weight gain is another common side effects of menopause that is more easily managed with exercise.
Exercise during menopause helps to reduce fat stores around the abdomen. Moreover, as estrogen levels drop, a woman’s risk for osteoporosis and heart disease rises, so exercise is an effective tool in the management of each of these conditions.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be used on a short-term to medium-term basis to relieve the unpleasant menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood swings. On a long-term basis, some women have used HRT because doctors believed it reduced their risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.
Results of recent studies, however, suggest that the risks of long-term HRT may outweigh the benefits for these women. This is because HRT slightly increases the risk of developing breast cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer and strokes when used for a period of many years.
(published March 1, 2012)