Menopause is so seldom talked about openly. Aside from some of the most common discomforts, menopause is often shrouded in mystery, and perimenopause even more so. This article aims to shine a light on both.
The meaning of menopause
Dr. Caroline Meyer, naturopathic doctor and energy healer, tells us that, in its most technical sense, menopause is the time in a woman’s life following the absence of a menstrual cycle for a minimum of 12 months.
Dr. Jeanne Paul, ND, the first First Nations person to graduate in this profession in Canada, shares this definition with her patients: “[You] are entering the age of becoming a Wise Woman, an Elder-in-training.”
From a medical perspective, says Paul, menopause is when all mature eggs, which have been decreasing since birth, have been used up. At that point, “she will now cease her monthly moons due to decreases in female hormones.”
The “symptoms” of menopause
“Many women experience no negative symptoms with this natural change in life,” assures Meyer. Other women, however, experience such symptoms as insomnia, anxiety, memory loss, depression, weight gain, irritability, fatigue, and, of course, those hot flashes.
Symptoms can, in turn, range in discomfort level from annoying to outright debilitating. Additional common symptoms of menopause include night sweats, a decrease in sexual drive due to vaginal dryness, uncontrolled mood changes, potential weight gain, sleep pattern disturbances, bladder infections, and forgetfulness.
The time leading up to menopause, perimenopause, is a phase of transition when mature eggs are diminishing and ovulation and menses become irregular. During this time, there is a drop in estrogen levels, and women begin to experience some symptoms resembling menopause. Declining fertility, period irregularity, urinary urgency, memory problems, sleep disruptions, and mood shifts are common.
Usually ranging in age from the mid- to late-30s through to the mid-50s, and lasting upward of four to eight years, Black women seem to have the longest durations of perimenopause, naturopath Dr. Ibby Omole points out.
The transition toolbox
Menopause is not a disease or ailment, but rather a natural, poignant time of life for every woman. Paul says, “Most cultures view menopause as a natural life process, a sociocultural event, and a positive part of a woman’s life.”
Some women experience this natural, transitional time of life with few symptoms, while others have ones that can feel intense, hard to manage, or outright distressing. Meyer says that some of the most troubling symptoms of peri/menopause include “weight gain, mood changes, insomnia, as well as the unrelenting hot flashes.”
“I like to consider the cause of menopause symptoms,” says Paul, “which [with some symptoms] is the hypothalamus. It serves as a bridge between the nervous system and the endocrine system.” When estrogen levels drop during peri/menopause, the hypothalamus responds to lower the temperature, resulting in hot flashes.
“I make a [formula] that quells the hypothalamus,” says Paul. “I also give a traditional medicine tea to enhance the estrogenic effect. The homeopathic remedy Sepia officinalis is another [possible] remedy to balance the estrogen and progesterone, and help most of the other symptoms.”
Supportive partners and family members can have a major impact on a woman’s menopausal experience. Meyer suggests offering “patience and kindness to the women in their lives who are undergoing perimenopause or menopause.”
“Open dialogue and communication,” says Omole, “are very helpful so family members know that their loved one is going through a natural but sometimes rough transition.”
A time to turn inward
Positively managing stress is essential during the peri/menopausal years. Meyer recommends meditation, regular exercise, prioritizing rest and sleep, doing activities that bring joy, and moderating alcohol. And, she emphasizes that moving into menopause is a time for women to finally focus on themselves.
Natural remedies for menopause
Here are Dr. Caroline Meyer’s suggestions for peri/menopausal symptom relief; however, she urges professional guidance.
Natural remedy Used for ashwagandha stress relief; immune support ashwagandha/maca low libido maca/chasteberry/evening primrose balancing estrogen and progesterone levels flaxseed regulating estrogen levels cinnamon glucose control and circulatory stimulation
Stress and the peri/menopausal woman
In times of stress …
- our heart contracts and beats faster to shunt blood, and increase oxygen and glucose, to the muscles and brain
- sweating increases to eliminate toxic compounds produced by the body and to help lower body temperature
- blood sugar levels increase as the liver dumps stored glucose into the bloodstream
- the hypothalamus—the main boss that controls many of the body’s functions—signals the adrenals to release cortisol, which can result in menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, sleep disturbances, and mood changes
COVID’s stress effects have shown, in recent studies, that pandemic stress has altered women’s menstrual cycles along with many aspects of women’s health.”
Early studies have started to question whether CBD can affect, and improve, some menopausal woes. Though the research is still young, CBD is showing promise for improving certain mood disorders and improving sleep—great news for women experiencing these symptoms.
We asked three naturopathic doctors what they regard as the biggest myths about menopause.
Dr. Ibby Omole, ND, RAc: That you can’t get pregnant when you are in the perimenopause stage. This is false! If you don’t want children, continue to use contraception.
Dr. Caroline Meyer, ND: That perimenopause and menopause are medical conditions that require treatment. Menopause is not a phenomenon that needs to be delayed or fixed.
Dr. Jeanne Paul, ND: That it is a disease rather than a normal physiological process. Theories claiming that menopause is an “estrogen-deficiency disease” leading to “sexlessness” and rendering women somehow “less than they once were” have placed women in a truly difficult dilemma.
Precisely when a woman experiences menopause, Dr. Ibby Omole, ND, RAc, explains, is based on a number of factors, including
- her genetics
- when her mother began
- age of menarche
- gestational age
- use of oral contraceptives
- regularity of menstrual cycle
- number of pregnancies
- body mass index
- use of tobacco or alcohol
- physical activity
- socioeconomic background,
- blood lead levels
- consumption of polyunsaturated fats
On this last detail, Omole notes that the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation revealed that, on average, Black, Asian, and Latina women begin menopause earlier than white women.