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Menopause – The Change as a Natural Rite

This article is an excerpt from a previously aired radio talk program “Wellness; A Total Approach To Health” with guest Amanda McQuade Crawford. The topic discussed will deal with menopausal considerations and how a woman can make better decisions when dealing with hormonal balance.

Amanda McQuade Crawford holds a degree in Medical Herbalism from Britain’s School of Herbal Medicine and is a member of England’s National Institute of Medical Herbalist. She is a former council member of the American Herbalist Guild and cofounder of the National College Of Phytotherapy in New Mexico. She has traveled the world lecturing about women’s issues and herbalism. She is the author of book The Herbal Menopause Book.

David Hawkins: Let’s deal with the issue of menopause. Why does the conventional medical system treat this as a disease and how does Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) affect a women’s health?

Amanda Crawford: What we are trying to promote in women’s minds is that menopause is not a failure of the ovaries to produce estrogen. Menopause is not a disease that requires drugs to fix it. Menopause is a huge body change in a women’s hormonal cycle similar to that of puberty. It is a condition that can be self-monitored unless there is history of other health concerns. In herbal therapies we are not just looking for herbs that will raise estrogen levels. We want it understood that just by elevating estrogen levels in a woman all her symptoms would not disappear. For millions of years women’s estrogen levels have been designed to decrease as we age. When we think that hot flashes will just disappear by adding in estrogen, we set the potential for side effects of artificially high levels of estrogen. We are interested in helping the total health of the body by addressing the adrenal glands and how they deal with stress. We use herbs like Siberian Ginseng and nettle leaf as mild gentle tonics that don’t have anything to do with estrogen to help alleviate stress and help many of the symptoms attributed to menopause.

We have many herbal approaches to hot flashes. In a hot flash the hypothalamus in the brain senses a decrease in estrogen. A message is then sent to the pituitary that in turn signals the ovaries to make more estrogen. The ovaries aren’t always able to respond to this signal so the body responds by trying to storm the temperature regulation center with an adrenaline rush to get it moving. This is an attempt to reset the thermostat for heat to reach a higher temperature like on your home’s heating thermostat. During the hot flash you may feel chilled before the actual sensations of heat due to this new heat regulation. The skin gets involved due to dilation (opening) of the blood vessels which brings increased blood flow to the surface of the skin and helps the body to cool based on the new temperature setting.

Hot flashes are affected by stress, caffeine in hot coffee, spicy foods and alcohol. Smoking also makes hot flashes worse. Dietary and herbal approaches would include increase soy based foods, which are high in phytoestrogens, red clover sprouts, alfalfa, lentils and other whole grain foods. Supplementing with Vitamin E and evening primrose oil has also been effective for treating hot flashes.

David Hawkins: Many women are concerned today with Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT) due to hysterectomies. The issues of heart disease and osteoporosis are also concerns. How do you address these with herbals?

Amanda Crawford: Due to the known risk factors of HRT (mainly increased risk of hormonal driven cancers, estrogen driven fibroids and hormonal migraines) many women are seeking reasonable alternatives. There are times when HRT is necessary, but one has to remember that drugs are strong and side effects are an issue. In a study done in England, researchers used black cohosh tincture at specific doses and time periods and found the results to be equivalent to HRT therapy. The use of phytoestrogens again comes into the picture here. Phyto, meaning plant based, does not mean that they contain actual hormones but have substances that have mild effects like hormones. They do not become hormones but attach to estrogen receptors and have either preventive or therapeutic properties. They are safer and have fewer side effects. Again soy foods are high in genistein and diadzein; two phytoestrogens. One cup of soybeans has the equivalent in phytoestrogen as one .625 Premarin.

In dealing with osteoporosis there is more to it than just exercise and estrogen issues. It is more important to make sure the calcium you are getting is bioavailable (meaning easily absorbed through the digestive process). Milk is not the best source or chewing Tums or even some forms of calcium in tablet form. Food form is best like soy foods, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds (sesame) are good.

In regard to the issue of low estrogen and heart disease, this is still under investigation. Because many of our health conditions are attributed to lifestyle imbalances (specifically heart disease), to single out one hormone is very simplistic. Both of these issues are addressed in my book.

David Hawkins: My last question involves the use of progesterone creams that have hit the market. What do you think of them? (Mainly wild yam creams.)

Amanda Crawford: What is often called natural progesterone from wild yam or other sources is actually diosgenin, one of the steroidal saponins found in wild yam that has been synthesized in a pharmaceutical lab to be converted into progesterone. It is not all that natural; it is not the straight natural plant material made into a cream. It is progesterone. However, there are companies that make wild yam creams that are beneficial for vaginal dryness or discomfort. Just understand the difference. Plants are far more than the chemistry, just like human beings are more than the enzymes and the biochemistry that makes us up. We are also our personalities and our spirits. When you go into a lab and try to isolate one constituent, you are missing the whole.

This fascinating topic is addressed on a more complete level in the book, The Herbal Menopause Book — Herbs, Nutrition And Other Natural Therapies.

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