Embracing a Menopause Mindset
Every single day, millions of women all around the world are experiencing a natural mid-life progression called menopause. Mindsets about it, however, can be very different. In the Western world, for example, the menopause event seems to carry with it a lot of stigma and may be viewed negatively with aspects of aging. Loss of menses and mid-life hormonal changes are treated as a medical event vs. a natural conversion that our bodies were made to undertake.
In China, the process of menopause is much different, described as a ‘rebirth’; a time when energy that was once used for fertility/child-bearing and rearing can be saved and repurposed. Many other cultures see the process as one of liberation and ‘being set free.’ In Japan, menopause is viewed as an expected stage of life and the term for it, konenki, actually means renewal, season and energy. For many cultures, the time of menopause is one for celebration and postmenopausal women are revered in the community as mentors with experience and wisdom. Embrace menopause with a positive mindset.
Defining the Process
Menopause is a term loosely used to describe the cessation of menses. Though it sounds like a simple instant change, it is actually a multi-stage process. These stages include:
- Perimenopause: The time (often years) leading up to menopause. During this time hormones change/decline and menstrual cycles may become inconsistent. Women may begin to feel side effects of these subtle hormonal shifts such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood changes, sleep issues and menstrual irregularity.
- Menopause: The body stops producing the hormones that cause your menstrual period. After going without a period for 12 consecutive months, you are medically considered to be in menopause. If you go without a period and after 10 months you get one, it is not official and you begin the count again. After the 12 consecutive month benchmark, you enter postmenopause.
- Postmenopause: Once menopause has occurred, women are in a postmenopausal state for the rest of their lives.
It is important to note that the process of menopause should not be associated with a specific age. It is a change in physiology, and for some women, perimenopause can begin as early as in their 30s. Other women don’t go through the change until their late 40s or 50s. The menopausal experience is a process specific to each individual. Some women breeze through the progression and others may experience symptoms such as: hot flashes, mood issues, urinary/bladder symptoms, vaginal dryness or sleep disruption. Musculoskeletal and joint pain are also correlated with age and hormonal changes.
Doctors of chiropractic (DCs) provide care to support women throughout their lifecycle, from the onset of menses, through child-bearing years and as they work through the natural and expected process of menopause.
21st Century Considerations
A core contributor to increased symptoms for menses and menopause is stress. Stress has been well-documented to worsen menstrual symptoms, to affect fertility during childbearing years, and to contribute to menopausal symptoms. Stress is also a growing concern in our modern world. In the body, it is our adrenal glands that respond to stress. These walnut-sized glands that sit on top of our kidneys are also responsible for producing the precursors for our sex hormones including: estrogens, testosterone (androgens and DHEA) and progesterone. This means that high stress can affect all of these other hormones. Optimal adrenal gland function is needed for a smooth menopausal transition and stress reduction is paramount.
Talking to family members (grandmothers, mother and aunts) can help you get a feel for what your menopausal experience may be like. However, if a 21st century woman is under significantly higher stress than her relatives (or vice-versa), that could change family correlations.
Common medical interventions for menopausal symptoms, such as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), can include significant risks including: breast cancer, endometrial cancer, blood clots in the legs and lungs, heart disease, strokes and an increased risk of dementia and gallbladder problems. For that reason, women all over the world are opting for more natural approaches to address symptoms.
Reducing stress should be at the top of the list. Chiropractic care has a long history of aiding in the alleviation of many of the symptoms of stress. It been demonstrated that as chiropractic optimizes joint function, it contributes to muscle relaxation and pain relief. Studies have also specifically shown that menstrual pain associated with primary dysmenorrhea may be alleviated through lumbosacral joint care.
Preventing Conditions of Change
Beyond basic symptoms of hormonal change, it is important for women to take a preventative approach to the more critical conditions associated with aging and preventative actions are the best way to combat those conditions.
Osteoporosis is a primary concern after menopause. This is because women lose bone more rapidly due to decreased hormone levels. Research indicates that up to 20% of bone loss can happen during these stages. More than one in ten women over the age of 60 are affected by osteoporosis worldwide. Bone loss increases the risk of developing osteoporosis and bone fractures. The bones of the hip, wrist and spine are most commonly affected.
Cardiovascular disease is another major concern. Decreased hormones make women more prone to cardiovascular disease complications including heart disease, stroke and heart attack. After menopause, many women also become more sedentary which can lead to higher cholesterol levels and ultimately high blood pressure.
Your Partner on the Menopause Path
Your doctor of chiropractic (DC) can help you navigate a positive path through menopause by helping you monitor osteoporosis and osteopenia (a precursor to osteoporosis) through a referral for bone mineral testing. DCs can also design a program of specific weight-bearing exercises to help keep bones strong, and recommend nutrition (such as calcium and vitamin D3 which supports the absorption of calcium) that will help promote the foundational needs of bone tissue.
Chiropractic care can also help you get moving with exercise plans, promote healthy eating habits, and aid in smoking cessation (if needed) which are all paramount to preventing heart disease.
On the symptomatic level, chiropractic can offer relief from joint aches and pains by promoting optimal joint function, provide recommendations for stress reduction techniques and advise on nutrition to support adrenal function and hormonal balance to give you the smoothest menopausal experience possible so that you can enjoy the newfound freedom that comes with the season of postmenopause.