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Women & Menopause

It wasn't too long ago that lack of knowledge and cultural embarrassment disguised natural female biological functions under a cloak of terms such as 'the curse', 'that time of month' and 'the change of life'. These cycles of life were thought of in the same manner one would ascribe to a disease. Times change, as does the female body, and now menstruation and menopause can be uttered without a blush and understood as a normal progression of life.

Although menstruation and menopause are and have been part of normal female development throughout time, science and medicine still do not understand all of the ramifications attached to these women only issues, especially menopause. Aristotle noted that the menses cycles ended in women around the age of forty five and it has taken all of these centuries to learn more about what actually happens to the body and the effects of this transition. It's really rather pitiful that here, in the first decade of the twenty first century, we are just beginning to learn about our bodies, what takes place in them and the results of those changes. The good news is more and more correlative research is being compiled and factual information is beginning to surface.

Menopause:

What is it and what causes it?

The ancients Greeks called menopause climacteric which meant the steps of a ladder. The term we use today is derived from French and literally translates to what menopause is: a pause from menstruation. Menopause is nothing more than a transition from being fertile to the point where eggs are no longer produced, ovulation ceases, as does menstruation and a woman is no longer able to bear children.

Menopause has a direct relationship to the estrogen levels in the body. A female is born with a tremendous number of immature eggs, called follicles, each of which can develop into a mature egg, but few of which do. Whether or not they develop into mature eggs, the follicles collectively create a great amount of estrogen which the body relies on to maintain healthy reproductive functions. Thousands of follicles die every month and by the time a woman reaches her mid-forties, there generally aren't many left and the estrogen they produce is perpetually dwindling. As a woman ages there are even fewer follicles capable of producing estrogen. When the estrogen level is too low to sustain ovulation and the menstruation cycle, the cycle ceases.

What is estrogen and what does it do?

Estrogen is considered the primary female sex hormone even though men also produce small amount of it. Interestingly, during there life women produce quite a large amount of testosterone, the main male hormone. Testosterone, although necessary for stimulating the libido and maintaining good hair growth, does not decrease as readily as estrogen during and after menopause.

The body produces three major types of estrogen and several minor types. The other notable female sex hormone is called progesterone. The body actually produces progesterone first and then convert it to other hormones such as estrogen. In women, both estrogen and progesterone hormones are mainly generated in the ovaries, however other tissues such as fat minutely contribute to the overall estrogen levels of the body. As we age and the levels drop, our bodies began using estrogen reserves found in adrenal glands, muscle, skin and fat.

Research is showing that estrogens have a tremendous role in maintaining the tissues and functions of the body. Apart from being essential for healthy reproduction, estrogens assist in:

  • reducing levels of low-density lipoprotein, the 'bad' cholesterol

  • contributing to lower blood pressure
  • stimulating growth in bone cells
  • maintaining normal collagen levels in the skin
  • maintaining short term memory
  • maintaining energy
  • absorbing calcium from the bloodstream

When does menopause begin?

Surgical menopause is generally the result of a hysterectomy and will occur after the surgery, however, there is no uniform clock that guides the natural cycles of life. Perimenopause or pre-menopause can begin anywhere from the early to mid-thirties to as late as the mid-fifties. Perimenopause can be defined as the time when a woman notices the initial changes that lead to menopause. During this time periods become lighter, vary in duration (either longer or shorter) and become less frequent. During perimenopause the time between periods begins to extend and it is not unusual to go months between periods to the point when, eventually the periods stop completely. The cessation of periods signal the beginning of menopause which generally occurs between the age of forty-five and fifty-three.

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