Natural Medicine Q&A
Ask Dr. P
by Kasra Pournadeali, ND
Natural Medicine Specialist
For Women Only (or the men who care about them)! Low energy, Hot flashes, sweats, weight gain, irregular menses, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, depression, dry skin, incontinence, cravings, and maybe, the feeling that you're just out of balance are all potential symptoms of menopause. It's not a disease, but the process of when ovulation stops, and production of your ovarian hormones decline. I know, I know, "It doesn't feel very normal," as menopausal symptoms, can be unpleasant, even incapacitating. For those of you suffering have hope, as there are many effective natural treatments for the undesirable symptoms of menopause. And, although it was previously believed that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was appropriate for all menopausal women, such is no longer the case. HRT is only for select women, and even then, natural hormones are best.
Q: Dr. P, What actually causes the hot flash and sweats of menopause? Ellen
Ellen, Falling hormone levels in the body stimulate the vasoregulatory centers in the hypothalamus, (parts of your brain). This results in vasodilation (or relaxation) of the vessels in your body, which then leads to increased blood in those vessels causing the "hot flash." Sweats typically accompany this relaxation of the vessels and increased blood to help your body reduce its temperature.
Q: Dr. P, my doctor suggests I start taking estrogen, do you agree? Carrie
Carrie, This depends on many things, and must be discussed in considerable detail in an office visit. Factors affecting this decision include: if you are at risk for or have osteoporosis-- (see last month's column for a discussion on osteoporosis,) and if you have a family or personal history of endometrial cancer, breast cancer, blood clots, or gall bladder disease. If you are at risk for osteoporosis, have you tried to improve your bone density through therapeutic nutrition, weight bearing exercise, lifestyle changes and natural medicines? If you did, and that wasn't enough, hormone replacement therapy (using a balance of estrogens & progesterone) is likely appropriate. If you need HRT, I prefer the specially made, plant-derived natural estrogens and progesterone instead of synthetics prescribed by most doctors. I recommend progesterone with estrogen, to create balance, and because it has been shown to build bone where estrogen only slows bone loss.
Q: Dr. P, What is the difference between natural hormones, and regular hormones? Jenny
Jenny, typically prescribed estrogen, which the majority of doctors use are of animal origin, specifically from horse urine. The drug-type estrogen & progesterone are also chemically altered, and made to be unlike what is normally found in the body. This is not done to make a better medicine, but to assure that the drug can be patented. Patenting a drug provides a better financial return to the pharmaceutical company manufacturing it. This is because with a patent, other manufacturers are not allowed to duplicate the drug. Let's compare natural vs. synthetic estrogen: In the body there are actually three types of estrogen: estriol, estradiol, and estrone. Estriol, the predominant estrogen in the body (making up about 80%) and has anti-proliferative effects, meaning it doesn't make cells multiply. Estradiol (making up about 10%) has proliferative effects or makes cells multiply. Because of these characteristics, estriol is thought to have cancer-preventive effects, while estradiol is cancer promoting. The estrogen prescribed by most physicians and dispensed by most pharmacies is predominately estradiol & estrone, and very low in estriol (opposite what is naturally found in the body.) Synthetic estrogens also contain a completely foreign horse estrogen called equillin. It makes better sense to prescribe natural hormones (without foreign estrogens, in ratios duplicating what's found in the body, and higher in estriol which may be cancer preventive vs. estradiol, which is cancer causing). Restoring the natural ratio of the three estrogens, and eliminating foreign estrogens are reasons why women who don't tolerate synthetic hormones do very well on natural hormones. Natural progesterone has a similar story compared to synthetic "progestins". Keep in mind that natural hormones are produced by special compounding pharmacies, are available only by prescription, and the physician you see must be competent in how to test your hormone levels and prescribe natural hormones properly for you to get the best result.
Q: Dr. P, If I don't need hormones, but want relief from my hot flashes, and don't want any antidepressants what do I do? Lisa
Lisa, I know many doctors prescribe antidepressants or sleep aids to treat menopausal symptoms, as they are unaware of array of natural therapies, which are effective for these kinds of imbalances. For example, Vitamin E, Soy protein, Hesperidin, and vitamin C, have all been shown in studies to alleviate symptoms of menopause. While, plant medicines like Angelica, Glycyrrhiza, Vitex, Cimicifuga, and Trifolium reduce symptoms through hormone-like actions in the body. There are almost always alternatives to standard conventional care. Be active in achieving optimal health for yourself. You'll be glad you did!
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