by Christine Farrell
Menopause is not something that little girls dream of having. As a matter of fact, most girls don’t know much, if anything, about it until it is happening to them. Sadly, when they are ready to find out what on Earth is happening to their bodies is when they have the hardest time finding a straight answer. The treatments for it sound as terrifying and confusing as if we are treating some horrible disease, and the amount of misinformation in the media is almost criminal.
So we take some poor woman who is sweating, forgetful, weepy, achy, dry (everywhere), who is gaining weight and has lost any inkling of her sex drive and then we tell her that what is happening to her is a natural process and she should just smile and tough it out. We make her fear death if she tries to do anything about her misery and we don’t tell her about the fact that she might actually stay healthier if she DOES actually decide to treat her symptoms. If this sounds crazy, then welcome to menopause treatment in the United States. For many women, this is a terrifying and life altering time. They feel alone and miserable and their families and work situations often pay the price as well. It is my goal to help educate women and those who love them about the myths and truths related to menopause and its treatment.
Myth 1: “hormones will give you cancer”
When I first started in medicine, I was told that hormones protected a woman from breast cancer, heart disease and dementia. Then came the Women’s Initiative Study that used Prempro as its study drug and the country suddenly said hormones would kill you. Without getting into too much detail, just know that the follow-up portion of this study (which lasted over 10 years on 27,000 women) showed a decrease in breast cancer, heart disease and strokes when we used Estrogen without the synthetic Progestogen. Multiple studies have been done since and have shown the same outcome- estrogen is actually disease preventative.
Myth 2: “hormones will make you fat”
When a woman goes into menopause, she tends to gain weight In her mid section. This is the amazing body trying to help itself to make estrogen when the ovaries have given up. Belly fat is a source of estrogen for the body, so the body gives it to you to help make more estrogen. Now, if your body has estrogen, it doesn’t need to do this. Taking hormones in the right balance will not cause weight gain and may actually help a woman lose weight.
Myth 3: “menopause is a natural state and shouldn’t be tampered with”
This is true, but dying is also a natural state and I don’t think anyone wants to hasten that process. In the early 1900’s, people tended to die around age 50, so there was no worry about menopause. We now live into our 80’s and beyond, and that is a lot of years to suffer unnecessarily. It is important to remember that hormones do have disease preventative qualities and can help us live healthier and much happier lives.
Myth 4: “once the hot flashes are gone, menopause is over”
I’m sorry to say that menopause never ends until you do. The ending of your period means an end to your hormone production and all of the physiologic changes that go with that. Estrogen has over 400 actions on a woman’s body and without it, there are 400 bodily processes not functioning properly. There is no point when a woman’s body suddenly no longer needs hormones. Hot flashes may end (not always), but the effects of low estrogen don’t.
Myth 5: “my doctor said I don’t need it and it is dangerous”
Many medical practitioners have never looked beyond the initial WHI study in 2002 and continue to avoid using hormones in women and even scare their patients who inquire about them. Dr. Phillip Sarrel, a distinguished Yale GYN and researcher in women’s health says, “We are killing women in this country by NOT giving them estrogen.” He admonishes the medical community for not keeping up with the research that has clearly shown the health benefits of using estrogen in post-menopausal women and recommends it be continued throughout the lifetime of a woman. The International Menopause Society (the world’s body of research on menopause) believes in early and continuous use of hormones for health and quality of life. Clearly, we need more education on menopause care in our country.
The myths and the misinformation go on and on and the victims are thousands of women whose health and quality of life suffer because of it. Ask questions, seek a knowledgeable menopause specialist. You don’t need to feel out of control.
Christine Farrell MSN, FNP-C is a specialist in the area of hormonal imbalances in men and women and has been in practice in the area for over 17 years. She is an Associate Clinical Professor at University of California, Los Angeles and is also an alumnus of the University. Farrell belongs to the North American Menopause Society, The International Menopause Society, and the International Hormone Society. Her practice, Bio-Identical Wellness in Westlake Village, incorporates the use of bio-identical hormones, nutrition, supplements and lifestyle changes to promote wellness of both the physical and emotional aspects of health.