What is Menopause?
Menopause (also called the change of life) is the transition period in a woman's
life when the ovaries stop producing eggs. When the ovaries stop producing
eggs, menstrual activity decreases and eventually ceases, and the body
decreases the production of the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone.
Menopause affects individual women differently. In some women, menstral activity
stops suddenly. In other women, menstrual activity tapers off until it
completely stops. It may take up to 3 years for the menstrual cycle to
completely stop. Menopause is a natural event.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is defined as that period of a woman's life when she has ceased to
have menstrual periods for a full year. The period leading up to menopause is
called perimenopause, and it is during this period that a number of processes
take place that can lead to various physical symptoms. Typically, the process
leading up to full menopause is now referred to as simply menopause, sometimes
euphemistically as 'change of life' or just 'the change'.
Menopause is a natural process just as puberty is natural; puberty prepares a
girl to be able to conceive and bear children, and menopause prepares a woman
to cease to be able to conceive. Both cause upheavals in one's body, puberty by
introducing hormones and menopause by withdrawing them.
Menopause typically begins in a woman's forties or fifties -- the entire change
process can take several years. Symptoms can vary in severity; many women
notice no symptoms other than a gradual cessation of their periods, while
others suffer from hot flashes, mood swings, sleep disturbances and sexual
difficulties. Depression is not physically caused by the changes a woman
undergoes during menopause, but may be a result of her attitudes towards her
own body and aging. Depression should not be left untreated as just another
symptom of 'the change'.
Women who have a hysterectomy will experience instance menopause, whatever their
If symptoms of menopause are significant and annoying, there are a number of
therapies that can lessen and manage them. The most widely employed is Hormone
Replacement Therapy, or HRT. Since menopausal symptoms are caused by the body's
adjusting to decreased levels of hormones, HRT replaces the hormones and thus
decreases the symptoms. While many women swear by HRT, some research suggests
that prolonged use may lead to an increased risk of breast cancer.
A number of herbal alternatives are being investigated now for use in managing
unpleasant symptoms of menopause. Black cohosh is widely used in Europe to
treat hot flashes, and recent studies seem to show that it is indeed effective
in some cases. Other herbs are soy products which contain a type of plant
estrogen, St. John's Wort for mood regulation, evening primrose for hot
flashes, valerian for sleep disorders and chasteberry for sexual dysfunction.
Many European studies attest to the effectiveness of these therapies, but US
researchers argue that the studies are poorly designed.
As always, when taking herbal remedies, consult with your primary doctor. Herbs
contain active ingredients that may interfere with the effectiveness of
prescription medications, and your doctor will need to know what herbs you take
regularly. St. John's Wort, for instance, can alter the effects of prescription
antidepressants and they should not be taken together except as directed by a
physician who understands their interactions.