Getting menopause in the open
Editor's note: This column originally ran Feb. 19, 2004. Michael Seabaugh's regular Healthspan column will return next week.
One of the most striking things about menopause for many women is that it is something that their mothers never talked about. Once referred to euphemistically as the "change of life," we now saw it like it is: menopause.
"My mother still claims she hasn't gone through it yet," reports Deborah, 50. "Mom didn't prepare me for menopause but then again she didn't prepare me for sex either. Must be a generational thing."
On average, menopause occurs at the onset of the 50s. But the drumbeat of declining estrogen can begin in a woman's late 30s and accelerate in the 40s. This phase is called "perimenopause" and, evidently, it is when the most hormonal changes occur as well as the most difficult symptoms: hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, irritability, forgetfulness, irregular menstrual periods, decreased sex drive, vaginal dryness, increases incidence of urinary tract infections and/or yeast infections, migraine headaches, bloating, breast tenderness, dry and/or "aging" skin ... and that always popular act of releasing urine when laughing or coughing.
OK, if I even have any male readers left at this point, I have something to say to you. If you are married to or otherwise involved with a woman of this certain age, you need to be paying close attention. Perhaps your woman is like her mother and isn't talking to you straight ahead about what is happening to her. Maybe you are only hearing her raging complaints against you.
But in my opinion, it is probably better to try and understand all of this. So I consulted with an expert: Cherie Rodgers, CEO and founder of Lunesse, a company that produces not only health and beauty products for women of this certain age, but education on the subject as well.
According to Rodgers, "Even if a woman is symptom-free, she needs to get aggressive about establishing good health behavior, to protect her bones, heart, mind and spirit."
No matter what the symptom profile of the particular woman is, Rodgers warns that a hidden but critical health issue related to perimenopause is the loss of bone density.
Let's talk estrogen. According to Rodgers, it not only aids women with their reproductive skills, but also does a plethora of other good stuff: like helping stimulate bone cell growth, skin hydration and collagen; reducing the LDL or "bad" cholesterol and blood pressure; helping to regulate body temperature and short-term memory and muscle energy.
A woman will usually experience dramatic surges of estrogen, followed by equally dramatic declines.
So what is a woman to do?
According to Rodgers, some proven, common sense advice, includes:
Avoid smoking, caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, large meals, hot liquids, and very salty or sugary foods. Some of these foods -- as well as smoking -- constrict blood vessels, while others of them can raise body temperature.
Exercise: Women who are physically active tend to have fewer, less intense hot flashes, because their bodies are more efficient at cooling down.
Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a Cape Girardeau native who is a licensed clinical psychologist in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica, Calif. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.