Menopause


(Alternate Title: How About a Nice Ride on a Roller coaster, Backwards & Blindfolded, With a Hot Wind Blowing on the Back of Your Neck?"

By Ariana Estelle-Symons, Ph.D., Copyright 1997
From the September, 1997 issue of the
Kombucha Konnection Newsletter.



Funny title for a not-so-funny package of symptoms. Oh, forgot to mention the mood swings, or the `hot flash' that hits you when you're sitting in Church wearing your best silk dress, and you begin to sweat - really sweat, and your face is a lovely shade of burgundy and you have no alternative but to sit there and fan yourself with the church program. Or, you are attending an important business meeting and it hits you with a vengeance - you feel the sweat trickling down your temples, between your breasts, soaking the armpits of your spiffy new suit, your pantyhose feel like chain mail, and when it's your turn to speak, you've forgotten the entire first paragraph of your presentation, and so, you begin to cry, and you feel like an idiot. And then your husband, or `significant other' reminds you that you're "just not the same", and he's really unhappy about the `thermostat war' that goes on every day. And then, there's the `night sweats', getting up three or four times a night to change out of a sodden & clammy nightgown. And the next day when you're cranky and headachy, your favorite TV talk show tells you that you may be suffering from `clinical depression', when actually, you are more than likely suffering from `sleep deprivation'. Your kids and your relatives think you've gone `round the bend' and you are beginning to agree with them. Your world is wobbling on it's axis, and you feel as though you are about to spin out into orbit.

Take heart - that light at the end of the tunnel is not necessarily a train! It doesn't have to be this way. And for many women it's not this way at all. They make this `mid-life transition' without a hitch. Menopause is as individual as a thumbprint. No two women experience it alike.

All the problems associated with menopause are thought to be due to the erratic activity of the pituitary hormones LH, (luteinizing hormone), and FSH, (follicle-stimulating hormone), as they try to overcompensate for the declining levels of estrogen and progesterone. During menopause, FSH levels sometimes increase to as much as 20 times their original levels.

What is a hormone?

Hormones are secreted by glands, (such as your pancreas, adrenal, thyroid, and ovaries), in very small quantities, usually into your bloodstream. As hormones journey through the body, they proceed to activate, control, or direct the actions of other organs and tissues. No wonder the word `hormone' stems from the Greek hormaein, which means to excite.

Hormones are consumed as energy (like food) and are not produced as by-products of metabolic processes. They are specifically aimed at controlling other actions in your body, often at a location far from where they are produced. Your body doesn't physically direct a hormone to a particular tissue or organ unless the target is right next to the gland producing the hormone, (or is producing the hormone itself).  A hormone travels until it is recognized by a receptor shaped to fit, the way pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fit together.

Hormones help some of your cells create protective "coats of armor", instruct molecular switches to turn on or off, mandate immune processes to grapple with invaders, and charge receptors to stoke fires that require more fuel. They are responsible for glands including differentiation, providing a cell which appears to be able to turn into anything during the fetal stage, to turn into something very specific years, even decades, later.

Hormones generally spread out evenly through your bloodstream, much like a broadcast radio signal. Only certain cells of certain organs or tissues have their chemical receptors "tuned in" to respond to the effects of that particular hormone.

It's amazing how few hormone molecules are required to produce a major effect. At the top end of the range, there is only one hormone molecule for every fifty billion molecules in your blood plasma. At the low end of the concentration scale, there may be one hundred times fewer hormone molecules - one in every five zillion. That's five thousand billion! This is like one crystal of salt in a large swimming pool. Keep this in mind when you consider intervening with the use of synthetic hormones in your own body.

The word "menopause" means "monthly pause" often referred to as the "change of life". It is the point at which a woman stops ovulating and menstruation ceases, indicating the end of fertility. When a woman stops ovulating, her ovaries largely stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Although estrogen is commonly thought of as a sex hormone, strictly tied to reproduction, it also acts on many different organs in the body. Cells in the vagina, bladder, breasts, skin, bones, arteries, heart, liver and brain all contain estrogen receptors, and require this hormone to stimulate these receptors for normal cell function.
Estrogen is important for many reasons: it keeps the skin smooth and moist, helps to keep the body's internal thermostat operating properly, and the arteries unclogged - and plays a major function in proper bone formation.

True, estrogen levels drop sharply after menopause, but the hormone does not disappear entirely. Other organs take over from the ovaries and continue to produce some estrogen and other hormones. The organs known as endocrine glands secrete hormones to maintain proper bodily functions.

Estrogens , androgens, and natural progesterone are steroid hormones - all made in your body from cholesterol. Progesterone is a hormone manufactured by your adrenal glands or your ovaries. Before puberty, your adrenals - the pyramid-shaped glands that sit on top of each kidney - are responsible for manufacturing all the cholesterol-based, or steroid, sex hormones. Your adrenal cortex is the part of each adrenal gland that actually makes the steroids. Controlling this function is your pituitary, the tiny gland near the base of your brain a gland so small it weighs no more than a paper clip. Your pituitary, in turn is regulated by your hypothalamus, the master gland which can almost be thought of as part of your brain. This is the neurological link to steroid hormone production.

What's an androgen? You've probably heard about `DHEA' recently promoted by the media as the `solution to the aging process'. Well, DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is the principal androgen made in the adrenals. Both testosterone and estradiol can be made from DHEA (estradiol is an estrogen). In fact, before puberty, DHEA is the major raw material for these hormones. DHEA is available throughout your body it is converted to stronger androgens, like testosterone, or to estradiol, as required.

NOTE: No testosterone is used by the brain it's all made into an estrogen first. Keep this in mind if a male ever accuses you of not being able to "think like a man"!

Progesterone is the primary building block for all the other steroid hormones. Often overlooked (especially by allopathic physicians), a progesterone imbalance can create problems on its own.

Estrogens and progesterone are produced by the ovaries between puberty and menopause. After menopause, the adrenal cortex is called on again to maintain what we once thought was the only supply of these vital hormones at this stage. We now know that ovaries can still produce some estrogen , even after menopause. Bursts of activity from your hypothalamus and pituitary attempt to restimulate your ovaries into maintaining estrogen levels at this time, and may even succeed. The surges of control hormones are one source of hot flashes. Your pituitary gland also has a role in controlling metabolism and body temperature hence the `hot' in the hot flash.

HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy)
An important decision for all women.

The majority of women in the United States are started on estrogen replacement around menopause to combat the uncomfortable symptoms such as hot flashes, sleep disturbances, and emotional changes, and to provide protection against osteoporosis and heart disease that estrogen and progesterone naturally provided before menopause. The decision to use estrogen replacements brings its own concerns as it increases the risk of endometrial and breast cancer. Maintaining normal hormone balance, and synthetic versus naturally occurring estrogens, are at the heart of this decision.

Most of the symptoms and risks of menopause are the result of an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone. The major job of estrogen in the body is to stimulate growth of tissue, while progesterone balances this growth and keeps the growth normal. There are three types of natural estrogen in the body: estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3).
Physicians (allopathic) commonly prescribe estrogen replacement supplements for menopausal women. It is a scientific fact that estrogen increases the bones' ability to absorb calcium, reducing the risk of weak bones and osteoporosis. Estrogen also lowers your risk of heart disease and stroke, which is certainly no small matter, considering that heart disease is the leading killer of women over age 45. However, studies show that estrogen supplements can increase the risk of breast and uterine cancer. This is making some doctors more conservative about dispensing prescriptions for estrogen, particularly to women who have a family history of reproductive system cancer.

Many women are `taking their health into their own hands' by opting for a more natural approach to combat the symptoms of menopause.

HERBS

Herbs & supplements - a more natural approach.

Throughout history, women have utilized herbs and plants to relieve the symptoms of menopause. It seems that certain plants can increase estrogen during menopause and not just the plants that we think of as herbs. In one British study, Gisela Wilcox, M.D., and associates gave 25 women who had gone through menopause foods and herbs that were supposed to increase estrogen. When these women ate red clover sprouts, flaxseeds and soy flour every day for two weeks, their estrogen levels rose and remained high. Once they stopped the special diet, the levels fell back down to their original post menopausal level. Alfalfa seeds and sprouts may produce a similar effect. These herbs have long been used as a folk cure to relieve hot flashes for women in New Mexico. The large amount of estrogen like substances in soy and soy products is thought to be one reason that Japanese women experience so few menopausal symptoms. The plant source with the highest level of these substances is pomegranate seeds. This is followed by garden rhubarb stalks and pineapple. Even whole grains, nuts, seeds and avocados contain some estrogen like compounds.

Listed here are the herbs that have proven themselves to be beneficial during the `change'. They are listed in no particular order, with a brief description.

GINSENG
(Panax ginseng)

Robert Atkins, M.D. (a well known nutritional specialist) says that out of hundred of his patients who complained of hot flashes, approximately 80 percent of them responded to ginseng. Most of the rest of the women improved when vitamin E was taken with the herb. It takes most women two to six weeks before they begin to notice the difference, but once they become aware of it, most are amazed that a simple therapy like this one can make such a difference. Other ginsengs such as Siberian Ginseng (eleuthero) may also prove beneficial, however there are few studies to substantiate it's efficacy.

HOPS
(Humulus arborescens)

If you find that your menopausal symptoms include nervousness or irritability, a good herbal relaxant to choose is hops. Its estrogen like effects were first discovered when female hops pickers noticed changes occurring in their menstrual cycles. It turned out that hops caused their estrogen levels to rise.

SOY

A group of researchers examined Japanese women among whom hot flashes are infrequent. They found a very high intake of phytoestrogens (100 to 1,000 fold more than in American women), along with other foods which have some estrogen activity. This represents an example of how plant foods in the diet can modulate your hormone metabolism. Phytoestrogen foods contain a group of substances called isoflavones, which are weak estrogen like constituents that act as adaptogens. That is, if a woman has an excessive amount of estrogen, these substances help to block the estrogen from entering estrogen receptor sites. If there is not enough estrogen, they fill the gap. An interesting study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (1994;86;174) explains this phenomenon.

Phytoestrogens are associated with these soy products:

Other phytoestrogens are black cohosh, alfalfa, licorice, and pomegranates.

BLACK COHOSH
(Cimicifuga racemosa)

Black cohosh, one of the best documented and most widely used herbs for menopausal symptoms can be found in nearly all of the herbal compounds formulated for hot flashes (which it really does seem to help). A study in Europe confirmed that black cohosh relieves many menopausal symptoms. In one double blind study it was found to reduce menopausal symptoms better than the conjugated estrogens. Black cohosh has been approved for the treatment of menopausal symptoms by German Commission East Germany's leading authority entrusted with evaluating the safety and efficacy of herb remedies. Studies show that black cohosh can reduce menopause related headaches, depression, anxiety and decreased libido.

ST. JOHN'S WORT
(Hypericum perforatum)

St. John's Wort, the herbal `mood food' is sometimes referred to as `nature's anti-depressant' can work wonders for the state of mild depression that often accompanies menopause. For over 2,000 years people have been taking St.John's' Wort for many things. In ancient Greece it was initially used to drive away evil spirits, and for centuries has been known to relieve pain from strains and bruises, (used topically in oil). For the last 15 years or so, it has been 25 times more popular than Prozac as the prescribed medication for mild to moderate depression. Just 200 MG a day can make you feel like a new woman.

CHASTEBERRY
(Vitex agnus-castus)

One of the more popular `women's herbs for many years, Vitex has proven itself when it comes to the relief of hot flashes, night sweats, heart palpitations, headaches, and vaginal drying and thinning. However, if you are experiencing a decreased libido - you may not want to take much Vitex. It was once known as "Monk's Pepper" and was actually used in monasteries. If you do experience a loss of libido, try taking Damiana capsules - this herb will help.

DONG QUAI
(Angelica sinensis)

Although Dong Quai has long been the `herb of choice' for `women's complaints', especially in traditional Chinese medicine, it may do nothing for you on it's own. However, when combined with other herbs, it seems to have beneficial effects. Also, it does contain traces of vitamin E.

LICORICE ROOT
(Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Licorice root contains high levels of estrogen like compounds (phytoestrogens - see above) Although it can help to relieve hot flashes, etc., it should be taken in small amounts, especially by women suffering from high blood pressure.

VITAMIN E

Many women report fewer and less severe hot flashes simply from taking vitamin E. It is structurally similar to estrogen at the molecular level, and is a powerful anti-oxidant. Even if it does not help with your hot flashes, it's a wise choice as an anti-oxidant. Especially helpful when taken in conjunction with other herbal compounds. If, after taking Premarin or Estradoil, you are experiencing the dreaded Fibrocystic breast disease, vitamin E can be a God-send for you. It really does help. (See the article - "Let me tell you about my hysterectomy"

CALCIUM

Although herbs and different foods can help you avoid menopausal complaints, we don't know how much they can do to help prevent osteoporosis and heart disease. To be on the safe side, don't rely solely on herbs. So far, mineral supplements and exercise have a more proven track record. Recent studies in new Zealand show that post menopausal women who took 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day were able to cut their bone loss in half. Equally as important is magnesium to help with calcium's assimilation. Another way to slow bone loss is with a half hour session of weight bearing exercises, or even exercising in a chair, three times a week. All post menopausal women can take a hint from vegetarian women, who experience less bone loss.

WILD YAM???

While some sources claim that wild yam contains progesterone, this is not true, and much confusion has arisen as a result of the conflicting opinions. Although chemists use wild yam for starting compounds to synthesize progesterone, this can be done only in the laboratory. Many of the "natural progesterone" creams with wild yam that are now so popular do contain a wild yam extract, but their active ingredient is usually the hormone progesterone (even though it does not always appear on the label). Actually, it is no more `herbal' than estrogen pills and creams.

MENOPAUSE TINCTURE

1 Teaspoon Black Cohosh Root tincture
1 Teaspoon each of tinctures of:
Vitex berry
Ginseng root
Red Clover flower,
Licorice root
Dong Quai root
Motherwort Leaf
Fenugreek seed

Combine ingredients. This recipe can also be made into a tea using the same proportions of dried herbs and steeping them in 1 quart of boiling water. As a tea, however, this brew is too strong for most people's taste. Take 2 to 5 droppersful of tincture or 3 to 6 cups of tea a day.

Let me tell you about my hysterectomy

This is not a story that I usually share, but for this issue of the newsletter, it seems appropriate. If , in 1963, someone would have given me the information contained in this newsletter, I would have been spared 25 years of absolute hell!
On September 1st, 1959, I gave birth to my third child, a little girl named Shonna. I was 21 years old. Exactly one year after this, I developed a huge ovarian cyst. The doctors, (Air Force doctors), didn't pay a whole lot of attention to my condition. I looked like I was 7 or 8 months pregnant and was in terrible pain. Well, the cyst burst and I ended up having emergency surgery to remove my right tube and ovary. Then, 3 months later, due to a reoccurring infection went back into the hospital and the doctors performed a `cervix amputation'. I just couldn't seem to recover from all of this. Six months after that surgery, the doctors told me I was suffering from endometriosis, a condition that they didn't know much about in the early 60's. It got worse and worse - I was in horrible pain all of the time. Then, one day in 1963 I was at work (in a white dress and white shoes) and began to hemorrhage and collapsed. I was rushed to the hospital and a day later when I woke up I was informed that I had uterine cancer and needed immediate surgery or I would die. It appeared that I didn't have much of a choice - and so - they performed a radical hysterectomy, taking the remaining ovary and my uterus. Not once did one of the doctors talk to me about hormonal changes that would take place in my 25 year old body. It was six months after the surgery that I went to a doctor that said - `oh, there's nothing wrong with you - you're just going through the change of life early - let's just give you some hormones and everything will be fine'. Over the next 10 years I tried every single kind of hormonal replacement that was available. I was a single mother raising three children, working two jobs and I was sick all the time, I couldn't sleep, had hot flashes 20 or 30 times a day, my skin & hair were a mess, my emotional status was "red alert" at all times. I'd cry at the drop of a hat, I was terribly depressed, and most of the time I felt like a crazy lady. My family and friends would confirm the fact that I `simply was not the same'. Well, no kidding!!
In the early 70's I began taking `estrogen shots', and in fact, gave them to myself every month. I did this until the late 80's. Consequently, I developed fibrocystic breast disease. Still, no doctor ever explained the `side effects' of this estrogen replacement. It took years for me to learn about the problems associated with this and to find an herbal and supplement regimen that worked for me. Now, I take a supplement called Vitex 40+ that contains: Chaste tree berries( vitex), wild yam root, motherwort leaf, dandelion root, eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) root, black cohosh root, ginger root and woods grown American ginseng root. I take 2,000 units of vitamin E, 2,000 units of vitamin C and beta carotene plus a Calcium/Magnesium complex.
I drink Kombucha every day, and have for over 6 years. I have my life back - and I'm not the `crazy lady' I used to be, and the hot flashes are a thing of the past (thank God).

TYPICAL SYMPTOMS OF MENOPAUSE
The occurrence of the following symptoms are not experienced by all women. The `menopausal transition' usually begins around age 50, however, the hormonal changes can begin 10 years before actual menopause. These are the symptoms most women will report (some long term, some short term).


TESTIMONIAL / LUV LETTER
From Melvin

Dear Ariana,
You asked for feedback - so here it is and it's all good.
In the 4 months I've been drinking Kombucha, I have seen improvement in my health that I can hardly believe! As you know, I began drinking it to help with my problem with constipation. After only two weeks, I threw away the metamucil and the prune juice. I am totally amazed that something so simple could help me so much.

And, as if that was not enough of a miracle, I have not had an attack of gout since I began to drink that marvelous elixir. The pain in my knees is nearly gone. I'd had that pain for so long that it's still a big thrill to walk down the hill to the mailbox without moaning and groaning. I had no idea that it could help with these problems that I've been plagued with for lo' these many years. I tell my friends that the pain is from "old war wounds", but if the truth be known, I was never in a war. Actually, I suppose it comes from too much `good living' as a young man and never giving a moment's thought to the damage I was doing to my body. You know the saying: "Too soon we get old and too late we get smart".

Now here's some really great news from my dear Martha. She was not in the least bit interested when I began to grow Kombucha, and in fact, thought I'd lost the little mind I have left. Oh well, she's a `youngster' of only 51, and indulged her 64 year old hubby when he began growing this alien looking glob on the kitchen counter. She complained about the vinegar smell every time she'd walk in the room and she didn't appreciate the mess I made when I'd spill KT on her clean floor. However, when she saw me throw away the prunes & laxatives, it got her attention. Likewise when I waltzed her around on the deck in the moonlight (something I hadn't felt like doing in years). And then, there's the extra added attraction of my increased libido. Now - that really got her attention! And so, after awhile, she began to drink a little KT every morning. The next thing I knew, I was making 2 batches a week.

The thing is... she'd been having those darned hot flashes and night sweats for a couple of years. She just isn't comfortable taking estrogen and when the doctor prescribed Premarin, she decided not to take it and said she'd `sweat it out' literally. That girl would wake up in the middle of the night with her pillow wet and her hair soaked and her nightgown damp - and she was just plain miserable! Thanks to your suggestion of St. John's Wort, her mood swings had measurably decreased and when she started to drink Kombucha, I began to see a real change. She still has a few hot flashes, but nothing like the ones she used to experience. Her skin and hair are looking like they did 25 years ago and she has fewer headaches. We are both sleeping better (now, could that be because we are enjoying more `intimate encounters' than we have for a few years?)

We've both lost a few pounds and feel as though we've spent thousands of dollars at an exclusive and pricey `spa'. Thanks so much for all your help on the phone, and who knows - maybe one of these days we'll get hooked up `on line' and send you email. In the meantime, we certainly enjoy the newsletter, and if you think anyone would care to read this letter, go ahead and put it in there.


Harmonic Harvest Products


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Ariana

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