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Coping with Menopause

Estrogen & Menopause:
How your body changes

“Not now!” You say, as you remove a sweater, feeling the instantaneous rush of heat, dry everything, brain fog and fatigue, and know that another day is derailed for you.

Menopause has been trending in the news and social media recently, as a new generation finds themselves on the hormonal roller coaster and wants better options than our mothers received.

Let me reassure you: these symptoms are NOT in your head! As we age (AND have cancer treatment) estrogen and other hormone levels drop, causing inconvenient and annoying vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes, sweating, joint pain, and cognitive changes.

How Estrogen Affects Your Body
Estrogen is a crucial hormone that plays a significant role in various aspects of female health.

Estrogen is actually a group of hormones that includes estradiol, estrone, and estriol. These hormones are primarily produced in the ovaries but are also synthesized in smaller amounts by other tissues such as the breasts, adrenal glands, and fat cells. Estrogen receptors can actually be found ALL OVER your body.

Without the “fuel” of the hormones to run your body smoothly, many systems become sluggish or overexpressive. You may experience changes in:

  • Cognitive function (brain fog/dementia) Bladder control/urgency
  • Joint immobility
  • Bone density decline
  • Increased cardiac risk
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Mucous membrane and skin dryness Weight gain
  • Loss of libido

If you have survived breast cancer and are experiencing one or more signs of menopause, especially after treatment, you have options to support your body as it changes and adapts to low/no estrogen.

  1. Be your own advocate. Countless women have told stories about being dismissed as they deal with this VERY real female health issue. Yet study after study proves how common, challenging, and REAL dealing with low estrogen is for women. Feel empowered to keep asking for information, tests, and conversations that will improve your quality of life.
  2. Questions to ask your doctor. Be direct with your doctor (and don’t be afraid to get a new one, if yours won’t help you). ASK: What are the options for my symptoms? What has worked for other patients with these symptoms? What can I expect to realistically improve, and what should my priority be? How long will it take to see improvement?
  3. Tests that provide insights. Decide which tests give you more information so you can take action. Possible tests include: hormone testing, bone density (DEXA), cardiac CT/ IMT, a nutritional evaluation (Metabolomix from Genova Diagnostics), as well as monitoring blood sugar and inflammation. ASK: Can I use bioidentical estrogen for vaginal dryness and urinary symptoms (is cream applied to the vulva safer than systemic pills, for me?)? Can I have a DEXA to know my bone density (crucial for post- menopausal women and those on aromatase inhibitors)? Can you order complete cholesterol labs (ApoB, Lpa, sdLDL, hsCRP and HbA1c) to better assess my cardiovascular/metabolic health?

What Can I Do?
Each of us weathers the storm of body changes differently. Decide what your priorities are (dryness? cognitive focus? coping with sweating?). Be gentle with yourself while you proactively address symptoms with lifestyle options:

  • Move your body. Yes: exercise! Even when you’re so fatigued, getting those steps in makes a difference, but a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout has clinically proven benefits. Maintaining lean muscle mass (vs. fat) has significant long-term health benefits. Also focus on exercises that maintain and/or improve your flexibility and balance.
  • Get quality sleep! That might mean sleeping alone, or using a cooling pillow.
  • Keep cool. Wear layers of clothing (for hot flashes!), carry a hand-held or portable fan. Carry ice water (insulated water bottles can be helpful!)
  • Eat well. Be intentional about your diet, and give your body the healthy food it needs to give you energy. Limit simple carbohydrates and sugar. Reduce food triggers for hot flashes (caffeine, chocolate, spicy, red wine).
  • Hydrate. Skin and vaginal dryness options include: estradiol products (Estring/ Vagiferm/Yuvifem), estriol (or vitamin E/hyaluronic acid) suppositories, Snow Lotus Triple Goddess Rose Oil, OTC hydrating gels, coconut oil and shea butter.
  • Reduce stress. Consider mindfulness practices, music, nature, friendships, pets. Make a list of what calms you, and fit self-care into your day.
  • Track your experience. Apps like Evernow, Balance, Midday, Caria, and Perry, help  you monitor the frequency and severity of your symptoms over time.
  • Non-hormonal supplements. A handful of natural compounds have shown to reduce symptoms, especially for women who cannot use hormone replacements. Naturopathic doctors look for products with: Ashwaganda, Black Cohosh, Gamma Oryzanol, Hesperidin, Vitamin B12 and D.
  • Speak up. Talk to your female friends about their symptoms and what has helped them. Talk to your treatment team about adverse symptoms affecting your daily life. Have direct conversations with your intimate partner about how your body is changing, and what you need to enjoy sexual pleasure. Buy the products (toys, suppositories/oils) that can help you achieve satisfaction. The folks at Babeland in Seattle do a great, sensitive job of helping women find the right things for them: www.babeland.com. Or grab a girlfriend, and go on a field trip!

Please Know You Are Not Alone
Menopause side effects happen to all females, and while you may not feel like you have the energy to address how your body is changing, there are options to manage and improve your quality of life.

As a naturopathic physician specializing in the treatment of women with breast cancer I can help you with integrative solutions to alleviate your symptoms and help you feel confident about your well-being after breast cancer.

Please contact Dr. Laura James ND, FABNO, if you live in the Bellingham, Washington area and would like to learn more about a naturopathic approach to your wellness: call 360-738-3230 or CLICK HERE to schedule a consultation.

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