Dr. Stephen Petteruti explains how understanding menopause can help prevent couples from simply toddling off into old age but instead, embracing it.
Any man who makes the bold attempt to spend the arc of his life with a woman would be wise to understand menopause — event is second only to childbirth in its impact on a woman’s body, mind, spirit and sexual energy. As a loving spouse or boyfriend, for that matter as a caring brother or son, time spent understanding this phase of a woman’s life is an investment in the substance of the relationship itself.
Traditionally, menopause is defined as a reduction in estrogen and progesterone leading to the cessation of menstrual bleeding for one year. In actuality, the time when menstrual flow ceases is a late event in the cycle of menopause that maybhave started 10 or even 15 years earlier.
While menopause effects each woman a bit differently, there are some frequent patterns that are certainly worth knowing. Hopefully, knowledge will lead to empathy and a greater capacity to support and guide a woman through her menopausal phase of life.
Menopause can start as early as the mid-30s in some women. The first hormone to fade is progesterone. As progesterone drops, a woman will be more prone to experiencing difficulty falling asleep, increased levels of anxiety and stress symptoms, increased tendency towards painful cramping and heavy menstrual cycles. Moodiness can increase. There are also multiple progesterone receptors in the brain, heart and bone. Decrease in progesterone can affect all these organs in an adverse way.
At this point, some women will seek medical consultation. Unless a physician is well trained in antiaging and hormonal medicine, the symptoms can be labeled as depression and anxiety and treated with antidepressant drugs. While blunting the symptoms of irritability, this approach can lead to weight gain and diminished sexual interest.
The next hormone to fade is typically estrogen and with it testosterone. Estrogen is critical not only to prepare the uterus for pregnancy, but it also supports the tissue of the urethra, the lining of the vagina, the heart and the brain. Loss of estrogen damages all these organs.
As estrogen fades, menstrual cycles become irregular, hot flashes may develop, and vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy will inevitably occur. Loss of mental sharpness can also ensue with evidence that untreated menopause can increase the risk of dementia as well as heart disease.
The drop of testosterone can lead to further drop in sex drive, amplification of mental sluggishness, loss of critical muscle mass particularly in the arms legs and shoulders. There is a change in the body structure leading to thickening of the waist, flattening of the buttocks, flabbiness of the arms and legs.
Someone would resign themselves to the inevitability of the aging process and adapt in elderly mind set. This approach is not unreasonable as long as it is synchronous within the relationship — that is, as long as you and your woman are of the same mindset. Toddling off into old age while you mutually support each other’s infirmities has a certain nostalgic charm to it.
While waiting about for the hormonal decline to achieve its stable condition is an option, it is one that is medically antiquated and can expose women to an increased risk of disability and premature death — none of which a loving man would want to see happen.
One thing to do is lead by example. Pursue a healthier, leaner pattern of eating. Encourage your woman to join you in athletic and intellectually stimulating activities. Actively plan for physical intimacy on a regular basis. These types of lifestyle choices represent the foundation pieces of extending youthful living. In addition to all of the lifestyle enhancements, it is my strong advice to seek out a physician who is an expert in anti-aging and bio-identical medicine and embrace a treatment plan together.
At one point, widespread treatment of menopause with Premarin and Provera (synthetic hormones) was encouraged. Results from the women’s health initiative demonstrated a slight increase in breast cancer risk. This has unfairly stigmatized all forms of hormonal treatment. It turns out the increased cancer risk was caused by the artificial type of hormone used, and the oral route of administration. New studies on bio-identical hormones have demonstrated decreased risk of breast cancer. Unlike artificial (synthetic) hormones, bio-identical, as the name implies are structurally identical to the hormones that your body makes. In addition, these types of estrogens are used as topical creams thereby avoiding oral administration and the subsequent metabolism in the liver that is responsible for many of the adverse effects of the old-style artificial hormones.
Bio-identical progesterones have also been demonstrated to be exceedingly safe. Progesterone, unlike estrogen, can be administered orally. When given as a capsule it tends to have a great benefit to enhance the sleep cycle and diminishes stress and anxiety symptoms.
Testosterone either mixed into the estrogen cream or given separately as an injection, can provide great benefit with preservation of lean body mass, brain preservation, in libido enhancement. Properly balanced, testosterone provides all of these benefits without any androgenizing effects.
There is a critical time in which to introduce these hormones and that occurs right at or about the menopause. The hormones can’t be introduced sequentially as their need becomes apparent.
When introduced at the correct time, there is growing evidence that it can diminish the development of dementia, preserve youthful body shape, maintain robust skeletal density, and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease over the span of life.
So how do you approach this sensitive topic with the woman you love?
Simply use your knowledge in the topic and your concern for your loved one to propel you to lead or at least engage in a partnership to address menopause together. Just because you’re a man does not mean that you need to take a step backward and operate with a hands off approach leaving your woman to navigate this trail alone.
Most women will be glad to have your support and input. Share this article with her, seek more information out as you both educate yourself on how to hold on to your highest quality-of-life as a couple.
Finally, be prepared to invest some money into this process. The finest and most advanced care available in the antiaging field is usually not fully covered by your health insurance. Don’t be limited by what they dictate to you. Seek out your best care, take your time educating yourself and comparing providers different approaches.
Toddling off into old age the old-fashioned way is more frequently a short trip to an unhappy ending than it is a long saunter through a leisurely autumn of life. It’s time to apply the full force of modern knowledge to menopause and it’s life corroding impact.
photo: thecomicproject / flickr