It happens when you least expect it.  One day you are sitting in the living room, minding your own business, and you feel it.  The heat starts at your feet and rises in your entire body until you feel like the top of your head is going to blow clean off.  The sweat pops out on your forehead and you cannot possibly take off enough layers of clothes to cool off.  It might be forty degrees outside, but you don’t care.  You don your most loosely fitting shorts and a tee shirt and go outside to get fresh air and it hits you. If you ever laughed at your mother or grandmother or anyone else about fanning her red, sweaty face in public, it’s payback time.  Come to think of it, things have been strange inside your body lately, but you reason that it couldn’t possibly be due to the onset of this.  This was supposed to happen when you got older someday. Someday is here.

What is actually happening is a vasomotor response to lowering estrogen levels.  The nerves which regulate the dilation and constriction of all of the blood vessels in your body are responding to a change in your levels of estrogen.  The vessels dilate seemingly at whim, making it impossible to regulate your body temperature.  Hot flashes, or power surges as one dear friend of mine calls them, are the most common nuisances that result from menopause.  There are several aggravating symptoms which indicate the time change in your life.  If you have been or are there, you know what they are.  If you are approaching menopause, find a good book on the subject or go online and search for information about it.  Be informed and decisions about what to do to ease the discomfort will be much easier for you to make.  The most excellent news about menopausal symptoms is that they are transient and they are correctible.

Many women feel as if life is over for them when menopause comes.  This is far from true.  It signals the end of fertility, but not the end of productivity or fun or a very full and fulfilling life.  Menopausal symptoms can begin as early as the mid-thirties and continue until the mid-to-late fifties for most women.  Since childbearing is over by the mid-to-late fifties, estrogen is not necessary in such high quantities as it was during childbearing years.  It is a natural progression of life for estrogen production to decrease as we age.  Yes, it is uncomfortable to become accustomed to a decrease in anything we feel is serving us well.  But truly our bodies have other ways to get the estrogen we need to keep us going.  Our adrenal glands, fatty tissue, and pineal glands take over and keep estrogen present in our bodies when our ovaries stop producing it in high quantities.  The main problem with menopause is that at the peak of it our bones refuse to absorb calcium.  The risk of osteoporosis is greater during this time if we are predisposed to it or if we are unprepared for these years of decreased calcium absorption.  If a lifestyle of regular weight-bearing exercise and a diet that is not Twinkie-based are adhered to, preparation for the time of decreased calcium absorption should not be a problem.

Until last summer, many women were taking estrogen regularly to replace that which their ovaries no longer produce.  A landmark study called The Women’s Health Initiative was being done to study among other things the effect of estrogen replacement on women’s heart health and breast cancer risk.  The study was canceled last year because the FDA analyzed the study and found that the health risks of hormone replacement therapy far outweighed the benefits of it.  As a result of this major move by the FDA, warning labels are being ordered to be placed on hormone replacement products.  An increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, invasive breast cancer, and blood clots in the lungs or legs was found in the hormone replacement therapy (HRT) users involved in the Women’s Health Initiative study.  If you are currently using HRT, talk to your doctor and find out why.  It has been stated by respected members of the staff at George Washington University and Columbia University that HRT should be used in as small a dose as possible for as short a time as possible.

The symptoms of menopause are not going to plague you forever, and there are things you can do to ease the discomfort caused by them.  Early lifestyle modifications can be immensely helpful.  There are workable alternatives to estrogen, and my next column will outline some of the best ones.  Until then, turn the thermostat down, avoid high amounts of sugar in your diet, drink at least 64 ounces of clean water every day, and treat your body well.