The human body changes over time, both externally and internally. Hormones are one of the body’s great regulators and both men and women experience hormonal fluctuations throughout their lives.
For women, the transition through perimenopause to menopause is a time of major hormonal fluctuation. The phases are often confused with each other, but true menopause is when a woman has not menstruated for a full year. Perimenopause is the phase leading to menopause and lasts an average of four years, although it can range from a few months to 10 years. A woman’s body typically begins to start the perimenopause process at age 35.
Perimenopause usually begins between the age of 35 and 50 when the ovaries begin to produce less estrogen. The imbalance of estrogen and progesterone often results in missed periods as well as side effects like hot flashes (the most common side effect of perimenopause), fatigue or low energy, difficulty sleeping, decreased libido and what some women call “PMS plus” —instances when pre-menstrual side effects worsen.
Like many transitions, perimenopause can be physically and emotionally challenging. There is no quick fix for troublesome side effects but many women find relief in lifestyle changes that improve overall health, including:
- Adding moderate exercise to your daily schedule
- Improving nutrition
- Avoiding smoking and alcohol
- Reducing stress
- Increasing water intake
- Practicing good sleep hygiene
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and bioidentical hormone therapy (BHT) provide side effect relief for some women. These therapies help balance hormone levels that vary throughout perimenopause. However, using hormones to control symptoms are NOT mandatory. The first question to ask is, “how much do my symptoms affect my daily life?” And if the answer is not at all, then no hormones are needed at that time. The fluctuations of the hormones are like the waves of the oceans. Symptoms are variable depending on lifestyle habits, stress during that particular period in your life, weight loss or weight gain, climate and weather changes and Mother Nature.
Even though menopause is the official ending of your menstrual periods, the hormone fluctuations that created side effects during perimenopause are still occurring, meaning that some perimenopause symptoms may remain (or return) and new side effects could appear during menopause.
Once women reach menopause they are at greater risk for developing osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones. The post-menopausal drop in estrogen is directly related to loss of bone mass. Because there are no symptoms of bone loss, it’s often only after a bone-related injury that the presence of osteoporosis is discovered. Bone mineral density tests (BMD) are x-rays that measure bone density. Screening should begin if you have any of the following risk factors or at the cessation of the menstrual cycle. The following puts you at a higher risk of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis:
- Advanced age
- Your race – Caucasians and Asians have a higher prevalence of osteoporosis
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Body frame – people with petite frames can have a higher risk because they often have less bone mass to begin with.
Likewise, your doctor can offer osteoporosis treatment and prevention suggestions which may include:
- Eating foods high in calcium
- Calcium and vitamin D supplements
- Bone density medications
- Estrogen therapy
- Exercise, especially weight bearing exercise
- Medically Supervised Weight Management
- Avoiding smoking and alcohol
Health Care Options for Perimenopause and Menopause
Perhaps one of the most important things to know about perimenopause and menopause is that you aren’t alone. Approximately three million women transition to menopause every year and there are abundant health care options for both phases. Each woman will enter this phase in her life. During these transition years, remember that these symptoms are not forever. Your doctor can help get you through the storm, by teaching you to dance in the rain.
Certainly the scope of this topic is much more in depth and much more individualized than can be covered here. Knowing that the greatest years of your life don’t have to be the darkest days, lends hope for every woman to reclaim her body.
Dr. Raman’s Concierge Medical Practice is focused on caring for each person as a whole, not just a list of symptoms. Our office is committed to helping our patients stay well and maintain good health rather than treating patients only after they become ill.
Two years ago if you would have told me yoga was one of the best kept secrets around, I would have laughed at that notion. Fast forward two years later, and I am here to tell you yoga is in fact ONE of the greatest hidden treasures of our time. Not only has it taken my fitness to an all-time high, it has taken my mental calm to an existence of peace.
During my research while writing this article, I came across an eye opening and awe inspiring story of Dr. Dilip Sarkar, a healthy 51 year old Vascular Surgeon from Virgina. In 2001, Dr. Sarkar found himself undergoing emergency cardiac bypass surgery. After recovering from this near-fatal event, Dr. Sarkar turned to Ayurvedic medicine and yoga therapy as a way to improve his health. Retired from his private medical practice, Dr. Sarkar is now a yoga teacher and clinical researcher focusing on yoga’s many life-saving benefits.
“What I’ve found through studying yoga therapy is that people who have a daily practice have effortlessly and automatically changed their lifestyle. They eat better, sleep better, their lifestyle is more regulated,” says Dr. Sarkar, who also serves as chairman of the School of Integrative Medicine at Taksha University in Hampton, Virginia.
I know it is very overwhelming to know where to even begin understanding all the various yoga forms. Figuring out which form of yoga you jive with comes from experiencing the various types. But the health benefits and mental reprieve of any of the asanas is unmistakable. This article will help answer some of those questions and explain the incredible health benefits of establishing a regular yoga practice.
Benefits of Yoga:
Improves cardiovascular health. “Hypertension is due to a constriction of blood vessels, and heart disease is due to blockage in the coronary arteries. When relaxation sets in, yoga therapy relaxes blood vessels and reduces blood pressure while increasing the blood flow to the heart muscle.” A study published in the journal Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome showed researchers followed 182 middle-aged Chinese adults who suffered from metabolic syndrome who practiced yoga for a year. The conclusion was lower blood pressure and increased weight loss.
Improves muscular pain. Postures are the backbone of yoga. “Herniated discs and spinal stenosis don’t cause pain. They cause an irritation of a nerve which cause a contraction of the muscle. The muscle tightness or spasm then causes the pain. In yoga therapy, when you hold a pose, your muscles contract and then slowly relax as you breath in and out. When relaxation sets in, back pain starts to go away,” says Dr. Sarkar.
Improves cognitive function. “Focused breath equals maximizing oxygenation and movement increases blood flow to brain and body,” says registered nurse Graham McDougall Jr., Ph.D., the lead researcher of the report published in the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing. Participants of the study saw significant gains memory performance and fewer depressive symptoms.
Regulates blood sugar. “The practice of yoga increases your digestive fire called agni,” Sarkar says. “So the yogic way of looking at diabetes is that the body cannot digest sugar, which is why blood-sugar levels are high. If you can improve your digestion, you can improve your blood sugar, which is great for both diabetes prevention and control,” he says. A new study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research showed 30 males with Type 2 diabetes who practiced yoga for six months saw a significant decrease in their blood glucose levels.
Controls stress and anxiety. There is nothing like visiting a yoga studio filled with low dim lighting, fragrant aroma of lavender and mood music to calm even the most stressed out nerves. A report presented at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) Conference 2015 linked yoga to lowering levels of cortisol, especially in women at risk for mental health problems. In the study of 52 women, ages 25 to 45, who had mildly elevated anxiety, moderate depression or high stress, those who performed Bikram twice a week felt better, looked better and had better control over their anxiety.
Decreases depression. In the Indian Journal of Palliative Care, breast cancer patients who practiced 60 minutes of yoga daily over a 24-week period, which included surgery and radiotherapy or chemotherapy reported a significant improvement in depressive symptoms compared to the non-yoga group.
Decreases risk of cancer. “If cancer runs in your family, you may want to pick up a regular yoga practice, which has shown to prevent the genetic mutation from expressing,” states Dr. Sarkar. A study published last January in Journal of Clinical Oncology found that performing yoga twice a week for as little as three months could lower inflammation, boost energy, and lift the mood of female cancer patients.
Improves self-esteem. In a study from Brazil published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, university students reported improvement in self-control, self-perception, well-being, body awareness, balance, mind-body and reflexivity. “The word yoga itself means union. It unites your mind, body and spirit. During yoga practice, we inhale positive emotions and exhale negative emotions,” explains Sarkar.
Promotes a healthy and long life. A study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine analyzed the effects that 90 days of yoga had on an obese 31-year-old man. The results showed dramatic reduction in oxidative stress hormones and inflammation, which goes a long way in preventing life -long diseases.
Helps control hormones. Who wouldn’t feel relaxed in Savasana? Conscious breathing helps regulate cortisol balance which helps maintain estrogen-progesterone-thyroid homeostasis.
The benefits continue to span miles long. I will be the first to admit that it took me a couple of months complaining and whining through class to realize what I had been missing all of these years.
Go outside of your comfort zone! Experience the wonder of conscious breathing. Experience the steadiness of mind-body alignment. Above all, experience the truly miraculous gifts yoga can bring into your life!
Dr. Raman’s Concierge Medical Practice is focused on holistic care and good health maintenance. For more information on healthy eating habits and achieving and maintaining OPTIMAL health, CONTACT our office today to schedule your appointment. You can also learn more by following Dr. Raman on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.