Remedying Menopause Maladies
Berkeley, California, Jun. 9 (WFS) -- It took a personal crisis to set 20-year-old Annya White on an early path to a healthy menopause. White, a hairdresser in Sausalito, California, gravitated toward colas, cigarettes and the couch until she was struck with intense pelvic pain and uterine bleeding at age 19. A doctor wanted to operate, but a friend took her to an acupuncturist who ordered her to "eat right." She did, and her symptoms cleared up, she says. "When you feel like that, and then you feel healthy, it's such a relief. All you want to do is be healthy. I hope I will always be like that." White says she learned that protecting her reproductive health will have benefits now and later and that the time to prepare for a healthy menopause is when you are young. That was also one of the messages that emerged from a recent conference called "Women, Nutrition and Menopause" sponsored by the United Nations Association in Berkeley, California. Physicians attending the conference stressed that women should start early to make the mid-life passage easy. "We need to talk about prevention at age 20," maintains Dr. Sonia Ghaemi, a leading authority on nutrition. "If you have a hard PMS, (premenstrual syndrome) you will have a hard menopause." She advocates adopting a healthy lifestyle and eating fresh foods to avoid the premature onset of menopause and alleviate its symptoms when it arrives. Menopause, which is marked by the cessation of a woman's menstrual period, typically occurs between ages 40 and 60. The average age for US women is 51. As the huge segment of Americans born after World War II approaches mid-life, Ghaemi estimates 73 percent of American women will experience menopause by 2010. Dramatic changes in estrogen and progesterone hormone levels that occur during menopause can cause chronic and serious problems ranging from dry skin, weight gain and fatigue to heart disease and osteoporosis -- the thinning of bones that can lead to debilitating fractures. Experts gathered at the conference blamed dietary, cultural and environmental causes for many menopause maladies. Armed with this information, they say, women can begin at an early age to take control of their own health. Dr. Judith Reichman, a Los Angeles gynecologist, makes numerous public appearances to inform women about menopause and health care concerns. "Information," she maintains, "can help women make choices that will affect the rest of their lives." Ovarian follicles, which help produce the hormone progesterone, start diminishing even before girls begin menstruating. Although a decreasing supply of both estrogen and progesterone -- sister hormones required for menstruation and conception -- is a natural part of aging, factors ranging from poor nutrition to exposure to environmental pollutants can accelerate that process. Women's monthly menstrual cycles are triggered by hormonal signals sent out by the pituitary gland which in turn stimulate the ovaries and follicles, releasing eggs for fertilization. In this ongoing process, the hormone estrogen is high in the first half of the menstrual cycle and progesterone is released after mid-cycle. Too much or too little of one or the other can create an imbalance that can lead to complications. "Progesterone deficiency among pre-menopausal women, often starting in one's thirties, is epidemic in industrialized populations and is largely unrecognized by mainstream medicine in the United States," according to Dr. John Lee, formerly a family practitioner and now a researcher in nutrition and environmental health. Progesterone deficiency, he says, can lead to embryo defects and contribute to a higher incidence of breast cancer. According to Lee and other experts, women at any age can find healthy ways to prevent these problems and promote well-being prior to and after menopause. "By eating the right foods and adopting a different, positive mental attitude towards menopause, it is possible to remain in good health and spirits," says Ghaemi. World Health Organization data indicate that the incidence of menopausal symptoms is low in Japan and in Mediterranean cultures. People in both places have low-fat, high-fiber diets. Therefore, she advocates eating foods such as soy, tofu, garlic, miso, seaweed and kelp -- from a typical Japanese diet - and the beans, almonds, feta cheese, yogurt, fresh vegetables, herbs and figs found in Mediterranean fare. In these cultures, meat is a condiment, not a main dish like it is in many Western countries. Ghaemi calls for maintenance of a healthy weight and stress management, including deep breathing and meditation. In addition, Lee advocates physical work and exercise. Because American women seldom talk openly about menopause, most daughters are deprived of a chance to benefit from their mothers' experiences, Ghaemi says. "A high percentage of women fail even to remember their mothers going through menopause," she maintains, adding that now more women are discussing this life change. Ghaemi's own 29-year-old daughter, Kotousha Ghaemi, recalls "a strange phase of life" in both her mother and her mother-in-law. "Things were not normal for them," she says. She said her mother "refused to let anyone touch her. She was not herself." Her mother-in-law "did strange things, such as crying at strange times." "I see women [who are] not into taking care of themselves," says Kotousha. "We neglect our health. Once we have children, we neglect ourselves even more. Your life becomes what you do for others." As a result of her mother's influence, Kotousha has vowed to avoid bad habits. But she acknowledges bouts of eating junk food that worsen her menstrual cramps. "When I'm not feeling good, mom brings tofu, soy milk and yams and these lessen my cramps," she says.