Posted: 10 Jul 2014 08:02 AM PDT
Menopause is a major change in a woman’s life. It's marked by a cessation of menstrual cycles and a rise of physical symptoms — hot flashes, decreased energy, and depressed mood, just to name a few.  Modern medicine has medicalized this natural experience, turning it into a diagnosable disease that can be remedied with pharmaceuticals and hormone therapies. But here is the stark truth: menopause is not a disease. Despite initial discomforts, which are often temporary and manageable, this natural transition can be a liberating experience.
Though we usually think of menopause as physical, the reality is that this phase of life originates primarily in the brain. The hypothalamus is the master gland that controls the endocrine system, and this gland acts as a hormone messenger system that keeps hormones in balance.  This gland decides when the body is ready to end its childbearing years and initiate menopause.
During this time, the ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone. This change can cause discomfort, as the body is working to find a new hormone balance. Hormonal changes may start happening years before menopause actually takes place. This period of hormonal upset is called "perimenopause" and can last for many years for some women. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is currently used for menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms, despite a number of studies that suggest it increases breast cancer risk. 
Symptoms of Menopause
Every woman approaches and experiences menopause in a different way. Some women may be able to sail through the change without much discomfort, some experience all the common complaints. While it’s virtually impossible to list every menopause symptom, here are a few of the common ones.
1. Weight Gain
2. Hot Flashes
Most people associate menopause with hot flashes. These feverish sensations of heat, usually rising in the chest, are the most typical symptoms for many women. Hot flashes can hinder sleep, especially if it’s accompanied with severe perspiration.
3. Irregular Periods
Menstrual irregularity can be an annoying problem leading up to menopause, with timing and flow varying greatly during the change. Usually, menstrual periods lighten gradually until they’re completely gone.
4. Sexual Changes
One of the most difficult issues some women face during menopause is a loss of libido. Vaginal mucous membranes often become drier and thinner post menopause, causing itching or painful intercourse.  On the opposite end, some women actually experience an improvement in pleasure during sex.
As difficult as these symptoms are, it’s important to realize that they are not necessarily inevitable or eternal. Most women find that many of these symptoms subside with time, especially if they are using natural health methods to support their wellbeing during the transition.
Natural Solutions for Menopause
While there is no “cure” for menopause (not that it should be viewed as something that should be cured), there are some natural ways of supporting one’s health during this stage of life. The most important thing to remember is that most menopausal women experience adverse symptoms on a strictly temporary basis.
HRT still remains one of the most widely-used, not to mention the most controversial, management techniques for menopause. Hormone therapy has been linked with heart disease.  Instead of pumping in hormones and hoping that the body will adapt, it may be best to let nature take its own course. The body is smart, and when it senses an imbalance it often tries to promote homeostasis.
Homeopathy can be extremely helpful during menopause and many women have positive reports.  Nutrition is often used to maximize the benefits of homeopathy. Omega-3 fatty acids are abundant in fish, nuts, and seeds and have been shown to support mood and ease hot flashes.   Traditional Chinese medicine, like acupuncture and herbal therapy, may also alleviate the severity of hot flashes. 
One Final Thought
Menopause is just what it means–a momentary pause, a time to take stock and regroup. Although it can be a trying time, it can also signal a new chapter in life. Women who are transitioning into this new phase may experience a grander emotional freedom than they have ever experienced. By taking care of yourself now through the appropriate natural strategies above, you can support your integrity and grace as you move forward on this new journey.
How do/did you deal with your menopausal symptoms? What insights did you acquire on your journey through this transition? Let us know in the comments!
-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
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