Menopause: Myth and Misconceptions (By Nellie Grose, M.D., M.P.H.)

It’s known as “the change,” and culturally, it’s perceived as negative. However, when met with self-awareness and wisdom, menopause, which marks the end of a woman’s reproductive life, can actually become her transition into a productive life. Unfortunately, myth and misconception surround menopause. As a holistic family physician specializing in women’s health, I have seen many women needlessly suffer through menopause because of their misconceptions.

Myth: Menopause is a disease of estrogen deficiency.
Menopause is not a disease. It is a natural transition similar to the transition of adolescence. Unfortunately, we have “medicalized” women’s health so much that many women and doctors think of it as a disease. Menopause is different for each woman. It calls for a woman to carefully listen to and respond to her body’s changes as the hormone imbalance becomes more and more evident.

Myth: You are over-the-hill once you reach menopause.
For many women, the menopause years are the most exciting time in their lives. When you keep your body strong and healthy, your mind creative, and your spirit uplifted, life can be fulfilling. If you accept declining health as normal for this transition, then you are missing out on the possibilities this period of life brings you. Your beliefs create your reality, so believe in radiant health and work toward achieving it.

Myth: Hot flashes are caused by estrogen deficiency.
Almost everyone equates a hot flash with menopause. The reality, however, is that getting a hot flash just means your hormones are rapidly fluctuating. That fluctuation results in the symptom of a flash. Your estrogen level can be high or low; in fact, some women in the perimenopause stage can actually have a higher estrogen level relative to progesterone.

Myth: Testosterone is the answer to declining sexual desire.
Many women experience declining sexual desire as they transition into menopause. Often, if you have exhausted your life energy being superwoman wife, lover, mother, worker, community leader, etc., you may be so depleted that you have nothing left for sex. The hormone imbalance in menopause definitely leads to a decline in libido. The vaginal dryness does not help. Your testosterone level, though, does not automatically correspond to your sex drive. It is not just the testosterone; one has to bring about balance of all hormones during menopause. There are women who report empowered sexual drive and an increased awareness of their sexuality during menopause, perhaps because of the lifting of worries about pregnancy and new-found liberation.

Myth: A foggy brain is part of aging in menopause.
Hormones do not only work with the uterus and the ovaries to give you menstrual cycles. Hormones affect many parts of your body, and one important organ is your brain. Without the hormone balance, your brain does not work optimally. You may have memory lapses and less focus and concentration. You are not “aging” or developing dementia; your brain is simply telling you that it is not functioning at its best because your hormones are out of balance.

Myth: Estrogen is the only answer to relieving menopausal symptoms.
As the symptoms of menopause result from hormone imbalance and not from estrogen deficiency alone, the task is to rebalance the hormones. These include estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. I use natural bio-identical hormones, not the synthetic Permarin or Prempro. Bio-identical hormones are exact replica of the ones your body makes. They are individually tailored to your body’s needs so that your hormones are better balanced for your body’s optimal function. Besides hormones, the basic foundations of good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle, and emotional well-being must complement the treatment. Herbs, homeopathy, acupuncture, and other bio-energetic modalities can be helpful in situations where a woman chooses not to take hormones or cannot take hormones because of breast cancer.

Myth: Estrogen causes breast cancer.
This fear came about with the release in July 2002 of The Women’s Health Initiative Study. It reported that there was a 26% increase in breast cancer in women who took Prempro for 5.2 years or more. Prempro is a synthetic hormone, combining Premain and Provera. The results of this study cannot be applied to other hormones or bio-identical hormones. Common sense dictates that you do not take Prempro. Before you take any kind of hormones, you should with your physician carefully assess your risk for breast cancer and make a wise decision about taking hormones. If you had a choice between taking synthetic hormones and natural bio-identical hormones, which one would you choose? The quality of your life may be the deciding factor.

In Summary
We are living in exciting times when information is so readily and easily accessible. Yet, information alone without knowledge and wisdom leaves us befuddled. Do not let preconceived notions, misconceptions, and fears misguide you. Menopause can be challenging, but you can have a productive and vibrant life. Find a doctor who will partner with you in your decisions about your health.

This article was originally published in Natural Awakening in May 2005.

Nellie Grose, M.D., M.P.H., is the medical director of The Center for Health and Healing, located at 230 Westcott #208, in Houston. For more information or to make an appointment, call 713-660-6620.