By Dr. Maria Maricich
Menopause, and the five or 10 years leading up to it (known as peri-menopause), should be easy. But for many women, just slight imbalances in body systems can turn this natural event into challenging times, and, for some, a living hell.
Menopause and peri-menopause are Neuro (Brain)-Endocrine (Hormones)-Immune (Immune System) processes. While it may sound complex, I am going to spell it out in simple language, so read on to learn how to put an end to Menopause Madness.
Adrenal Gland Depletion
It all starts with stress depleting our adrenal glands. By “stress,” I mean all the pressures and strains (mental, social, chemical, relationship, financial, etc.) that accumulate over a lifetime. If stresses have been numerous or the body has not recovered from each one, it can leave your adrenal glands depleted. Common symptoms include salt and sugar cravings, afternoon fatigue, caffeine dependency, poor sleep, and a weak immune system. If these symptoms are present before menopause, they likely will get worse as the female hormones begin to dwindle.
Happy adrenals mean happy hormones, because as female hormones start to fluctuate with approaching menopause, the adrenals produce estrogen to keep us in balance. Therefore, menopause puts more demand on our adrenals. When they are already fatigued, they can’t handle it–and problems become apparent.
Downsides of Estrogen Drop
Declining estrogen, in the absence of adrenal compensation, has profound effects on the brain, immune system, and other hormones. It can even lead to new or worsening gut problems, pain, irritability, and can be a setup for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. We all know weight gain and osteoporosis are associated with menopause.
How can estrogen, one little biochemical, upset the apple cart so much? The drop in estrogen stimulates the release of chemical messengers that cause inflammation in the brain. It’s like the brain is swollen. It doesn’t necessarily hurt, but the inflammation makes it hard to think clearly or remember things. It causes the fight or flight and emotional centers in the brain to become overactive, leaving a woman with a short fuse and unable to handle things as well as she used to. Adding fuel to the flame, inflammation depletes neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, leading to fatigue, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
Those very same chemical messengers, called cytokines, trigger an increase in fat cells, more stress on the system and blood sugar imbalances, all leading to weight gain and other health concerns.
What About Hormone Replacement?
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is often the go-to treatment for menopause. It is sometimes thought of as the fountain of youth. However, many doctors believe HRT is dangerous and fraught with risk. I have seen it help some women some of the time, but rarely does it address all the problems.
In the Functional Medicine arena, we always seek to restore function rather than only treat symptoms. In the case of peri-menopause and menopause, it is often necessary to look at the immune system as well as the brain and the hormones. Selective lab tests, depending on one’s particular set of symptoms, are useful in making the right assessment. Diet, lifestyle and/or supplements used appropriately and scientifically to address the primary problems can make life better today while assuring a healthier future.
About the Author
Dr. Maria Maricich is a functional medicine doctor and a doctor of chiropractic. In her 27 years of practice in Ketchum, Dr. Maria’s passion has been to offer the most up-to-date approaches to optimal health and well-being. Functional Medicine and Functional Neurology are new emerging fields of medicine. Their objective is to find dysfunction rather than disease. Treating the dysfunction by natural means allows the body to heal itself whether disease is present, or a person just knows they aren’t their best. It is also one of the best anti-aging measures available. Dr. Maria can be reached at 208.726.6010. www.DrMariaMaricich.com