According to Christiane Northrup, estrogen levels actually increase, or remain stable during peri-menopause. Until then, the main estrogen, estuarial, stays the same but the body also produces more estrone, which is produced in fat cells and the ovaries. (There are three types of estrogen in the body: estradial, estrone, and estriol. (Northrup, 2003)).
Testosterone levels are variable during this time, but sometimes post-menopausal women secrete more; whereas, progesterone levels begin a noticeable descent.
Western medicine usually turns to the following arsenal of synthetic drugs as a method of replacing hormones and dealing with symptoms:
- Permarin, (a conjugated equine estrogen, i.e. horse pee!) for estrogen
- Provera for progesterone
- Methyltestosterone for testosterone.
Drug manufacturers will combine any of the above in an attempt to address multiple symptom relief, or to come up with a proprietary blend. The problem with synthetic drugs? Our bodies often do not recognize them. Therefore the synthetic medications may cause heart attacks, breast cancer, and strokes. (Somers, 2004).
By contrast, bioidentical hormones â€œare created to have the exact same molecular structure as hormones made in the human bodyâ€ according to the Womenâ€™s International Pharmacy. â€œSince the body can utilize the bioidentical hormones, it creates the same physiologic response as those produced in the body.â€
A page taken from the Alternative Medicine Review states, â€œThe studies reviewed suggest bioidentical progesterone does not have a negative effect on blood lipids or vasculature as do many synthetic progestins, and may carry less risk with respect to breast cancer incidence. Studies of both bioidentical estrogens and progesterone suggest a reduced risk of blood clots compared to non-bioidentical preparations.â€ (Moskowitz, 2006).
In my own life, I have been on bioidentical progesterone and testosterone for over 2 years and feel great. I have my hormone levels checked when I go in for my yearly pap-smear. My last test indicated falling estrogen levels, so I know I am creeping ever closer to menopause. The use of progesterone helps me feel balanced, and I have noticed a marked reduction in water retention. The testosterone has definitely spiced up my sex drive! I didnâ€™t even realize how much my normal interest had slipped until I started replacing the testosterone.
The subject of hormone replacement will continue to be debated, and rightly so. I feel women should learn as much as they can about the options available so that they can make informed decisions based on individual circumstances and symptoms. My practitioner, Melissa, was very upfront in telling me it would take a bit of experimenting to get the dosage that met my particular needs.
Should a woman come to me concerned with the changes she is experiencing as she ages, I would definitely suggest she discuss bioidentical hormone replacement as one alternative in combating symptoms. Other choices could include an evaluation of diet and exercise, acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Essential Oil Therapies, and supplements. Many other alternative and integrative options exist, and it is my intention to explore those and share them with my readers.
It’s wonderful to live in an age where womenâ€™s health is no longer poo-pooâ€™d as being â€œall in their headâ€. Having choices, being informed, and taking control will give women a better quality of life as they approach the wonders of menopause, and beyond.
(One way to deal with hot flashes…live in Minnesota!)
Some years have passed since I wrote the “Menopause and Me” piece. Would I change my recommendations? No, I don’t believe I would. For the past two years I’ve been on Progesterone and Estrogen without the addition of Testosterone. Why? As my hormone levels changed my doctor felt I should step away from the Testosterone. We had a discussion about the pros and cons and I concurred with her, however, I do miss the sexual kick it provided.
For insurance reasons I’m now using a compounding pharmacy in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. Ask for Laurel and you’ll get an incredibly informed pharmacist who deeply cares about women in menopause.
My beloved Melissa Frisvold earned her doctorate degree and is now teaching at the University of Minnesota. She referred me to my current midwife/practitioner, Fern Aspen, at the Stillwater Medical Group, Minnesota. Fern is equally as caring and attentive as Melissa was, and I can’t speak highly enough about her.
The menopausal transition comes with ongoing surprises. My energy levels ebb and flow, I get hot flashes despite the hormone replacement therapy, and I can burst into tears for the gauziest of reasons. (What do you mean you’re out of dark chocolate? Boo hoo hoo… Okay, that would be a legitimate reason to cry.)
In general I’m feeling strong, excited about the future, and more creative than ever. In many ways it is a time of rebirth, which is rather ironic. I’m transitioning from my child-bearing years to a phase that is more inner-focused and accepting.
I like who I am at this age, and that’s a gift worth celebrating. If you have any questions about my process or about menopause in general, please send them my way. If I don’t have an answer I’ll do my best to find one.