Hormone Replacement Therapy: Let’s Think This Through
May 23, 2012 - 7:29:37 AM
(HealthNewsDigest.com) - I think about health and healing in a very comprehensive, holistic and vitalistic manner. Vitalism states that our bodies have an inherent self-healing mechanism and are brilliant and built to stay in balance through the harmonious efforts of many interrelated systems that are constantly working on our behalf to take care of us. It is important as a practitioner of this style of medicine to listen and ask deeper questions when involved with a patient who has become entirely out of balance and therefore symptomatic. Symptoms are the body’s way of talking to us, telling us that something needs attention. It is only through listening that one can understand where there might be “obstacles to cure”, where there might be some excess or deficiencies and then work with the body to achieve a state of health.
This lays the foundation for the issue at hand: hormones, and more specially, the topic of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The topic of synthetic and bio-identical HRT has almost reached celebrity status with many different and conflicting conversations leading to genuine confusion and concern regarding what course a woman should take when she is experiencing symptoms linked to her hormonal cycle and normal hormonal transitions like menopause. Recently there was an article in the New York Times suggesting that the use of hormones for some women in menopause is the only option. This article included a quote from Dr. Deborah Grady, associate dean for clinical and translational research at the University of California, San Francisco: “There is no alternative treatment that works very well, whether it’s a drug or over-the-counter herbal preparation”. From a comprehensive and vitalistic perspective, the idea of replacing hormones at anytime as a first-line therapy is perplexing. When there are presenting symptoms during normal hormonal transitions, it would make sense to first look at restoring function rather than seeking to artificially replace it. Taking a reductionist approach to complex symptoms experienced by women in menopause, even while swapping out an “alternative treatment” for a prescription drug, will not ultimately lead to any solid results. Perhaps it isn’t the treatment that is failing; rather the approach.
This simplistic approach of prescribing hormones, whether HRT or the birth control pill, tends to suppress the body’s natural rhythm and cycles and does nothing to address why the symptoms are occurring. What are the symptoms and in what types of women are they occurring? Some are women who are having difficulty transitioning into menopause, a very natural, once celebrated and honored stage of life; some are women with sexual and reproductive problems such as infertility, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS), as well as breast and uterine cancer; and, there are also an extraordinary number of younger women who are experiencing weight gain, irritability, insomnia, decreased libido, and hot flashes. Most all of these women are coming in with a recommendation from another physician that they begin taking hormones. Just “replacing hormones” is not helping women live longer, healthier and richer lives. More hormones in a body where hormones are out of balance is, most of the time, the last thing a woman needs. In fact, this course of action could be harmful. Hormone imbalance can not only cause the symptoms mentioned above, but also can lead to cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Women’s hormone health did not become more problematic overnight. It has a lot to do with our modern environment and lifestyles. Pollution, stress, food quality, and the way we nourish ourselves and prevailing medical practices all take a toll on bodies hormone system and contribute to annoying and debilitating symptoms.
The good news is, once we understand what creates imbalance, we can tap into the many safe ways of restoring balance and eliminating uncomfortable and irritating symptoms while preventing disease and increasing overall quality of life and well being. For example, there is a back up system for pre and post-menopausal hormone production: our adrenal glands. However, the adrenal glands are also our stress glands which, in modern day with the chronic and persistent stressors, get depleted and weakened way before they get a chance to step up to the plate when our ovaries take a well deserved break. This certainly leads to a turbulent and symptomatic transition into menopause. Another contributor to symptoms during menopause is the amount of endocrine, or “hormone disruptors” that are prevalent in our modern day environment like plastics, pesticides, car exhaust, household cleaning products, and health and beauty aids; things we come in contact with each and every day. The problem is that these toxins are fat-soluble so they get into our bodies quite easily and accumulate over time causing imbalances throughout the hormone system. These compounds also have the ability to disrupt the very processes that detoxify them in our liver, which leads to poor hormone metabolism.
Treating menopause symptoms and other symptoms of hormonal imbalances requires more than a “one-trick-pony” mindset. To get to the root of the issues and assure no harm is done a “thoroughbred” attitude is the way to go. Viewing each and every woman as an individual is essential. Being able to listen to a woman’s history, understanding key contributing essentials or “obstacles to cure” of her life like the amount and types of accumulated and present stressors, environmental influences, quality and quantity of sleep and nutritional choices can help distinctively guide the multi-layered lifestyle, dietary, nutritional and botanical recommendations leading to safe symptom relief and overall increase in health and wellbeing.
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