"Hotter Than a
The Menopause Experience
By Carol Leonard
Carol Leonard, a foremother of the Women's
Spirituality movement, is a New Hampshire Certified Midwife and has been practicing
midwifery for more than 20 years. She presents her workshops, "Women's Ordinary
Magic," which explores women's blood mysteries of all ages and "Witches,
Midwives, and Other Healers" to women's groups around the country.
this was it. My cycles had definitely become erratic and much shorter and I had
to finally admit to myself that "it" was beginning. The menopause I
had always thought about as "in the future" was, well
with much excitement and some trepidation, I began to gather all the information
I could find to help me make informed decisions regarding my health and well-being
during this confusing, transitional journey. In addition to reading all I could
get my hands on about mid-life transitioning (including some great stuff in the
supermarket check-out aisles), I started to interview various types of health-care
providers to see what they had to say. I resolved to keep an open mind, particularly
when it came to drugs such as Hormone Replacement Therapy. Now, this was patently
ridiculous. I am a quintessential Baby-Boomer. I am almost always passionately
opinionated about everything. Also, I am a child of the 60's -- the pills we were
supposed to take were never the more interesting way to go. Needless to say, my
research took me from conventional, mainstream medicine to shamans. Oh well, so
be it. The following is a couple of years worth of (blatantly biased) research
on menopause in a nutshell:
At the turn of the century, the average life
expectancy for women was 55; thus menopause coincided with women's final years.
In the United States today, the average age at menopause is 52 and our life expectancy
is 80! This means many of us will live a good 30 years after menopause. And yet,
menopause is still viewed as a disease of the aging associated with disintegration
and dying. Menopause is only the end of fertility, not the end of life or productivity.
Now, with the approaching millennium, a Baby-Boomer turns 50 every seven minutes
(an astounding statistic). There will be 50 million Women of Menopause by the
year 2013. A planet full of Changing Women -- imagine the possibilities! It is
up to us to de-pathologize this natural event and make our non-reproductive years
the most powerful productive years of our lives.
It is ironic that fluctuating
hormone levels have been blamed for supposed irrationality and instability, yet
after menopause when our hormone levels are not longer cyclic, we are considered
estrogen-deprived, and still abnormal. Has it never occurred to medical researchers
to trust in our bodies' inherent wisdom, that perhaps women are supposed to have
decreasing hormone levels at this phase of our lives? The medicalization of the
menopause experience describes menopause as a "deficiency syndrome"
or "ovarian failure" and teaches that something is lost or inadequate
and needs to be replaced. The reality is that ovarian estrogen is already declining
after about age 25, and estrogen made by the adrenal glands has already begun
to increase. Estriol made by the body's fatty tissue is mainly what supplements
the remaining ovarian secretions after menopause. Other body sites make the same
hormones as well; these include the liver, breasts, hair follicles and the pineal
gland. With adrenal secretions, all these body sites together supply all the estrogen
needed by a woman who will not be bearing a child. In the truest sense, for most
women there is no "estrogen deficiency" after menopause.
in the "fast-food" mentality of our culture, we have come to expect
immediate solutions to our troubles, preferably in pill form to make annoying
symptoms disappear. For Changing Women, this means the "fountain of youth"
in the form of Hormone Replacement Therapy.
The widespread use of exogenous
(produced outside the body) estrogen began in the mid-60's (oh those drug-crazed
years). By 1975, Premarin, a form of estrogen made from pregnant mare's urine
(hence Pre-Mar-In), became one of the top five most prescribed drugs in the US.
In December 1975, two studies were published which reported that women taking
estrogen had a 5 to 14 times increased rate of endometrial cancer.(1)
The risk was linked to dosage and the amount of time the estrogen was taken.
Three years exposure to unopposed estrogen caused abnormal endometrial changes
in 34% of women with a uterus. 6%of the women had to have hysterectomies during
the 3 year study.(2) In 1977, the American College of Obstetrician and
Gynecologists unsuccessfully sued the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to block
a requirement for patient information inserts for all estrogen products. Women
now had access to information about the risks of estrogen. The drug companies
reacted with increased media coverage, and by the mid-1980's, they were promoting
"HRT" or "Hormone Replacement Therapy." This was prescribing
progestogens with does of estrogen, the thinking being that the increase in risk
associated with estrogen was diminished by adding progestogen.(3) This means
in laywoman's terms, that when estrogen is taken with progesterone, the increased
risk of uterine cancer is canceled out, and the two hormones taken together is
called HRT. (Conversely, women without uteruses do not need to take progesterone.)
1984, based on osteoporosis studies conducted with white women only, it was concluded
that estrogen use reduced the number of hip and wrist fractures and delayed postmenopausal
bone loss. The use of HRT has been approved by the FDA only for the prevention
of osteoporosis; none of the other claims for HRT have been substantiated enough
to warrant FDA approval. And certainly, no study to date has proven that all women
who don't take HRT are at risk for osteoporosis. Yet HRT is routinely prescribed
as a matter of course for postmenopausal women. In fact, in a 1992 study published
in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the overall incidence of hip fractures
in post-menopausal women was 9.2% as opposed to 11.2 in women who were not taking
HRT.(4) This is a good statistic to consider if you are weighing the pros
and cons of HRT. (See further information on osteoporosis.)
Estrogen can increase good (HDL) cholesterol, an
important risk factor for health disease in women. Several studies found that
women who used estrogen were less likely to have heart attacks than women who
didn't use estrogen. It is not clear whether estrogen itself is responsible for
this protection, or if it is due to other lifestyle factors common in estrogen
users, i.e. more health consciousness in general and also, the women who took
estrogen in their early studies may have been healthier than those who didn't
since doctors were wary of giving estrogen to women with existing risk factors
for heart disease, like smoking. The package insert for estrogen (estradiol) itself
states, "The protection shown may have been caused by characteristics of
the estrogen-treated women, and not by the estrogen treatment itself. In general,
treated women were slimmer, more physically active, and were less likely to have
heart disease [to begin with] than the untreated women." (Berlex Laboratories,
1996) Although the evidence was much weaker than usually required for approval
of a new drug intended for long term use in healthy people, in 1990 Wyeth-Ayerst
asked the FDA to approve Premarin to prevent heart disease in post-menopausal
women. The FDA refused to grant approval, but even so, many clinicians now recommend
that menopausal women take estrogen to reduce the risk of heart disease.(5)
No research was published on the heart disease rates of women who took HRT, even
though this combination was common by the late 1980's. It is now known that the
most commonly used progestin, Provera, "significantly interfered with the
positive effect of estrogen alone on HDL cholesterol levels" and "these
forms of HRT were also found to increase triglyceride levels which are a risk
factor for heart disease in women.(6) In other words, progesterone has the
opposite effect on cholesterol and the HRT combo negates any beneficial effect
on the lipid profile -- that although progestogens protect the uterus, they also
partially counteract the HDL cholesterol benefit of estrogen alone. Also, the
statistics don't quite add up: in a recent study of the incidence of heart disease
in post-menopausal women (published in the Annals of Internal Medicine),
cardiovascular disease occurred in 64.4% of women who had been taking HRT compared
to 71.3 of women not taking HRT.(7) Obviously not a highly significant difference.
Perhaps we should refocus cardiovascular problems as a possible disease of aging,
not of hormonal deficiencies.
is also consistently associated with 30% increase in the risk of breast cancer
in women who are currently using it and have taken it for 5-10 years or longer.
In 1990, researchers for the Nurses Health Study, a well-done study of the most
rigorous design, released their findings that women who use estrogen have a 36%
greater chance of developing breast cancer than do other women. Soon after these
troubling results, researchers at the Federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
published a summary analyzing sixteen separate breast cancer studies, again finding
a 30% increase in breast cancer.(8) These statistics received little attention
from the main-street press, as the drug companies obscured these results by funding
a huge media blitz publicizing the heart disease findings. But this is a known
fact: with our breast cancer rates so outrageously high (one woman in nine!),
the average woman who dies of heart disease loses 8 years of life, whereas women
who die of breast cancer lose, on average 19 years.(9)
At this time, we
know even less about breast cancer and HRT. The addition of progesterone to estrogen
does not eliminate the breast cancer risk. Preliminary findings from a breast
cancer study with large numbers of women on HRT were reported to the FDA in 1991.
Women who used HRT had significantly higher rates of breast cancer, about a 70%
increase over women on estrogen alone or those who switched from ERT to HRT.(10)
Clearly, women who have already had breast or other cancers or have breast
cancer in their immediate families should be discouraged from taking HRT.
in the biased research department, to refute the anecdotal new claims that estrogen
may prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease -- there is a glaring
gap in the studies. Women on estrogen may be more likely to maintain healthy brain
function throughout their life due to life circumstances, not hormonal help. A
truly randomized, double-blind, prospective, case-controlled study with large
numbers of women has yet to be conducted.(11)
The first and only large,
long-term controlled study on the safety and effectiveness of HRT trial results
will not be available until the year 2007.
So, despite the fact that some
researchers point to the 50-year life expectancy common in the beginning of the
20th century and theorize that women simply weren't meant to live past
menopause (oh, please
), some of us seem to have the audacity to be living
past our natural life-spans. We need more information about the normalcy of menopause
and clear instructions to guide us with self-care.
Normal menopause is just that - normal. It is
a definite physiological milestone in a woman's life heralding the beginning of
a powerful new phase of growth. It is a good idea to be well prepared for this
journey. The following are definitions of the language used to define the menopause
experience, to help you negotiate decisions regarding your health during this
Pre-Menopause - is the time of greatest hormonal
fluctuation during the later reproductive years (can feel like horrendous PMS),
when periods become irregular and other changes may begin to occur. The actual
age at which menopausal change begins varies considerably from woman to woman;
the norm is 45, with a normal range of 35 to 55. During the pre-menopausal years,
menstrual periods may become noticeably different (closer together, further apart,
scantier, more profuse). Changes in the menstrual cycle are often the first sign
that menopause is approaching. Changes may be sudden and significant, or so gradual
that they go almost unnoticed. Periods may be very different from what they once
were. Menstrual cycle changes can affect cycle length an the amount of menstrual
flow. Night sweats and/or hot flashes may come, if at all, only sporadically and
are usually blamed on too many blankets, a sweaty partner, or a spicy meal.
- is the end of menstruation, defined after the fact, that is once 12 months have
passed without a period. Meno (menstruation) pause (stops) is technically, the
last menstrual flow of a woman's life. The menopausal climax years include the
year or two before and a year or more after the very last menstruation. The average
age of a woman in the midst of her climax is 51. During the 2-5 year climax period,
the bones refuse to take in calcium (perhaps so we don't become too rigid in our
resistance to change?) and bone scans will show lessening bone density; flashes,
flushes and night sweats may be frequent; palpitations, emotional sensitivity
and sleeplessness are common. Depending on the individual woman and her circumstances,
other physical and emotional changes may occur with the climax. Or she may breeze
right through. All symptoms are transient and correctable. However, it is currently
the fashion for physicians to take blood samples and then diagnose "low"
hormone levels in women whose hormone levels are perfectly normal for their age.
- the several years after the end of menstruation during which time the body completes
its adaptation to its new stabilized hormonal state. After menopause, the ovaries
continue to produce low levels of estrogen and androgens, as do the adrenal glands.
Androgens can be converted to estrogen by fatty tissue. So, post-menopausal women
have some, albeit lower, levels of estrogen present throughout the rest of their
lives. Post-menopausal women who have not had their ovaries removed are not more
estrogen deficient than are pre-pubertal girls. The post-menopausal years symbolically
begin on the 13th new moon after the final menstruation, and continue
-- obviously -- for the rest of the lifetime. Commitment to a healthy lifestyle
in the postmenopausal years can halt and reverse the loss of bone density (the
bones do accept calcium once again!) Being vigilantly health-conscious can prevent
estrogen and progestone sensitive tissues in the vagina and bladder from weakening
and drying out, and maintain a healthy, vigorous heart and circulatory system.
Menopause - is the menopause brought on by the surgical removal of a
woman's ovaries or by radiation treatment or chemotherapy. If the woman has not
already gone through a natural menopause when she has this surgery, radiation
or chemotherapy, she will go through immediate menopause at that time and will
skip the pre- and peri-menopausal stages.
Menopause is a very individual
experience, but all women deserve accurate information about the normal changes
of menopause, safe remedies for common discomforts, and medical intervention for
the small minority whose discomforts are severe. The following information is
a culmination of many years of working with women as their community midwife and
practicing as an herbalist working with plant allies to create healthier living
for women and their families. I offer simple common sense alternatives to conventional,
allopathic medicines' drug-oriented approach. These natural treatments can be
used as an alternative to HRT in all but the most sever cases. This drug-free
approach preserves the time-honored knowledge of our grandmothers, as well as
modern, alternative methods that work for alleviating and preventing symptoms
Due to the constraints of time and space for this article,
I will only focus attention on the two most common menopausal symptoms: hot flashes
and vaginal changes. Other symptoms can include emotional instability, "fuzzy"
thinking, insomnia, depression, stiffening joints, sore breasts, dry skin, and
abdominal congestion (constipation, gas, bloating). I will cover self-care for
menstrual cycle changes and lessening bone density in Part 2. All symptoms are
transient and correctable. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and would
like more information on alternative therapies, call your local midwife, an herbalist
skilled in botanical medicine, or nearest naturopathic physician for homeopathic
remedies. They will refer you to the appropriate treatment.
Hot flashes (or "Power Surges" for women
in the know) and night sweats occur in about 75% of American women; the frequency,
intensity, duration of flashes is unique to each individual. They are the result
of vasomotor instability. The vasomotor nerves are the body's thermostat controllers.
It's their job to regulate body temperature by controlling the diameter of the
blood vessels. A disturbance in hormone levels interferes with the signals transmitted
to the vasomotor nerves, and prickly hot sensations, dizziness, and sometimes,
heart palpitations result. As your system finally adjusts to the lower or different
levels of hormones, the symptoms will stop. With the use of herbs and diet, it
is possible to exert some control over the length and time of hot flashes and
even, in some cases, eliminate them completely. The following suggestions have
significantly reduced hot flashes for many women.
- Herbs - My favorite
herb for hot flashes is Motherwort, Leonurus cardaca, which translates
from Latin to "Lion-Hearted." (Actually Motherwort, is a a phytoestrogen
-- plant-derived estrogen -- and is my choice for many "female complaints,"
including the crazies.) This showy Eurasian mint with spiky lavender flowering
tops and early, large, indented, bright green leaves has naturalized herself in
my back field and is perennially present from April to late fall. The bees love
her. Motherwort's medicinal component is the alkaloid Leonurine, which is a mild
vaso-dilator. The medicinal properties are in the flowering tops and leaves and
are soluble in alcohol. Motherwort is common in New England; it is very easy to
tincture to extract the medicinal alkaloids.
Here's how: Once you have
a positive identification of the plant (you could enlist the expertise of a local
root-woman if you're unsure), gather the flowering tops and leaves, being sure
to leave at least half of the mother plant and always thanking the plant as you
do so. Chop the plant material coarsely, pack fairly tightly in glass jars, then
cover with regular, inexpensive 100 proof vodka. Cap tightly. Label with plant
name and date and put away in a dark closet for at least six weeks, then pour
off the medicinal liquid (decanting) and compost the used plant material. The
tincture will last for a long time. You can take half a teaspoon of this tincture
up to four times a day when flashing heavily. Expect results in two to four weeks.
(NB -- Do not use if you are experiencing menstrual "flooding.")
Motherwort tincture and all of the following natural remedies should be available
in your neighborhood health food store or organic co-op.
Dr. Christopher's Change-Ease formula three times a day. This is a formulation
of phytoesterol-rich herbs by a master herbalist, available in natural or health
- Diet - Switch to a grain-based diet and eliminate
all sugars and sugar-rich foods including fruit and fruit juices.
- Soy - Adding 50 mg of a soy-based food daily to your diet (such as tofu, tempeh
and soy milk) could significantly reduce the incidence of hot flashes. Soybeans
contain compounds called isoflavones, a natural plant form of estrogen. Also,
soybeans and yams contain a preformed steroidal nucleus so your body can easily
manufacture steroids and hormones when you eat them. A typical Asian woman ingests
about 30 to 50 mg of isoflavones in her diet daily. The Japanese and Chinese do
not have a word for menopausal hot flash in their language.(14)
- Exercise - Daily exercise diminishes hot flashes by decreasing the amount
of circulating leutinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH),
by nourishing the hypothalamus and by raising endorphin levels, which drop when
flashing. As little as thirty minutes three times a week can produce positive
- Keep Cool - Drink lots of water and herbal teas. Turn
down the thermostat, literally. Eat smaller meals, more often. Walk away from
aggravating situations. Soak your feet in essential oils of basil or thyme. Breathe
deeply. Visualize the heat as Kundalini energy rising up your spine, as the very
life-force, Chi, combusting within you. Harness the energy, ride it. Wear silk.
Envision polar bears. Put ice on your cheeks. Fan yourself in public. Take your
clothes off. Jump into the tub.
- Buy a Safari Hat with the battery-run
fan in the front. Print "Red Hot Mama" on the top.
could yell, "I'm hotter than a red-assed bee!" That's what my grandmother
did every time she had a hot flash (I am entirely serious).
- Take 400-600 IU of Vitamin E daily. Vitamin E supplements have a well-documented
and long-standing reputation as a remedy for hot flashes. Be sure to check for
freshness when purchasing Vitamin E. Taking rancid Vitamin E will have a negative
effect. Use only 100 IU Vitamin E if you have bleeding problems, and only 50 IU
if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or rheumatic heart murmur.
- Take Ginseng (2 mgs daily) to normalize the body's response to hot and cold.
- Drink several cups of Sage tea daily. Use regular garden sage, Salvia officinalis
-- you can grow it yourself in your backyard; it's perennial. Harvest only half
of the plant in the fall and hang the sage to dry then use one tablespoon of dried
sage per one cup of boiling water. Infuse it for 20 minutes. Sage is a "yang"
or grounding herb and is renowned for its ability to reduce and eliminate night
sweats. The effect is fast acting (NB: Do not use sage for night sweats from nursing
-- sage will dry up breast milk.).
- Lastly, a personal opinion
here: To prescribe synthetic hormones to eradicate hot flashes is like calling
out nuclear weapons to settle a neighborhood dispute.
Homeopathic Remedies for Hot Flashes
by Susun Weed, 1992 (13)
- For when the flashes emanate from the top of your head, are worse just before
sleep and immediately upon wakening, and are accompanied by sweating, headaches,
or easily irritated skin.
Sepia - When your flashes
make you feel weak, nauseated, exhausted, and depressed.
- If you flash less outdoors, but your flashes are often followed by intense chills
and emotional uproar.
Valeriana - If your face
flushes strongly during the flash, and you have intense sweating and sleeplessness.
metallicum - When your flashes are sudden, your general health is
good but ordinary activities bring exhaustion.
- If your flashes include profuse sweating and trembling, and are worse in the
evenings and with exercise.
Sanguinaria - when
your cheeks are red and burning, and your feet and hands feel hot.
- When the flash centers on your face, which burns and turns bright red, and you
feel restless, agitated, and have palpitations.
After menopause the walls of the vagina
become thinner and produce fewer secretions. Vaginal lubrication with sexual excitement
occurs more slowly. As the amount of estrogen decreases, the vagina becomes less
acidic, making women more susceptible to vaginal infections, including yeast.
If changes are significant, women may have a feeling of dryness or irritation.
Severe dryness can cause vaginal pain. Women are most likely to feel vaginal discomfort
during of just after sexual intercourse, especially without being wet enough.
Thinner, more easily injured vaginal tissue combined with decreased acidity of
the vagina can lead to infections. The usual symptoms are increased vaginal discharge,
itching and burning.
The disrespectful, patriarchal name for menopausal
thinning and associated symptoms is Atrophic vaginitis and Dyspareunia (painful
intercourse), but this is not inevitable. These symptoms can be remedied with
understanding and simple loving care. And, as with all of menopause, good solid
healthy nutrition and exercise is key to preventing drying and thinning. Here
are some important suggestions for self-care for a dry vagina:
- Take 400-600
IU of Vitamin E daily. Again, only 100 IU Vitamin E if you bleed heavily, and
only 50 IU if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or rheumatic heart murmur.
- Drink at least two quarts of water a day.
- Take Dr. Christopher's
Change-Ease formula as directed.
- Start your day with two dropperfuls
of Motherwort tincture.
- Self-help for dry vaginas: Get Slippery!
There are several "light, personal, modern lubricants" on the market
today, the current favorite being Astro-Glide, probably because the name is so
great. It is mostly glycerin. You can experiment with your own natural concoction
to see what works for you. Here are some suggestions:
oil or cocoa butter -- smells great, tastes better, solid at room temperature,
liquid at body temperature.
- Honey -- hydroscopic (water-drawing),
will moisturize and heal a tender yoni. Apply directly where needed (and obviously,
- Aloe Vera and Slippery Elm paste -- to sooth
inflammations. Mix enough slippery powder into aloe vera gel (bottled or fresh)
to form a paste. Apply along the labia and inside the vaginal entrance. This lubricates,
heals and nourishes.
- Oil from a Vitamin E capsule -- use a capsule
that has 400 or more IU's. Some women say this works as well as estrogen cream.
Wheat Germ Oil is a good source of Vitamin E, cool and soothing.
- Almond oil or olive oil (cold-pressed) are nice. Apply to the fingertips and
massage all around the vaginal opening and perineum.
- Look for
Comfrey-based ointments with names like "Green Gold," etc. in natural
food stores. Comfrey has an alkaloid called Allantion which regenerates skin tissue
and will keep skin flexible and strong. I've had a long love affair with Comfrey
as a midwife, using it to speed repairs of perineal tears. Comfrey could be combined
with other herbs such as St. John's Wort (Hypericum, used for burns) and Calendula
(Pot Marigold) for added healing. (Goldenseal will probably be too drying.)
- A commercial option is Replens, a new over-the-counter cream available in
drug stores. The active ingredient, Polycarbophil, pulls water into vaginal cells
and lowers the pH of the vagina, which helps prevent overgrowth of bacteria.
- Natural progesterone creams made from Mexican wild yam roots (Dioscorea species)
appears, so far, to be as effective as estrogen cream in restoring youthful moistness
and elasticity. Seems to be the herbal equivalent without the side effects. Estrogen
creams are the common allopathic (conventional medical) solution, but these products
have potentially serious risks and should be used with caution and awareness.
I literally had a male physician friend say that estrogen cream was "more
bang for the buck!"
- Kegels. Remember the annoying Kegel
exercises (squeezing the PC -- pubococcygeal muscle) from our child-bearing years?
In the car, at every red light? Well, they are back -- and they still make the
supporting muscles of the vagina stronger and healthier.
speaking of exercise -- of course the health of your vagina depends on stimulation
like any other part of your body. It needs to be exercised regularly to keep fit.
Remaining sexually active in the second half of your life, either with a partner
or by self-pleasuring, is the key to maintaining a healthy vagina.
And self-pleasuring, either by yourself or with your partner is an art to be
joyfully practiced. Staying in love and orgasmic with yourself gives you a more
positive outlook on life. So, go on girl! There are lots of interesting new toys
on the market. Be creative. Experiment! You and your yoni will benefit -- and
you may discover places of hidden pleasure you never knew existed.
The walls of the vagina tend to thin as estrogen
production falls off and this can lead to vaginitis. Vaginitis is a generally
inclusive term that describes several conditions or causes of irritation and inflammation.
The usual cause is irritating, alkaline (pH6+) secretions burning tender atrophic
vaginal tissue, especially if it is abraded or cracked. The following suggestions
should help reduce itching and burning and get you back into the pink.
tincture (take 2 dropperfuls daily) quickly restores pliability and thickness
to vaginal walls.
- A Comfrey root compress will soothe itchy, dry vaginal
tissues and promote healthy skin growth and regenerate cells. Infuse the comfrey
root and soak a face cloth in the liquid. Apply the wet, warm compress to your
yoni while reclining and sitting on a towel.
- Brew an infusion of nettle
several times a week. To invigorate and nourish vaginal tissues, drink it and
sit in it. While sitting in the tub, hold the nettle juice in your vagina for
several minutes by elevating your hips slightly or by holding your nether lips
closed with your hand. (Note: nettle is a wonderful woman's herb but harvest with
care; wear gloves. If she doesnt sting you, it is probably too late in the
season and her medicinal qualities will be dormant.)
- Chinese herbs such
as Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis) are helpful and indicated here, but my personal
preference is to use herbs that are indigenous to my own area. I prefer to gather
the healing plants from my own backyard. Just a personal thing.
- To avoid
the problem of burning with intercourse as part of your love play, try sensual,
sexual escapades that don't involve penetration. Vitamin B complex and reducing
stress help relieve burning.
- Apply the oil from Evening Primrose Oil capsules
directly to the affected area. This is a natural plant source of GLA (gamma linolenic
Caution: Anti-itch creams containing cortisone contribute
to osteoporosis. Avoid them.
Yeast infections, sometimes called thrush or monilia, can
be curdy, profuse, sweetly odoriferous white discharge with itching and inflammation.
Yeast infections are not really yeast nor an infection, but a yeast-like fungus,
known as Candida albicans. The condition is known as Candidiasis when it proliferates.
Here are some tips to take the yeast beasts:
- Nix the "feminine deodorant
sprays, no soap, nylon bathing suits, or pantyhose without a cotton crotch. Wear
only cotton or nothing at all. Hot, moist environments incubate yeast.
such as acidophilus are natural residents of a healthy vagina. They prevent overgrowths
of yeast. (They also turn milk into yogurt.) Insert two acidophilus capsules into
your vagina daily. Adding Lactobacilli vaginally stops yeast from growing and
creates copius amounts of lubrication.
- Plain unsweetened yogurt which
is available in natural food stores can be inserted as is into the vagina to help
maintain or restore natural bacterial balance. Be sure the yogurt you use contains
live cultures of acidophilus or lactobacillis (it will say so on the label). Insert
at least two tablespoons daily: you will need to wear a pad. Here are some tips
on getting it in there. Yogurt can be inserted with an empty tampon inserter,
vaginal cream inserter or a turkey baster (the baster works best). Symptoms should
be relieved within 48 hours.
If the yeast is persistent and you experience
chronic or repeated overgrowths, then all of your lovers need to be treated as
well. If your partner is male, have him soak his penis in yogurt or diluted apple
cider for 5 minutes daily to kill the yeast living in or on the glans; this way
he won't keep re-infecting you.
- If neither acidophilus or yogurt cure
the yeast, you need to re-acidify your vagina. Boric Acid is the most efficient,
and you can purchase it in the drug store. Dilute it one teaspoon to one cup of
warm water and mini-douche daily with the barrel of a syringe, or use a diaphragm
jelly inserter which can be bought at the pharmacy without having to buy the jelly.
Don't use if the skin is raw or broken, and discontinue if an irritation develops.
This is wet and messy but boric acid is anti-bacterial and will cleanse some non-specific
vaginitis as well.
- Apple cider vinegar douches (two tablespoons vinegar
to a pint of warm water) is very effective. Even though yeast flourishes in an
acidic environment, there is something in vinegar that inhibits its growth. Vinegar
can also inhibit the growth of bacteria and trichomonas by establishing the proper
acidity (pH) for the proliferation of "good" bacteria. Don't douche
for longer than 10 days.
Regular douching should be discouraged. The
vagina is a self-cleaning environment, so routine douching shouldn't be necessary
and could make your vagina too alkaline. Women who douche more than three times
a month are four to five times more likely to have rampant yeast.
are drugs sold over-the-counter now in pharmacies such as Nystatin or Mycostatin
(fungicides) and Monistat or Gyne-Lotrimin, etc. Also in some pharmacies, homeopathic
remedies such as Yeast-Guard are now available.
vaginitis is bacterial and characterized by burning and itching, usually with
a discharge, odor, sometimes a rash and painful intercourse. It's probably a good
idea to visit your local midwife or nurse practitioner and have her check it out
under a microscope to see what kind of bacteria you're dealing with. To eliminate
a mild bacteria infection:
- Garlic -- Insert a peeled clove of garlic
high up into your vagina, being sure to push it all the way up to the cervix (which
feels like the tip of your nose), every night for a week. Garlic is well known
for its antibiotic properties, but you may walk around smelling vaguely like a
- Betadine (povodone-iodine) suppositories and douches are available
in drug stores and help cure nonspecific vaginitis. Wear a pad to control staining.
health care practitioner may prescribe Metronidazole (Flagyl), taken orally, when
an infection is severe or chronic. Flagyl is very heavy duty, however, and should
be taken only as a last defense.
- Lastly, as with all of menopause, you
are more likely to be troubled with vaginal complaints of your adrenals have been
exhausted by overuse of coffee, cigarettes, alcohol and white sugar. Yeah yeah,
I know the same old advice -- but it's true! Throw that coffee pot away, it's
a bad drug. (Each cup of coffee robs your body of 5 mgs of calcium!) It's nasty
Estrogen Replacement Therapy
and Hormone Replacement Therapy
ERT and HRT have not been
shown to be effective :
- to prevent aging of the skin
- to prevent
bladder or urinary problems
- to relieve depression
- to increase
- to prevent Alzheimer's disease
- to prevent heart
If you are interested in further information about healing
and natural remedies for the menopausal years, I highly recommend these two books.
- Wise Woman Ways for the Menopausal Years by Susun Weed.
1992. Ash Tree Publishing, PO Box 64, Woodstock, NY 12498.
Healing for Women by Rosemary Gladstar. 1993. The Herb Quarterly,
PO Box 689, San Anselmo, CA 94960.
Just as important
as maintaining a healthy "flora and fauna" physically, is the need for
women to explore their spiritual selves during their mid-life transition. Menopause
is the time to turn the profane into the sacred. In many cultures other than ours,
elder women are respected for the culmination of their life experiences; they
are revered for their wisdom. They are the honored Grandmothers who carry the
keys of knowledge for their people. In our society, which worships youth, older
women are considered dispensable, done with their usefulness, and discarded to
There was a time when women's Blood Mysteries were honored
and celebrated, and menopause was the culmination of these experiences, the last
of the Great Rites. This Rite served to acknowledge this powerful change and to
honor the woman's crossing over to "cronehood." (I realize there is
a negative connotation to the label "Crone" but this wasn't always so.
This was originally a term of respect and honor and was not derogatory in any
way, another twist of our language brought to you by patriarchy.)
Rite which follows is a simplified version of the ceremony I wrote for my book,
The Women's Wheel of Life: Thirteen Archetypes of Woman at her Fullest Power
(Viking Arkana, 1996, co-authored with Elizabeth Davis, my friend and another
midwife).(15) It is imperative that we reclaim the power of our biology,
that we understand clearly what is happening to us physiologically, psychologically
and spiritually so we can support each other through this tremendous, frightening,
The Croning Rite of Passage is observed when the final
physiological milestone is passed, when a woman has completed menopause and her
bleeding time has come to an end, usually on the 13th new moon after
her last bleeding. The post-menopausal stage heralds the transition to a new life
experience. It is a time of celebration. (If a woman has undergone premature menopause
due to surgical or chemical intervention, then approximate guidelines place Cronehood
at 56 years old.) The body of the rite can take various forms, from partying with
ribald humor to giving gifts of acknowledgement. I recall the rite we held for
a Crone midwife, who was retiring from active practice. Each midwife in attendance
shared some memory of working with this woman, and as they told their stories
they wove red, white and black yarn, along with a special trinket to illustrate
their tale into a "story belt." Some of the stories were hilarious,
but the result was a poignant ceremonial object of inestimable value.
favorite way for this rite to be done is a solitary experience. The new Crone
goes off by herself to somewhere in the wilderness that only she knows to a place
where there is a three-way crossroads. Here she leaves a gift of food to Hecate,
Crone Goddess and Ancient Queen of Wisdom, and meditates on her life. She recalls
all she has learned in life and the wisdom she still needs, and the things she
must yet do to fulfill herself and complete her life's work. She concludes with
a prayer of Thanksgiving:
I have traveled
the road from my mother's breast to Cronehood. Thank you, Hecate, for the good
seasons past and the good seasons yet to come."(16)
the crone makes her offering, she must leave quickly and not look back, as an
act of letting go of regrets while trusting what is yet to come. This aspect of
seclusion is found in numerous rites, and is symbolic of rebirth and reintegration.
It is best to do this particular ritual at the dark of the moon or the earliest
crescent as this lunar phase represents a time of new beginnings.
back at the ranch, her friends have been feasting and making merry. They welcome
her return with love and laughter, and all together they create a circle of lasting
friendship and support for her in the crowning years of her life. She is invincible!
Footnotes and Resources
- Smith, D.C. et. al. "Association of exogenous estrogen and endometrial
carcinoma." New England Journal of Medicine, 1975; 293 (23): 1164-1167,
and Ziel, H.K. and Finkle, W.D. "Increased risk of endometrial carcinoma
among users of conjugated estrogens." New England Journal of Medicine,
1975; 293 (23): 1167-1170.
- The writing group for the PEPI trial (Postmenopausal
Estrogen/Progestins Interventions). "Effects of estrogen or estrogen/progestin
regimens on heart disease risk factors in post-menopausal women." Journal
of the American Medical Association (1995); 273 (3): 199-208.
D. et. al. "Hormone therapy to prevent disease and prolong life in postmenopausal
women." Annals of Internal Medicine 1992; 117 (12): 1016-1037.
Christiane. HRT Advisory. Phillips Publishing, Inc., 1996, p. 10.
Women's Health Network. Taking Hormones and Women's Health. 1995, p.
- PEPI trial, Ibid.
- Northrup, Christiane. Creating Health
Through Menopause (video lecture). Phillips Publishing, Inc.
Women's Health Network.Ibid. p. 25
- Miller, B.A. et. al. eds. Cancer
Statistics Review 1973-1989. National Cancer Institute, NIH publication no.
- Mack, T.M. "Risk-benefit analysis of ERT vs. HRT"
(presentation). Food and Drug Admnistration Fertility and Maternal Health Drugs
Advisory Committee Meeting, 21 June 1991.
- Northrup, Christiane. Health
Wisdom for Women. Phillips Publishing. Vol. 4 No. 1; January 1997, p. 2.
Holly. "Menopause Naturally." Prevention Magazine, August 1996,
- Weed, Susun. Wise Woman Way for the Menopausal Years,
Ash Tree Publishing, 1992, pp. 58 & 133.
- Lee, John. What Your
Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause. Mill Valley, CA.
Elizabeth and Carol Leonard. The Women's Wheel of Life: Thirteen Archetypes
of Woman at Her Fullest Power. 1996. Viking Arkana, pp. 191-194.
Zsuzsanna. Holy Book of Women's Mysteries. Berkeley: Wingbow Press, 1989.
books on menopause
Two of Carol Leonard's "Hotter than a Red-Assed Bee"
Tribute to Lorraine Rothman, author of Menopause Myths and Facts
Feminist Women's Health Center