Hormone Replacement Therapy
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is medication that contains female hormones, taken because your body stops producing estrogen during menopause. As a general rule of thumb, as you approach 50, your reproductive cycle shuts down. Your body may start experiencing classic symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, sleep disturbance, lowered sex drive, mood swings, hair loss, fatigue, thinning skin and dry eyes. Websites will cite a long list of other effects for menopausal symptoms because women are all affected differently. Some blessed ladies sail through menopause with little to complain about, while others have major contentions. Some of us can start early menopause in the forties, while others still have a period well into the sixties. We are all different!!! There is no one size therapy fits all.
Estrogen promotes cognitive and bone health, the function of the cardiovascular system, and other essential bodily processes. A short period of HRT use can be beneficial to alleviate aggravated symptoms, but long term, it is recommended to allow your body to undergo the natural process.
If you think you are experiencing the beginnings of menopause visit your Dr and request a follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) blood test. The hormonal levels are what signals the pituitary gland to make FSH. If your FSH levels is elevated, then chances are you are on the threshold of ‘the change’.
The ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone, both important for the menstrual cycle. When menopause kicks in (or you have had a hysterectomy) your body will stop making progesterone and estrogen. Women who have had their uterus removed usually do not need to take progesterone. This is important to note, because estrogen taken alone has fewer long-term risks than HT that uses a combination of estrogen and progesterone.
If you experience moderate to severe symptoms, then HRT is touted as an effective pharmaceutical therapy for menopause symptoms in the early years. The pharmaceutical companies say that the benefits outweigh the risks. Studies link breast cancer risk to usage for more than 5 years. You would be well advised to do your research on the internet to access the numerous studies.
For those women that have had hysterectomies, HRT consists mainly of a daily estrogen pill. But the hormone can also administered via a patch worn on the abdomen skin, vaginal creams, gel or sprays applied on the skin to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Your Dr will give you the best advice.
A combination therapy may include estrogen and progestin (the synthetic version of progesterone), specifically for women who still have their reproductive organs. Though many experts now treat patients with natural progesterone. It is accepted that HRT will treat and minimise the signs associated with menopause. Natural progesterone is the preferred choice for woman with high cholesterol.
Side effects of using HRT could be the following, though the consequences may settle after a few months.
- Breast swelling
- Fluid retention
- Mood swings
- Heavier periods
When medications are used around the time of menopause there are actually some documented benefits from using HRT, such as a reduced risk of developing diabetes, preventing further bone loss, reduced risk of bowel cancer and heart disease.
While HRT may decrease some risk in diseases, it may also cause an increased risk for breast cancer, endometrial and ovarian cancer, cardiovascular disease, thrombosis and cholecystitis (inflamed gallbladder).
You should avoid HRT if you suffer from blood clots, cancer, heart disease, liver disease or stroke. You should also avoid long term use – considered to be longer than 5 years. Women with pre-existing medical conditions require special consideration before using HRT. Please seek specialist advice.
The verdict is inconclusive as to whether HRT causes weight gain. An increase in body fat around the abdomen, can occur because of hormonal changes. This can be attributed to normal age-related decrease in muscle tissue, and a decrease in exercise levels. If you are prone to weight gain in your menopause years, then HRT probably won’t be the issue.
HRT does not contain enough high levels of hormones to suppress ovulation. Keep using birth control methods as pregnancy is still possible. Periods can be erratic and the recommendation is to use contraception for 2 years after your last period.
OTHER LIFESTYLE ALTERNATIVES TO CONSIDER.
- Eat foods rich in calcium and Vitamin D.
- Eat lots of fruit and vegetables.
- Daily exercise
- Avoid trigger foods such as caffeine and alcohol.
- Eat more foods high in phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens (naturally occurring plant compounds) can imitate the effects of estrogen in the body. Flax seeds, sesame seeds and soybeans are a great source of phytoestrogens.
- Reduce the intake of sugars, packaged and processed foods.
- Take natural supplements, such as black cohosh, dong quai tea, evening primrose oil, probiotics, DHEAS, etc.
Online research for your specific symptoms will help you decide what is best for you to trial and experiment with. Natural therapies, antidepressants or other medications may be used depending on the symptoms and risk factors. You should always seek advice from your doctor.
Written by Mona Hecke
Mona Hecke is a degree qualified Naturopath, nutrition specialist and health and wellness writer.
With over 20 years in the health industry, beginning with a focus on children and families, and a bestselling book ‘The Lunchbox Revolution’, Mona is now empowering women through education and conversation to take action and embrace change. Gut health, mindfulness, nutrition, hormones, and menopause are the topics that women want and need to know to create their healthy future.
Mona holds certifications in Lifestyle Coaching, Kinesiology, holistic herbal medicine, and nutrition.
A recognised leader in the health industry, Mona’s strong social media presence and passion for influencing change will continue to be a catalyst for health reform for the benefit of every Australian.