As women get older, menopause is an inevitable part of their life experience. Sometimes, it comes on slowly and can linger for decades.
Other times, we feel like we have been hit by a Mack truck. For the youngsters out there, a Mack truck is a semi-truck built for tough road conditions.
We don’t know if we are coming or going. It seems like our brains and bodies are spinning out of control. I often thought I was losing my mind.
The estrogen fluctuations controlled by chemicals in our brains are in a dance competition, and it seems we are body surfing the stage! We are twirled here and there and flung high in the air only to come crashing to the floor.
The ovaries, a hotbed of estrogen and hormones, can wreak havoc on our brains. When the brain changes, everything changes.
I liken my interplay with menopause as a ballet of the hormones. I believe my hormones went so far as to create a new dance company called Debbie’s Dancing Divas. The first dance we performed was about how the brain affects behavior.
The act — leaping high, dipping low, spinning out of control — displays how our brain compensates for hormonal changes.
However, I thought my company had retired about five years ago.
Until my estrogen perked up for the last standing ovation. I am not kidding! I think my brain stopped working again.
I’ll give you a little preview of the brain in menopause in the last act of the ballet. Our neurons have receptors receiving these highs and lows of the dancing hormones, such as oxytocin, which are derived from estrogen production.
When estrogen is decreased, our brains go into overdrive, and the result is a complete disruption in the chain of biochemical activity. The production of mood chemicals serotonin and dopamine also can go awry, and our behavior is affected negatively.
I know when all of this happens to me because I get crazy and throw a fit over nothing, or I get depressed. My emotions are all over the place and I react badly.
Yesterday, for example, my grandson brought a cup of chocolate milk into my bedroom, spilled it on the floor, and hid the cup under my bed. As I walked into the room, I slipped and fell sideways on the bed.
I got mad, yelled, and fussed at him for five minutes, then I sat down and cried.
This is very uncharacteristic for me. My grandson was in tears, I was in tears, and everyone else thought I had lost my mind.
Well, I had. The activity of my brain ran amuck.
I recall another time when I was out of tea; I burst in tears (again) and hobbled to my room, crying that nobody cares!
I have been clinically depressed since the diagnosis in my twenty’s. However, when menopause kicked in, depression leaped high in the air and remained suspended mid-flight for about ten years.
She gracefully landed about five years ago and was ground level, or so I thought. I started feeling sad again and got depressed. I turned to my doctor for help and she suggested medication.
- Hormone therapy. Estrogen therapy is the most effective treatment option for relieving menopausal hot flashes. If you still have your uterus, you'll need progestin in addition to estrogen. Estrogen also helps prevent bone loss. Long-term use of hormone therapy may have some cardiovascular and breast cancer risks, but starting hormones around the time of menopause has shown benefits for some women. Talk to your doctor about hormone therapy and whether it's a safe choice for you.
- Low-dose antidepressants. Certain antidepressants may decrease menopausal hot flashes. A low-dose antidepressant for management of hot flashes may be useful for women who can't take estrogen for health reasons or for women who need an antidepressant for a mood disorder.
- Gabapentin (Gralise, Horizant, Neurontin). Gabapentin is approved to treat seizures, but it has also been shown to help reduce hot flashes. This drug is useful in women who can't use estrogen therapy and in those who also have nighttime hot flashes.
- Clonidine (Catapres, Kapvay). Clonidine, a pill or patch typically used to treat high blood pressure, might provide some relief from hot flashes.
- Medications to prevent or treat osteoporosis. Depending on individual needs, doctors may recommend medication to prevent or treat osteoporosis. Several medications are available that help reduce bone loss and risk of fractures. Your doctor might prescribe vitamin D supplements to help strengthen bones.
Before deciding on any form of treatment, talk with your doctor about your options and the risks and benefits involved with each. Review your options yearly, as your needs and treatment options may change.
In addition to my meds, the doctor gave me a list of things to try. The good news is; I noticed I felt better!
Good News Things To Do
I view the items listed not as something I have to do, but as something I get to do. When I express anticipation of these things, they become an adventure. I look forward to the process.
· Eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D such as dairy and leafy green vegetables. I combine the two by eating hard-boiled eggs in my spinach salad.
· Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. This is hard for me even without menopause. I just have to make a little more effort.
· Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. I love my fruits and veggies, especially oranges and broccoli. You’ll be surprised by the delicious recipes on the web that combines these two ingredients.
· Exercise regularly. Even though I cannot walk for more than fifty feet, I still do sit down exercises in my chair.
· Eat foods that are high in phytoestrogens. Tofu, soybeans, and flaxseed are rich in phytoestrogens. I guess the name speaks for itself.
· Drink enough water. I drink about four sixteen-ounce glasses a day. I always feel better after drinking a big glass of ice-cold water.
Debbie’s Dancing Divas has taken a break for now. Becoming aware of what is going on in our brain and how it affects behavior is crucial to understand what we can do about the symptoms of menopause. I hope the curtain has finally gone down on this act!
The good news is there is light at the end of menopause. Talk to your doctor, do your research, and make a plan that is right for you!