Leading researchers are urging the medical community to rethink how they treat patients who experience severe menopausal symptoms. Mache Seibel, MD., former 20-year veteran of Harvard Medical School faculty, editor of My Menopause Magazine and Professor of OB/GYN, University of Massachusetts –was inspired by his wife’s experience, and took it upon himself to help her and countless others, manage this important phase of life. Dr. Seibel studied the hormones given to women to treat symptoms and revisited the research in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) from 2002. After an up-close look at the data, he realized that further educating people about the role of hormones in health was necessary.
Jane Doe Lost Her Mojo
Many women who are in the prime of their lives and height of careers struggle with the debilitating symptoms associated with menopause. Consider this scenario: A healthy woman, aged 51, is looking forward to engaging in a night of foreplay, fun and sex with her partner, but is unable to enjoy herself, because of the lack of natural moisture she’s had all of her life until now. The “dry sex” she now has leads to pain during intercourse–two common symptoms of menopause. Following an unsatisfying sexual experience, she eventually falls asleep, only to be awakened by hot flashes and night sweats, soaking her sheets. The next day she wakes up tired, frustrated, and in a mental fog, only to have this experience happen the next night, and the next, and the next, and again the week after that. Knowing that sexual desire for women starts in the brain, she became unsure about how to connect her desire for intimacy with her body’s sexual response the way she used to, and her overwhelming fatigue makes her wonder if it’s worth the effort. The good news is that the experience of the menopausal transition can be positive, given the appropriate treatment, which varies depending on the age and health-status of each woman.
The process of menopause is like the process of puberty—but in reverse, says Dr. Seibel in his revolutionary book, “The Estrogen Window: The Breakthrough Guide to Being Healthy, Energized, and Hormonally Balanced–through Perimenopause, Menopause, and Beyond.” Although puberty is well understood, menopause, which effects every woman, is less so. Women may assume that the surge of estrogen during early menses will suddenly shut off like a spigot, but it is more subtle and takes longer than one might imagine, leaving in its wake, uncomfortable symptoms, which were broadly treated with hormones such as estrogen and synthetic progesterone (progestin) until the WHI study results were released in 2002.
The WHI hormone studies have increasingly come under fire for the way they were designed, most importantly the inclusion of women up to age 79 years. The results of these studies have reverberated through the medical community as the changes they caused may have been both too broadly applied and in some cases simply incorrect. The findings that hormone therapy was putting many women at risk for certain conditions such as breast cancer and cardiovascular conditions caused many women to go off their hormone-replacement therapy “cold turkey” without knowing how to address the consequences, and not fully understanding the risks versus rewards. For example, some of the patients in the WHI study were already at risk for cancer or cardiovascular disease because of life-long smoking, being overweight and the age at which they started hormone therapy. However, otherwise healthy women should be able to use these therapies to ward off the symptoms that affect sexual health and pleasure.
Opening the Estrogen Window
Dr. Seibel calls the estrogen window, the “decade-long time-frame between the ages of 50 and 60, or 10 years from the time of menopause,” which is defined as at least 12 consecutive months menstrual period-free.
His book outlines important recommendations that are not a one-size fits all approach. Here are several key takeaways for improving and maintaining sexual vitality:
Low estrogen levels at midlife are common causes for genitourinary syndrome of menopause that causes bladder leakage, vaginal dryness, and elasticity in vaginal tissue to change–leading to discomfort during sex (location 3014).
The estrogen window for vaginal estrogen always remains open; it never closes (location 836).
Estrogen alternatives exist for women with medical histories (e.g., breast or endometrial cancers, blood clots, liver disease, pregnancy, undiagnosed uterine bleeding) that make it inadvisable to take estrogen (location ,787 814).
This book is available online and at the website drmache.com/Estrogen-window-book. This website contains downloadable bonus material, including the Menopause Checklist, Sleep Diary, and much more. Armed with this information, a visit to your gynecologist can lead to better overall health and importantly, a continuation of a satisfying sex life, well into advanced age.
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