Marleen M. Quint
Women’s Health Advocate
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Wildcelt Health's Blog click here.
Menopause is medically defined as the cessation of menstrual
activity, usually occurring between the ages of 35 to 58.
It marks the end of a woman’s ability to reproduce. Doctors
consider a woman having gone through menopause once her periods
have ceased for one full year -- hardly brilliant science. The ability
of the medical profession to accurately monitor, facilitate, predict
and understand this passage in a woman’s life remains to be
MYTH & MEDICINE
Many of the problems associated with menopause
can be attributed to the undeniable overlapping of myth and medicine.
A great deal can be understood regarding the type of myths attributed
to female reproduction and its cessation when examining the societal
shift from the matriarchal to the patriarchal. This shift affected
how menopause was viewed both in society and in medicine. It also
affected the subsequent terminology used to describe the menopausal
process and the treatments developed to "correct" it.
In ancient times many traditional rituals involved
the ingestion of menstrual blood to increase spiritual power. In
ancient Greece, for example, spring festivals included the spreading
of corn and menstrual blood on the ground to increase fertility.
The word "ritual" comes from "rtu" which means
menses in Sanskrit. Blood from the womb was believed to have the
power of life. Blood sacrifices at one time came from the "sacrificed"
blood flow of a woman’s monthly cycle. This ritual was later
corrupted into killing for sacrificial blood.
A woman’s bleeding was once considered a powerful cosmic event
connected to the lunar cycles and the tides. This connection to
the moon’s cycle was later distorted and the connection between
the wisdom of women and the tides was denigrated. The word "lunacy"
is the result of this denigration.
The word "menopause" (menespausie, in French) was first
used in 1812 by a French physician named de Gardanne. At that time
it was believed a woman’s mental state was directly linked
to her reproductive organs. The uterus and ovaries were frequently
removed as a treatment for symptoms as simple as irritability.
word connecting women and mental instability is the word "hysteria".
It comes from the Greek word "hystera", meaning "uterus".
Both lunacy and hysteria are words rooted in the perversion of the
natural female reproductive cycle and are both terms still listed
in cyclopedia medical dictionaries (although the word lunacy is
usually acknowledged as an outdated term).
By the 20th century menopause had become a medical
disease to be dealt with rather than part of the natural
aging process of a healthy woman. During the 1930’s a researcher
named Dr. Serge Voronoff conducted hormonal therapy treatments involving
grafting monkey ovaries in women resulting in several fatalities
(I’d like to know who approved THAT study). By the 1940’s
FDA approved the marketing of Premarin, a hormonal estrogen derived
from pregnant mares urine (Yup, it‘s a well known fact; that‘s
how it got its name). I bet that little piece of information wasn’t
printed on the box! In the 1950’s we had lobotomies and female
castration as a treatment for "mid-life crazies." The
1960’s brought us Feminine Forever, a book funded
by the drug company Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, Inc. The book was
written by a New York gynecologist named Dr. Robert Wilson. It characterized
menopause as a disease rather than a natural phase of a woman’s
life. It expounded the miracles of estrogen therapy as the cure
for this disease and the answer to the fountain of youth.
21st century has hardly brought us the world of enlightenment for
middle-aged women. The perceptions and politics that have
twisted the view of menopause still prevails. The only recent productive
piece of information we finally received confirmed research that
both estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) and combination hormone
replacement therapy (HRT) does much more harm than good. The Women’s
Health Initiative (WHI) was the large government study that included
over 161,000 healthy postmenopausal women which revealed the dangers
of both ERT and HRT. Study results were published in 2002.
make a point of mentioning the year of the study results because
by 1975 it was already well-known in the medical community that
women taking unopposed estrogen had an increase of uterine cancers.
In fact, animal studies done in the 1950’s had already shown
this. The debate on the safety and effectiveness of HRT has also
been in contention for many years. This means our government has
allowed the medical industry to use women as hormonal guinea pigs
for over 50 years!
In spite of the clear medical bias existing around the subject of
menopause, I would like to attempt to explain its process as simply
and comprehensively as possible.
I was amazed to find out that the ovary doesn’t just shrivel
up and die after menopause. The ovary has a much broader and longer
function than previously thought. It’s not only an egg making
factory. The ovary is also an endocrine organ that
produces hormones all through a woman’s life.
A simplified explanation of how the
ovary functions is to think of a woman’s life in 3 stages
-- puberty, reproduction and menopause. Puberty is when reproduction
hormones kick into gear, reproduction is the stage when childbearing
occurs and menopause can be thought of as the reverse of puberty.
The ovary goes from a reproductive to a maintenance stage during
menopause. When women are younger, the ovary produces estrogen and
progesterone. As women enter middle-age, the ovary begins to produce
estrogen and androgens (male hormones). This means a woman has a
little more testosterone and a little less estrogen but in a balance
to maintain the non-reproductive stage of her life.
is a long and slow process. The actual physiological changes leading
up to menopause can be a 15 to 20 year process. There is also a
great deal of variability in the hormone levels generated during
perimenopause (hormonal changes leading up to menopause) and postmenopause
(after menopause has occurred). There are several factors that can
effect hormone levels during the various stages of menopause.
FACTORS AFFECTING HORMONE LEVELS DURING MENOPAUSE
Obesity - This is defined as being at lease 20%
over your ideal weight. This can be a major determinant of estrogen
levels in postmenopausal women. The estrogen levels of obese women
are 40% higher than those of non-obese women.
Physical Activity - Physically active women have
higher levels of estrone (a form of estrogen). Those with more muscle
mass have higher estrogen levels. This is probably connected to
the large amount of an enzyme called aromatase found in muscle which
accounts for the conversion of 25% to 30% of a woman’s androgens
Adrenal Gland - The adrenal gland produces a larger
amount of androgens after menopause. These androgens can be converted
into estrone through fat and muscle.
Other Organs - Other organs contributing to the
conversion of androgens to estrogens include the brain (pituitary),
skin, hair and bone marrow.
As you can see, the female endocrine system is very complicated
yet adaptable. The ovaries don’t just dry up and stop working.
They adjust to the different stages of a woman’s life just
as other organs in her body makes various hormonal adjustments over
a period of years to accommodate the changing needs of the aging
Up to this point, the menopause I’ve referred to has been
part of the natural aging process. There are other forms of menopause
resulting from direct, and often abrupt, human intervention.
MENOPAUSE THROUGH HUMAN INTERVENTION
Menopause - This involves the removal of both ovaries called
a bilateral oopherectomy. This may be done independently or in conjunction
with a hysterectomy (the surgical removal of the uterus). An oopherectomy
will result in a immediate menopause. Although you lose most of
your hormones after this procedure, various organs in the body supplement
hormonal needs as previously mentioned. The adrenal gland produces
some hormonal compensation which is adequate for some women but
not for most. Many women require some form of hormone supplementation
to compensate for sudden depletion. Data indicates that women who
have had an oopherectomy are at greater risk for heart disease and
osteoporosis even with hormone therapy.
Medical Menopause - Often women who have been given
chemotherapy as a cancer treatment go into temporary or sometimes
permanent menopause. Radiation for colon cancer can also induce
Drug treatments such as Lupron and Synarel (hormonal treatments)
can put a woman into temporary menopause. These drugs are usually
given to treat endometriosis or to shrink uterine fibroid tumors
before surgical removal.
Environmental Toxins and Menopause - This subject
is very close to my heart. I’ve been researching the effects
of environmental toxins on the female endocrine system for the past
12 years. There are 3 major things I have learned.
1 - Environmental toxins are causing major hormonal disruptions
in women’s reproductive and other endocrine functions.
2 - If we don’t clean up the environment and find more natural
forms of hormonal nourishment for women, we will continue to see
an increase in diseases associated with menopause and experience
the menopausal process more and more as a disease process than as
a natural passage in a woman’s life.
3 - Commercial industries and government agencies are both directly
and indirectly responsible for man-made pollutants that permeate
our environment with toxic and endocrine disrupting results. It
is only when these institutions are made accountable for their actions
that we will see any constructive research and regulations put into
place. It is my opinion that this kind of reform will only take
place when a massive grassroots movement, with women at the helm,
forces a turn of the tides.
Smoking - This is one specific environmental toxin
that can induce early menopause. Women who smoke have double the
risk of early menopause.
There are many environmental stresses imposed on a woman throughout
her life that can have a serious impact on the menopausal process.
Sugar, fat and variety of chemical exposures contributes to a number
of diseases and exacerbates many of the negative effects of menopause.
Baby-Boomers, who are the largest demographic group
experiencing menopause at this time, were the first generation to
be exposed to a sea of carcinogenic chemicals and radiation in utero
(in the uterus). I’m talking about chemicals like DDT, a carcinogen
that was not manufactured in large quantities until W.W.II. Radiation
from nuclear fallout was unheard of before the war. Creating the
atom bomb literally created new forms of radiation poisoning that
never previously existed on earth.
Of the 85,000 commercial chemicals used in the United States, most
have not been tested for basic human safety. Many of those chemicals
that have been tested and have proven to be carcinogenic and/or
endocrine disrupting are still allowed to be manufactured and legally
sold in this country. These chemicals can be found in pesticides,
cleaning products, cosmetics, food additives, drugs and most plastic
containers used everyday to store and prepare food. This includes
plastic baby bottles and plastic containers frequently microwaved.
NEVER microwave in any plastic containers - Many
plastics contain chemicals called xenoestrogens (xeno = foreign
or alien). When you heat food in plastic, chemicals can leach into
your food and introduce synthetic estrogens that bind to your natural
estrogens and can cause hormonal disruption. This can interfere
with the menopausal process and can lead to cancer, thyroid disease,
uterine disease and an array of autoimmune diseases.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS OF MENOPAUSE
At this point I would like to address the various signs and symptoms
of menopause. I would also like to mention that many of the unpleasant
symptoms of menopause experienced by American women are not universal
to all women. Severe symptoms by women in other countries are less
frequent. Sometimes they experience a different set of symptoms
or sometimes experience no noticeable symptoms at all. In Japan,
for instance, women so rarely experience hot flashes that there
is no specific term in the Japanese language for "hot flash".
* Menstrual Irregularity
* Hot Flashes or Flushes (sometimes followed by cold chills)
* Dizziness, Rapid Irregular Heartbeat
* Hypoglycemic Symptoms: suddenly feeling weak or shaky, breaking
out in a cold sweat
* Atrophic Vaginitis: thinning and drying of vaginal canal lining
due to lack of estrogen
* Indigestion, gas pains, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation
* Bladder & Urinary Infections
* Breast Tenderness
* Cold Hands & Feet
* Joint Pain
* Mood Changes
* Pronounced Tension & Anxiety
* Sleeping Difficulty
* Forgetfulness, Inability to Concentrate
* Depression or Melancholy & Fatigue
These are some of the most common symptoms experienced by many menopausal
women but are certainly not the only symptoms. The variety of symptoms
experienced are as different as the women who experience them.
The problems occurring in the various stages of a woman’s
life can often be attributed to societal bias and human interference
with the natural process. We humans have not yet learned that we
are not the masters of the universe and that Mother Nature, who
has been hard at work for millions of years, may actually know what
My own gynecologist recently told me that life after menopause was
the result of the miracles of modern medicine allowing us to live
longer than human beings were ever designed to live. Without missing
a beat, I told her I didn’t believe that for a second. The
human heart alone was designed to keep beating for at least 80 years.
Many past societies dating back hundreds and even thousands of years
spoke of elders who lived into their 90’s and even longer.
Part of the modern day misconception of menopause is the misinterpretation
of the term "average life expectancy". This does not refer
to the age at which people usually die. Average life expectancy
is determined by adding together all ages of death and then dividing
that figure by population. If you have a society with a high infant
mortality rate, famines, wars and plagues, then the average life
expectancy is going to be low. But, for those who survive past the
age of 5 and all other life threatening environmental conditions,
they often live into healthy old-age.
It appears menopause is part of nature’s life cycle for women
and has been for a long time. Some historians have found references
to menopause as far back as the biblical era. There is much evidence
that women routinely lived past fertility and many years after that.
As long as society and medicine see menopause as the end of a women’s
"productive" life and treat it as a disease, we will never
fully understand the menopause process even if the answer is staring
us in the face. Women will forever be trapped in a world between
myth and medicine where we are the unwitting participants of a system
that mutilates and poisons us "for our own good".
STEP-UP THE COMMUNICATON
It is important for women to step-up the communication lines between
each other concerning menopause. I believe it is even more important
to share our stories with each other than it is for us to share
them with healthcare professionals because we need to do one before
we can do the other. Women must reclaim the lost tradition of healing
through oral history. We know our bodies and we innately want to
share our stories with each other. We need to establish more formal
ways of doing so. Once we have found the knowledge and confidence
within ourselves and between each other, we will find more effective
ways of communicating and asserting our needs to healthcare professionals
and begin to make the much needed changes in the approach to studying
the female endocrine system. Perhaps we can begin by revising our
terminology when referring to menopause. We can replace the phrase
"treat the disease" with "nurture the woman".
you have any comments or experiences that you would like to relate
to us regarding this subject, please contact Marleen at MQhealthpge@aol.com
In The Blood: The Myths, Magic and Mystery of Moonflow,
Awakening to the Goddess, Marguerite Rigoglioso
Dr. Susan Love’s Hormone Book, Susan M. Love, M.D.,
with Karen Lindsey
Natural Health Care Clinic
Menopause, Natural Medicine Instructions for Patients
Women’s Health Initiative
Seeking A Cure for Menopause
CLINIC & AYURVEDA SCHOOL - Integrated Medical Clinic &
Ayurveda School is a unique healthcare facility, combining the strengths
and knowledge of both traditional western and alternative medicine
in a holistic manner.
Originally from Hawaii, Marleen was also raised in Japan and Guam.
Her background is extremely eclectic and ranges from working in
the field of cartography to performing as a singer, dancer and actress.
In 1990, Marleen was diagnosed with thyroid
disease followed by breast cancer less than two years later. She
lost both breasts and her thyroid with no family history that would
predispose her to either disease. After much research, Marleen is
convinced that environmental pollution played a significant role
in the development of her life-threatening diseases.
Since 1995, Marleen has dedicated herself as a women's health advocate.
She has served as a consultant for several health organizations
including the National Cancer Institute in Washington, DC and UCSF
Mt. Zion Cancer Center in San Francisco.
Marleen has combined her skills to develop a women's health presentation
which delves into the connections between the politics of gender
bias and the level of morbidity suffered by women. Marleen is an
active speaker in the San Francisco Bay Area.