Do you know the 'fancy' name for menopause? It is climacteric, which means a time during which there is a decrease of reproductive capacity both in women and men, culminating, for women, in menopause.
A lot more happens during 'climacteric' than merely a decrease in reproductive capacity. It's a colossal and oft times difficult transition for women, which can lead to depression and other critical health issues associated with aging.
According to the National Institutes of Health, depression is prevalent among peri-menopausal women and post-menopausal females.
Peri-menopause refers to the years leading up to menopause when a woman's cycle becomes erratic. She may experience estrogen dominance, hot flashes, mood swings, weight gain, irritability, etc.
Peri-menopause generally starts in a woman's forties but can begin earlier in life. It typically lasts four years. Peri-menopause takes place because the ovaries are little by little producing less estrogen. The child-bearing days are coming to an end.
During peri-menopause and menopause, estrogen goes on the lam. vanishing for the most part. When estrogen, an important female hormone, takes a powder, this can lead to depression.
When a woman's ovaries stop releasing eggs altogether, this is menopause. Her period stops. A women is considered post-menopausal or fully menopausal if she has gone 365 days (a full year) without a menstrual period. Since there is very little estrogen left at this point, a woman may be particularly vulnerable to depression.
The next phase is post-menopause, during which time hot flashes and other annoying menopausal symptoms start to lessen in severity, which is the good news.
The bad news is post-menopausal women are at higher risk for heart disease, osteoporosis and depression than their younger counterparts. Depression can remain an issue.
Saying good-bye to estrogen … It was nice knowing ya'.
Estradiol is one of the three primary estrogens in a woman's body. Its job is to lift a person's mood. It is a built-in hormonal anti-depressant that raises serotonin activity in the central nervous system.
Serotonin is mighty important. It is a neurotransmitter conveying nerve impulses across the spaces located in between nerve cells (neurons). The spaces sandwiched between neurons are called synapses.
Serotonin plays a crucial role in regard to memory, regulating sleep, appetite, temperature (those blasted hot flashes!) mood, depression, muscle contraction, behavior, bone metabolism, wound healing, endocrine regulation, age regulating and cardiovascular performance.
When serotonin levels are not sufficient this can put a woman in danger of depression as well as other health problems.
Hair and skin are negatively affected because of the dearth of estrogen. The body changes, and not in a favorable way. The libido may plummet. These undesired changes can contribute to depression.
Menopause taking place before the age of 40 is considered premature menopause. Any woman who is menopausal prior to the age of 45 is considered to have early menopause.
Women sometimes experience premature or early menopause, which they have no control over. It's spontaneous and just happens.
When a young woman has a hysterectomy, the outcome is induced premature menopause (if she is younger than 40) or induced early menopause (if she is younger than 45.)
Dr. Melissa Wellons, the lead author of a study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, concluded women who went through menopause before the age of 46 were twice as apt to have a stroke or heart attack as women who went through menopause later in life. The average age of natural menopause is 51.
Different kinds of hysterectomy
If ovaries are left intact after a hysterectomy, the woman may enter menopause earlier than females who haven't had a hysterectomy. When ovaries are removed, the woman instantaneously enters menopause. The 28-year-old who has a hysterectomy including an oophorectomy (surgical removal of ovaries) is, in the blink of a scalpel, menopausal.
Those women who have experienced spontaneous or induced menopause before the age of 40 face a greater risk in general of mortality, psychiatric diseases, cardiovascular problems and osteoporosis. The earlier the age of menopause the higher the threat for health problems. In other words, the 65 year old woman who had a hysterectomy leading to induced menopause 35 years ago might be presently suffering the ramifications of the surgery.
Estrogen treatment may lessen some of the adverse symptoms of menopause but there are serious risks to taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT.) It's a Catch 22.
If depression is now your unwanted companion…
So what do you do? You can't turn back time and become the estrogen-fueled gal you were for 40 or more years.
Ask your physician about the efficacy of taking supplements to treat menopausal depression.
- Have a thorough work up to determine if you are deficient in critical vitamins and minerals. Deficiencies can lead to the blues. Low levels of vitamin C are linked to depression. Take a vitamin C supplement.
- Get outside. We oldsters need a boost of vitamin D, which is derived from the sun. If you experience worse depression during the dark winter months you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD.) Ask your doctor about light therapy, which is helpful to those suffering from seasonal depression.
- Consider taking a fish oil supplement. Omega-3 reduces the chance of acquiring osteoporosis (brittle bone disease) and heart disease and makes the individual less susceptible to depression. Eat salmon, soybeans, walnuts.
- Ask your physician about ginkgo. This herb reportedly improves memory and enhances mood.
- Have your magnesium levels checked. Inadequate magnesium leads to depression.
Depression and Weight Problems
An interesting aside, those women with a body weight index of 55 kg/m or higher are two times more likely to suffer from depression than the female with a body weight index of less than 55 kg/m.
The National Institutes of Health have concluded there is a correlation between depression and being overweight or obese although the precise causal mechanism for the relationship between obesity and depression isn't clear.
It is believed depression may lead to obesity because a depressed person becomes less active and changes his eating patterns, eating more or eating the wrong kind of food.
If weight is an issue for you, in addition to depression, discuss this with your physician.
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Cindi Pearce is a graduate of Ohio University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in journalism back in the dark ages (aka before computers, the Internet and cell phones. Heck, before electric typewriters!) A former newspaper writer/columnist and photographer, her fiction and non-fiction work has been published in national magazines. A full-time freelance writer, as well as an avid gardener, an artist and yoga aficionado, Cindi is a Baby Boomer and proud of it. She has survived the gnarly challenges of the sandwich generation and lived to tell the tale. Cindi has somehow managed to stay married to her first and only husband for nearly 35 years. They are the parents of three grown children and the grandparents of one. She has five large, raucous dogs, five acres to mow on her beloved zero turn mower, and gets the biggest kick out of making people laugh on Facebook. (P.S. She refuses to cut her hair short.)