Menopause is not a disease

It's awfully easy to get so caught up in going to the doctor and juggling HRT prescriptions and worrying about testing and feeling as though we're falling apart that we lose track of the fact that menopause is, after all, a normal and natural life stage. The fact that it tends not be valued very highly in our society notwithstanding, it's something that has been our destiny all our lives. The fact that we may have entered this state early or voluntarily as a tradeoff to be rid of some pressing health problem notwithstanding, here we are.

One thing that pains us when we read women's reactions and problems they're having dealing with their menopausal needs is when their understandable frustration boils over into statements like "I don't want to be taking these drugs all of my life. I want something that's natural." Okay, now there's nothing altogether wrong with that idea. In fact, we'd have to agree with that sentiment. But the rub is in how they apply it: to turn their backs on HRT and claim it's all an evil plot of the Big Pharmaceuticals to turn their lives into a disease.

Now we're not great fans of the way the business practices of Big Pharmco play out for the hapless consumer, but this situation also carries just a bit of cutting off one's nose to spite their face. We'd like to suggest a different way of thinking about menopause and our hormone needs that provides a better framework for understanding what we're doing.

Hormones are not drugs

It's easy to lose sight of this, when we have to go to the doctor and plead for HRTs, get a prescription, and take it to the pharmacy just as if it were a drug. But it's not. HRT is a supplement; it's just more of something our bodies already and naturally make. Used at its best, HRT just makes up the difference between what we can make and what we need to be healthy and feel good.

Drugs interfere with normal bodily processes and impose other effects (and, often, side effects: negative effects caused by this interference with a normal process). Hormones are necessary for our bodies to carry out normal processes and the undersirable effects we sometimes see with them are either those of an imbalance between our needs and our supply, or are effects of the dynamics of putting them into our bodies.

So if they are so normal and healthy and swell for us, why can't we just buy them at the store like vitamins and other health supplements? Well, because they are such powerful agents that it's possible to gravely injure ourselves with them. Used without understanding of their role and characteristics, hormones are just too dangerous for amateurs to mess around with. We mean you, our reader right this minute, no insult here, but we have to say that a great many women have no understanding of how their bodies function. Thanks to advertising and the helpful intent of friends, we're also subject to a great deal of inappropriate and misguided advice.

Unfortunately, the serious implications of hormone misuse mean that we need an educated and experienced partner in determining how best to use them. And because of the way our health care systems are set up, that has fallen to, for the most part, not health and wellness practitioners but medical practitioners: professionals whose expertise is in diagnosing and treating illness. And because their focus is on illness, not wellness, that casts our endeavors in a whole diferent light.

A doctor is trained to see symptoms and diseases, not to enhance a state of wellness. When we take our shopping basket of menopausal symptoms to a doctor, he must, by the professional standards under which he practices, see these as a form of illness. If we are lucky in our choice of partners, he is able to recognize these symptoms as representing a deficiency and he may prescribe HRT. If not, we will leave with another shopping basket of prescriptions for diseases representing each symptom and a referral to a shrink.

But that's the problem of mismatch, the problem of systems, the problem of bureaucratic administration; it's not our fault. We're not sick and we don't need drugs when we're having problems dealing with menopause gracefully. All we need is some help getting the available supply of a needed material our own bodies would make on their own if we still had ovaries restored to levels that let us meet our basic functional needs.

Few people would suggest that it's more "natural" to do without food nutrients we haven't grown ourselves but need to buy from the supermarket; few people would suggest that a diabetic or someone who is hypothyroid should "get over" their need for the lift-sustaining hormones they lack. HRTs are not drugs; they're just a way to replace a normal part of us that we agreed to displace in order to fight an illness through surgery. Menopause is not a disease.