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Hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, insomnia: these are some symptoms hormones—or lack of them—can wreak on women’s bodies during the premenstrual period, pregnancy, and menopause.
But these aren’t the only ways women’s bodies differ from
men’s; even in health conditions that affect both sexes,
women often have different outcomes from men. While
preventative health for all conditions is paramount, there
are steps women can take to minimize risk and symptoms
of common conditions specific to them.
Scheduling an annual gynecologist appointment, having
Pap smears and mammograms as advised, exercising, and
maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet are always recommended. But, I’d like to address some complaints I hear as
a practicing pharmacist.
Far and away, the most troubling condition I hear
about from women in my practice is menopause and perimenopause, the period preceding menopause when hormone levels are declining. Reduced hormone production
by the ovaries can cause not only the aforementioned hot
flashes, insomnia, and mood swings, but also weight gain,
decreased libido, vaginal dryness, and memory loss.
Minding women’s health
By James “Bo” Catanese, Pharm.D.
To combat this, there are a few tools at our disposal, beginning with over-the-counter supplements. For
instance, rhubarb root extract, sold under the trade name
of Estrovera®, can reduce hot flashes, one of the biggest
complaints of perimenopause. This non-hormonal herbal extract has been used in Europe for more than twenty years, and has been shown in clinical studies to have
results comparable to low dose hormone therapy. Other over-the-counter options include evening primrose oil
and black cohosh. Additionally, cortisol, the hormone our
body creates to manage stress, is often disrupted by hormonal changes, which can lead to weight gain, fatigue, and
hot flashes. Adaptogenic herbs such as eleuthero, ashwa-ganda, and rhodiola rosea, commonly sold in combinations products like Adrenotone®, help normalize cortisol
levels, and can relieve these symptoms.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a prescription
option to combat the symptoms of perimenopause. This
therapy is individualized, as each woman’s hormone deficiencies and imbalances are different. While one woman
may need estrogen, another may have too much, and need
progesterone to balance the excess. Customized properly,