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Menopause Is Big Business
by Linda Ojeda, Ph.D., Sausalito, CA

In the West, historically, the menopausal woman was regarded with pity and indifference. Because she complained of symptoms that were as yet unexplained, she was labeled a neurotic hypochondriac, then sedated and left to suffer in silence. I am sure no one regrets leaving behind those days of disbelief and intolerance. But what replaced the ignorance--namely, the medical model of midlife--may be equally destructive.

Women who are fifty-something are no longer ignored; they are actively courted. They are presently a prime target of the medical industry, drug companies, and other interests that can benefit from an aging population. And the market is growing: Fifty million baby boomers are going through menopause, entering at a rate of between two thousand and four thousand per day. By the year 2015, nearly one-half of the female population will be menopausal. Talk about global warming!

Industry-financed medical researchers inundate us with information about the benefits of treating all menopausal signs and symptoms--severe or insignificant-- with hormones. The assumption that menopause is associated with chronic disease further encourages widespread use of prescription drugs. While earlier hormonal therapies were marketed only to physicians, major drug companies now directly target female consumers in grocery-store magazines. Before they experience their first hint of oncoming menopause, women are already primed to run to the doctor for pills.

Menopause is now a big business, and we women consumers need to be alert to what we hear and read. The fact that there is a strong bias toward medicalizing menopause is obvious. Now that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) no longer commands the primary focus since its reputation has been tarnished, an abundance of prescription drugs are primed to fill the void and sell us treatments for osteoporosis, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and heart disease. Our buying power is huge and we are going to be courted and cajoled into taking drugs that we may not need.

Before you decide on a new medication, please do some homework. Check with a few health professionals who are not quick to medicate, check out the Internet, read the latest in research, talk to your friends who may be knowledgeable, and trust your own instincts about what is appropriate for your body. Just because a product is advertised on TV and just because thousands of women are taking it, doesn't mean it is the best drug for you. Also, find out if a natural, less potentially harmful remedy exists for your symptom. Often it does.

The thought of menopause should not and need not produce anxiety. A study of other societies indicates that the stereotype of the distraught woman is not universal, that our negative reactions to common physiological processes, such as menstruation and menopause, are culturally engendered. In countries where age is venerated and elders enjoy respect for their experience and wisdom, older women seem to manifest fewer physical and psychological symptoms. For example, South African, Asian, and Arabic women, who, it is said, welcome the end of the childbearing years, are reported to have positive attitudes about the change of life. Where there are different predefined concepts, aging seems to be more natural, less confusing, and not overlaid with negative images.

Mayan women in Mexico have been studied by researchers because they do not complain of the characteristic symptoms of menopause and do not suffer from osteoporosis and bone fractures. Endocrinologically, they are no different from women in the United States. In fact, estrogen levels in Mayan postmenopausal women were at or below the values expected for U.S. women. Something that is significantly different is their attitude. Mayan women welcome the transition, as they will be relieved of many household chores and regarded as respected elders.

Menopause, like menarche, is natural. We experience hormonal changes at menopause, just as we did in our adolescence. Any lifetime change may be accompanied by uneasiness and disequilibrium; it is normal and it will pass. How smoothly a woman adapts to any transition depends largely on her overall health- that of her body, her mind, and her spirit.

Excerpted with permission from Menopause without Medicine, 5th edition, by Linda Ojeda, Ph.D., (c) 2003, courtesy of Hunter House Publishers (800) 266-6692 www.hunterhouse.com

LINDA OJEDA, Ph.D., noted nutritionist and author, has been speaking and writing about women's health for nearly 30 years. Her nutritional guidelines have helped thousands of women make sensible decisions about menstruation, perimenopause, menopause, nutrition and heart health. Linda is also the author of Her Healthy Heart and Safe Dieting for Teens, and coauthor of The Natural Estrogen Diet and Recipe Book.