While we know that osteoporosis is closely associated with aging in women, a new study suggests that menopause presents women with the further risk of degenerative disc disease. The study was recently published in the journal Menopause, of the North American Menopause Society.
Using a sample of women against a control group of similarly aged men, the study has confirmed that the loss of estrogen associated with menopause is at fault.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging was used in the study to determine the difference between the severity of degenerative disc disease in pre-menopausal and peri-menopausal women against men in similar age groups. Against men in these same age groups, women fared better, with men experiencing more severe manifestations of the condition.
In the 15 years following the onset of menopause, women were seen to develop much more severe symptoms, as compared to men in their age group. Specially affected was the lumbar region.
Hormone Replacement Therapy has been suggested as a logical response to the problem, but this therapy is known to come with certain risks which may outweigh its value for women suffering from degenerative disc disease as the result of estrogen loss.
Today, there are many alternatives to HRT which are not known to have serious health implications. Many women use herbal remedies instead, one of which is Black Cohosh. Used for millennia, particularly in Native American and Canadian First Nations populations as a folk cure, Black Cohosh is now widely employed because of the naturally-occurring plant estrogens it contains.
While the study concludes that menopause is associated with degenerative disc disease in post-menopausal women, it’s important to me as a clinician that women in this stage of life are aware that it’s not a foregone conclusion.
Menopause, to begin with, doesn’t manifest in precisely the same way in every woman. Some women experience symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings. Others are asymptomatic. Secondly, the physical fallout of menopause is different for every woman. While some experience weight gain, others do not.
Therefore, approaches to the problem must be varied and pro-active. As I’ve noted above, there are alternatives to HRT which should be considered prior to agreeing to the traditional approach. Further, women approaching menopause can take charge of their response to this stage of life by preparing for it.
Part of that preparation should include a course of daily exercise. Yoga, Pilates, power walking, dance, swimming and other low impact forms of exercise are all conducive to maintaining overall health and fitness. Exercise also prevents the loss of bone, which can help to compensate for estrogen loss.
Having a plan of action in place before menopause hits is your best defence against the possibility of developing ailments like osteoporosis and degenerative disc disease. Being proactive and understanding that your experience is unique is important. Further, understanding that menopause represents the beginning of a part of your life which can be extremely liberating and rewarding is empowering.
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