Women’s health has become one my areas of greatest concern. The statistics dealing with heart disease and immune-mediated diseases are incredibly frightening, especially in the last five years. A woman a minute dies of a heart attack in this country. In the most recent report, heart disease in women now takes more women than the next seven leading causes of death combined. Last year, the startling fact was that heart disease causes more death in women than all forms of cancer combined, including breast cancer. Yes, atherosclerosis has just passed cancer as the number one killer like it was standing still. How can this be?
First of all, if you haven’t read the above section on atherosclerosis, then you need to. If you have, then you might want to read it again because the key to the readers understanding of why the opening remarks here are true lies in the fact that atherosclerosis is an inflammatory condition. Yes, there is inflammation taking place in the walls of the arteries, which leads to the weakening of the vessels of the heart. The hydrogenated oils we have been consuming let things into that artery’s walls that shouldn’t be there to start the process.
Why the review here? To set the reader up for a very important point and I will use heart disease to illustrate the point this time. The average age for men to have heart disease is in their 40’s. The average for women is in their 60’s, after menopause. Why would that be? The answer lies in the “magic” hormone of women…progesterone. This anti-inflammatory hormone is what makes the woman the “stronger sex”. It is also what makes a pregnant woman “bullet-proof”…much more resistant to illness. (I had a woman tell me recently that she was very dairy intolerant, unless she was pregnant. Then she could drink all she wanted without problems. This is due to the fact that progesterone is the hormone that maintains the pregnancy and its anti-inflammatory effect was covering up her normal negative reactions to the dairy products.)
Let me explain something here. In feline medicine, before I realized that most skin problems were food-related, we treated everything with cortisone. And, when the cortisone stopped working, we had a back-up drug…progesterone. Yes, progesterone worked BETTER than cortisone to reduce skin inflammation. Do you see my point here? It is powerful stuff, AND it is covering up a “multitude of sins” in the woman while it is coursing through her veins prior to menopause or during pregnancy. It is MASKING symptoms and this is CRITICAL for the woman to realize.
So, back to the heart disease. NOW, tell me why women have atherosclerosis later than men and after menopause. Yes, the progesterone levels have been covering up the inflammation in the walls of the arteries all along. BUT, when menopause comes and takes it away, the condition hits hard and fast. THIS is why women do not survive heart attacks as well as men. They get them later in the course of the disease and later in life due to this hormonal “cover-up”. It is like suddenly yanking an allergic dog off of his medication then watching him suffer within days from the allergic reactions it has been covering up.
This, my dear women friends, is the nature of menopause. When the progesterone levels drop, all of the inflammatory processes that have been trying to occur are unleashed. “Hot flashes” anyone? They also occur mostly at night when your own natural cortisone levels are also at their lowest for the day. You see? It does all make sense, doesn’t it?
Now the reader can understand many of the statistics that they read about women’s health. Immune-mediated diseases hit men earlier in their life, but they occur at a much higher rate in women overall while striking them later in life, usually after natural or “surgical” menopause. And as discussed, women do suffer from heart disease later in life than men but do not do as well once it becomes evident.
And what about those “hot flashes”? What could those be, anyway? Do they serve a purpose (like everything else our body does)? Remember: Our bodies do everything they do for a reason, whether it is to warn us of something we have done wrong or to help remedy a situation that has occurred. Allergic reactions, for example, do both. Fevers from viruses are therapeutic…they help isolate and kill the virus that is trying to invade our body. The inflammation from a sprained ankle results in pain and swelling, both of which occur to warn us of damage and to immobilize the part so that it will heal more quickly. Do we really do the right thing by taking anti-inflammatory drugs to artificially reduce the pain and swelling? I KNOW that we do the wrong thing by killing the fever caused by a virus. That is truly idiotic…isn’t it???
So, what again are those hot flashes all about? We need a little more review before proceeding, I think. There is (or should be) a balance between the two primary hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Estrogens are stimulating and inflammatory. Just ask any women who experiences PMS about the first and any teenage girl experiencing breast tenderness during her cycles about the latter. Estrogens sensitize neurons to the action of glutamate, that neurostimulating amino acid I write so much about in my epilepsy and pain papers. This contributes greatly to the manifestation of PMS symptoms…a sort of acute (or acutely worse) ADHD-like syndrome resulting in irritability, irrational behavior, and other symptoms like pain and headaches. Estrogens are also inflammatory to the mammary glands and uterus, causing breast tenderness and menstrual cramp pain. So overall, I would put estrogen in a “negative” light for the sake of this discussion. (Of course, it is an absolutely necessary hormone and part of the grand scheme of things.)
Progesterone, on the other hand, is your hero. This hormone has the opposite attributes of being calming and anti-inflammatory. We have discussed its powerful cortisone-like effects. It balances and counteracts the effects of estrogen. The progesterone spike during the middle part of the estrus cycle is what terminates the inflammation in the uterus and breasts and also calms the person with PMS while changing the attitude of the female dog from one of rejecting the male to one of acceptance of his advances. I call it a “voice change”…progesterone changes the voice of the female dog from “No!!!” to “yes”. How and why are very clear.
The estrogen is produced by the ovary under the guidance of the pituitary gland. This starts the cycle of preparing the female for breeding by creating inflammation in the uterus in order to cleanse it to get it ready for an embryo to implant. In the breast, estrogen prepares the tissue to start producing (clean, healthy) milk when the time comes. Then comes ovulation, which occurs about 10 days into the “heat” cycle of the dog. When this occurs, a structure known as the corpus luteum is created which in turn produces progesterone to maintain the pregnancy. This brings things back into balance.
So, how do things get so out of balance? Ahhh. This is why I …a veterinarian…am writing this section. Remember how I keep saying that the foods that are bad for us are bad in numerous ways? It goes double, here. The same foods that are the primary allergens and providers of the neurotoxic levels of glutamate to the epileptic are also supplying phenomenal amounts of estrogen. Dairy, grains, and soy are the main culprits and 70% of the American diet is comprised of wheat and dairy alone. Oh oh. Yes, dairy products, wheat, and soy are providing more estrogen to us and our pets than you could ever imagine. So you see, it is not what our body produces that gets us out of balance. Once again, our body doesn’t make that kind of mistake. It is what we are consuming that is getting us out of whack (including the hormone replacement therapy….errrh).
The bad news is that the main foods we eat provide lots and lots of estrogen and little to no progesterone. Some herbs provide progesterone but they are used primarily in hand creams not in dietary supplements. So, do you see where I am going with this? The amount of estrogen being consumed, especially by our children and our women, are ADDING dramatically to what the ovaries produce creating the imbalances that so commonly afflict the women in this country. The American diet is estrogen-rich.
So is the pet food, unfortunately. These grain-based diets are loaded with plant estrogens and the evidence is clear…dogs have THREE TIMES the breast cancer that women do and many of those pets were spayed at some point in their life. Why is the risk of mammary cancer reduced dramatically only if the pet is spayed after one or two heat cycles? The food is providing sufficient levels of estrogens that are required to create the environment needed to cultivate breast cancer. (The true “cause” of breast cancer is discussed in my next paper on viruses and cancer.)
Is it all bad news? Absolutely not!!! None of what I write is meant to be bad news. It is meant to be an explanation for why things occur the way they do in the world we have created for ourselves. The GOOD NEWS is that it does not have to be this way!!! The key to surviving menopause is to be prepared for it. Women need to stop doing all of the things that are “condemned” on this site just as I have done with my own health. Eliminate the “trouble foods” as much as possible…. the dairy, grains, and soy (errrh.) And as far as heart disease goes (and breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer for that matter), stop eating anything…ANYTHING…with hydrogenated oils. This is critical.
I know a number of women whose post-menopausal symptoms have abated once they went wheat and dairy free. Dr. Mercola at www.mercola.com has a lot of great advice in this regard. I have read numerous testimonies of women with horrible hot flashes that saw phenomenal improvements shortly after changing their diet. So, what are those hot flashes again??? Aren’t they little bursts of “inflammation”? What is causing them? When do they occur? What is their purpose? I think you have a better idea about that now, don’t you?
Remember this: We all have more control of what happens to us in the future than we have ever been told. Women are no exception and menopause is an incredible example of this. This life change can be dream or it can be a nightmare. Learn as much about this as possible, and have sweet dreams…. please.
For more on Estrogens in food…