The essence of life is change. Like everything in nature, women and men pass through stages in their growth and development. Menopause is one of these natural transitions. As with puberty and childbirth, menopause is a normal stage in a women’s life. In the modern world, however, there is a tendency to turn the natural process of life into medical events. Such is the case with menopause.
Aging is the opposite of growth. Growth is yin or expansive, while aging is the process in which things becomes physically more yang. At the same time, her yin, invisible nature-in other words, her wisdom and spiritually-become deeper and richer.
During menopause, a woman produces less estrogen and progesterone, the primary female sex hormones. With that, menstruation gradually becomes less regular and eventually stops. If a woman is naturally healthy, these changes occur smoothly, and the transition through menopause is not accompanied by uncomfortable symptoms. However in today’s world, unnatural dietary and life style habits are causing many women to experience a variety of symptoms during menopause. Many of these symptoms continue beyond menopause into old age.
The menstrual cycle is a beautiful example of the harmony and balance of yin and yang. Menstruation is initiated by hormones produced by pituitary gland located at the base of the brain. These hormones, known as follicle stimulating hormone(FSH) and luteinizing hormone(LH) are strongly charged by yang energy spiraling down from the cosmos. This contracting force, known as heaven’s force, enters the body at the top of the head as well as the region around the midbrain, including the pituitary. As a result, pituitary hormones are strongly charged with heaven’s contracting energy. The lower body is complementary and opposite to the head. It is strongly charged by energy coming up from the earth. The ovaries and uterus are located in the lower body and receive a strong charge of earth’s yin expanding force. When the pituitary produces FSH and LH, the ovaries respond by producing eggs. When an egg is produced, it sends out hormonal message that tell the pituitary to reduce the production of FSH and LH. Yin counteracts and neutralize yang. At menopause, the ovaries no longer produce eggs, and thus the pituitary keeps producing these two hormones without the usual counteracting effect. This yang activity cause the level of these hormones in the blood to increase. At menopause, therefore, a woman’s condition naturally become more yang.
Studies of women in Japan, China, and other parts of the world where grains and other plant foods comprise the mainstay of the diet, show that they experience far fewer menopausal symptoms than women in the West. The Japanese, in fact, have no word in their language for “hot flashes.” These studies, in addition to the many cases of symptom-free menopause experienced by macrobiotic women, suggest that a plant-based diet reduces, if not eliminates, many of the symptoms of menopause.
The macrobiotic principle of yin and yang can help us understand why some women experience no symptoms at menopause, while others experience many. Menopause is time when a woman naturally becomes more yang. If their diet is based on more yin vegetable quality foods which counteract the effects of strong yang, then she can more easily pass through menopause without symptoms. If, however, her diet includes plenty of meat, eggs chicken, cheese, and other strongly yang animal foods, her condition becomes unbalanced and she will be more likely to develop a host of short-and long term symptoms.
Hormone replacement therapy(HRT), in which synthetic or naturally-derived hormones are giving to women during and after menopause, has now become a routine part of medical practice. An estimated 40% of menopausal women in the U.S. are using HRT. Primary, an estrogen replacement made from urine of pregnant mares, is used by more than 8 million American women, making it the most popular drug in the U.S. Hormone creams and patches are being used by millions of more women. Although it is used by millions of women, HRT has serious drawbacks. Several studies have linked HRT with an increased risk of breast and endometrial cancer. HRT can produce a variety of other side effects. A far more sensible answer to the symptoms of menopause is to avoid strongly yang animal foods while basing the diet of whole grains, beans, and fresh soy foods such as tofu contain phytoestrogens(phyto=plant); mild estrogen -like compounds that act like estrogen in the body. These phytoestrogens can help relieve menopausal symptoms caused by estrogen deficiency.
Phytoestrogens actually lower the risk of breast and endometrial cancer, both of which are linked to high estrogen levels in the body. Mild phytoestrogens and the potentially pathological estrogens that accelerate female cancers are both yin. Phytoestrogens are mildly yin, while potentially pathological estrogens are extremely yin. (Potentially, pathological estrogens are accelerated by the intake of milk, ice cream, sugar, and chocolate, as well as by animal fats) The intake of foods containing phytoestrogens causes pathological estrogens to be excreted from the body. The higher the intake of foods rich in phytoestrogens, the greater the excretion of pathological estrogens.
Both types of estrogen compete at receptor sites. The beneficial estrogens may block the reception of potentially harmful estrogens. This may help explain the relatively low rates of great cancer among Chinese and Japanese women. Asian women regularly consume tofu and other foods rich in phytoestrogens.
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