Whilst there are many mixed views around when it comes to whether or not to use HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), for those of us that do, hitting 60 can be something of a shock to the system! After all, what if you have been sailing through your late 40s and 50s feeling great with tons of energy and looking good into the bargain, only for a visit to your GP to throw all of this into chaos.
Read the story of Jane from our Editorial Team, whose own personal experience may mirror your own or from which you may glean some useful advice.
“This happened to me; I went to see my GP to pick up my regular prescription, only to be told, “Sorry, you can’t have any more.” Some doctors may deal with this well but mine didn’t as he was not so much proactive as reactive. Because he was not an expert in the issue of HRT or hormones, he simply told me not to go ‘cold turkey’ but to wean myself off the drug slowly. I finally managed to agree a period of 3 months to do this, but was not looking forward to the process.
“But where does that leave us at 60 and having to give up HRT? Most GPs seem to be against prescribing it after this time, quoting the risk to health as a very big negative. But because most GPs are not trained to help us through this weaning-off period, we can find ourselves hitting a brick wall. Within a few days of cutting my HRT dose I felt extremely tired, foggy headed, moody and totally out-of-sorts. Even my skin started to dry up! With this in mind I carried out my own research and here I am sharing it with you, knowing that being forewarned is forearmed.
Why are we told to ditch the HRT?
Doctors don’t like to prescribe it to women over the age of 60, citing a much higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer as well as heart attacks and strokes. Even if you do your own research, weigh up the risks and decide you would rather go with quality of life rather than quantity, the problem is not over. Most GPs will refuse to write a prescription much after 60 and resorting to buying it off the internet may be downright risky in too many ways.
Most of us don’t realise or don’t get told by our GP that if we suddenly stop taking HRT, menopausal symptoms can come back with a BANG! Whist it was never meant to be taken long-term, you do have to come off it the right way and should not choose the reckless option. If you stop taking it immediately, not only will your body possibly react to withdrawal but this could be on top of old menopausal nasties coming back at the same time.
Coming off it
Even if your GP does not advise you, it is always best to come off your HRT medication slowly. If you have been using it for 10 – 20 years, your body will have become dependent on it. Whilst natural menopause occurs gradually over time, thrusting your body into overnight menopause is to be avoided. Whatever dose you have been on and whichever method you have used, ask your doctor how to reduce it if you are not sure. Whilst tablets can be halved, gels that you rub onto the skin can’t, so you may find yourself using HRT every 2 days, then gradually extending the periods. Stronger HRT preparations may have even affected the oestrogen receptors in your body, so that they expect to receive a high dose and if they don’t, they will show you how much they dislike it. But even this will adjust over time so take it slowly and allow yourself some time to maybe feel less than 100%.
Dealing without HRT naturally
As the levels of sex hormones drop in our body, fat cells and adrenal glands take over and produce the oestrogen and progesterone instead. It is therefore essential that you support your adrenal glands for at least three months, before and whilst coming off HRT. As adrenal glands also deal with stress hormones, you need to avoid this and take some time out for yourself to rest and relax.
Phytoestrogens that can be found in food can also help to support oestrogenic activity, boosting your body’s receptors and helping them to regulate your hormones. This is mainly down to diet so include things like seeds, linseed, beans, nuts and pulses in your diet. There are also many phytoestrogen supplements that can help as they contain soya isoflavones and things like sage, red clover and black cohosh. Some vitamin supplements are especially developed to help with menopausal symptoms, such as Menopace.
If you find dropping off the HRT brings back menopausal symptoms, then find out which of these supplements suits you best. There are also many commercially available foods which contain these natural phytoestrogens, such as Burgen bread. Containing both soya and linseed, which is not always easy to include in the diet, this is a wholegrain loaf that may help your body to defeat menopausal symptoms if they try to rear their heads again.
Take it easy on yourself
You are entering another phase of your life so you need to be gentle on yourself and love your body. Give it time to adjust to the new regime and pay more attention to what you eat as well as taking extra special care of your hair and skin. Whilst some women experience little or no side effects when they come off HRT, others may find it tough so don’t expect miracles overnight.
Just remind yourself that HRT was never designed to be used long-term and that if you treat your body well, it will adjust and bounce back, given a little help and support by you.
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