LiveWell®

Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing


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Busting menopause myths

WomensHealth

Healthy living – exercise, sleep, good nutrition, and avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine – is the first step in managing the symptoms of menopause, according to Debra Bell, MD, of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

This article will run in the upcoming issue of the LiveWell® Newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

Contrary to popular belief, menopause isn’t just about estrogen.

In reality, there are many hormones involved, including several types of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and pregnenolone. Aging can affect other hormones as well, such as those that control metabolism and other body functions.

Another misperception about menopause is that it reflects a hormone imbalance. “Menopause is not a state of imbalance, and it is not a disease. It is a state of change,” said Debra Bell, MD, an integrative medicine doctor at Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

Adding to this complexity, fluctuations in hormone levels affect women differently. In fact, the severity of menopause symptoms is not directly related to an individual’s hormone levels. That’s why Bell does not routinely check hormone levels when a woman is experiencing symptoms.

But this does not mean women have to simply endure menopause.

Bell said her goal is to help women go through this change with the least amount of symptoms. “What we do depends on what else they are doing in their lifestyle and what their symptoms are.”

While hormone replacement may have a role in helping some women, “I think it’s important to not just focus on hormone replacement,” said Bell. She recommends that women take a more holistic approach.

“Healthy living is the first step: exercise, sleep, good nutrition, avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine. For many women, this is enough to keep their symptoms in check. For others for whom that’s not enough, there are many treatments that can help,” said Bell.

That includes dietary supplements, herbal preparations, acupuncture, mind-body techniques and more. For example, Bell often prescribes black cohosh and vitex to treat hot flashes, anxiety and other symptoms. “Herbals often work together synergistically, so we put different herbs together to address different symptoms,” she said. Before considering herbs or supplements, it is best to check with a health care practitioner.

Bell encourages women to view menopause as a new stage of life and to be open to adapting to it. “This is more about a process than a quick fix. We should be thinking about what we can do to be healthy at different stages of our lives.”

Going through menopause? Help yourself with these tips:

• Eat wholesome foods.
• Avoid sweets, alcohol and caffeine.
• Get regular exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day.
• Try yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques.
• Try acupuncture.

If you do not have other medical problems and are not taking prescription medicines, consider supplements or herbal remedies that are formulated to address menopause symptoms. These should be purchased from a reputable natural foods store.

Consult with an integrative medicine provider if:
• Your symptoms are very disruptive and make you uncomfortable.
• Your symptoms are affecting your sleep, your work life or your relationships.
• You have tried addressing the symptoms on your own without success.
• You are not sure if your symptoms are related to menopause or to something else.

Debra Bell, MD, sees patients at the Penny George Institute – Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis. For appointments, call 612-863-3333. See her profile at wellness.allinahealth.org/bell.


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Make your summer count: A seasonal approach to boosting health and wellness

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While we’re eager to return to higher levels of activity as summer begins, Debra Bell, MD, advises caution. “Don’t make that first bike ride a 30-mile trip. Be mindful to stretch and pace yourself,” she said.

This article will run in the summer issue of the LiveWell® Newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

According to Debra Bell, MD, an integrative medicine doctor at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, taking note of seasonal changes and adjusting your habits accordingly is a powerful and practical way to rejuvenate the body, mind and spirit.

It can begin with the earliest days of spring when you notice that it is still light out at 6 p.m. “More daylight often helps our mood, so we should take advantage of that,” said Bell. Increase your exposure to daylight by going for an evening walk or sleeping with the curtains partially open.

Warmer weather can serve as inspiration to spend less time in your car. Instead of automatically driving wherever you need to go, walk or ride your bike for errands or outings.

Outdoor chores like yard work and gardening can help you tune in to the season while keeping you active. “Summer is a time of new life and growth. Finding ways to be engaged in the natural world can be satisfying and can serve as a metaphor for one’s own sense of growth and development,” said Bell.

Another important part of Bell’s “summer wellness tool kit” is fresh, local produce. “We have much more to choose from in the summer, and the nutrients in foods like spring greens are great for the immune system, anti-aging and digestion.”

“Some people also like to think in terms of spring cleaning – focusing on a cleansing or purifying diet under the guidance of a professional,” said Bell. Similarly, integrative practices like acupuncture and qigong can provide a seasonal tune-up, helping the body shift from the dormancy of winter to a more active, energized state.

And while many of us are eager to return to higher levels of activity as summer begins, Bell advises caution. “It’s very easy to overdo it. Don’t make that first bike ride a 30-mile trip. Be mindful to stretch and pace yourself. The muscles you used all winter shoveling snow or running on the treadmill aren’t the same as when you garden or ride your bike.”

Bell also noted that seasonal changes in the natural world include cold viruses. “When the weather changes, the viruses that are circulating also change,” she said. She encourages her patients to take zinc and vitamin C at the first sign of a summer cold.

Debra Bell, MD, sees patients at the Penny George Institute – Abbott Northwestern. For appointments, call 612-863-3333. See her profile.