Menopause occurs naturally when a woman's ovaries run out of functioning eggs. At the time of birth, most females have about 1 to 3 million eggs, which are gradually lost throughout a woman's life. By the time of a girl's first menstrual period, she has an average of about 400,000 eggs. By the time of menopause, a woman may have fewer than 10,000 eggs. A small percentage of these eggs are lost through normal ovulation (the monthly cycle). Most eggs die off through a process called atresia.
Normally, FSH, or follicle-stimulating hormone (a reproductive hormone), is the substance responsible for the growth of ovarian follicles (eggs) during the first half of a woman's menstrual cycle. As menopause approaches, the remaining eggs become more resistant to FSH, and the ovaries dramatically reduce their production of a hormone called estrogen.
Estrogen affects many parts of the body, including the blood vessels, heart, bone, breasts, uterus, urinary system, skin, and brain. Loss of estrogen is believed to be the cause of many of the symptoms associated with menopause. At the time of menopause, the ovaries also decrease their production of testosterone -- a hormone involved with sex drive.
By Francesca ColtreraYour need-to-know guide to today's hormone therapy -- what's safe, what's new, what's right for you
Not long ago, a friend told me about a coffee date she’d had with a 50-something former office mate, Susan. As the two women were sipping their lattes and catching up on each other’s lives, Susan nervously glanced around the coffee shop, then leaned across the table and confided in a low voice, “I’m taking estrogen.”
So it’s come to this. Whereas women once chatted openly about...