While not having to deal with the annoyances of a monthly period are celebratory, exchanging them for hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, insomnia, dry skin, weight gain, vaginal dryness, low sex drive are not fun. These are just a few of the many symptoms women approaching menopause experience, culminating with the cessation of your monthly menstruation. These symptoms occur primarily due to hormonal fluctuations, and can begin as many as 10 to 15 years before you actually reach menopause.
Peri-menopauseMost women begin to notice symptoms of peri-menopause in their late 30s or early 40s. These symptoms are related to fluctuating levels of oestrogen and progesterone, as well as changes to how often you ovulate. Perimenopause symptoms may only last a few years, or you may experience them at varying levels for as many as 15 years. Symptoms also tend to increase in frequency as you get closer to menopause. Common symptoms include:
Full menopause occurs most frequently between the ages of 45 and 55. Once you have not had a period for 12 months, you are considered to have reached menopause. While perimenopause gradually eases (although sometimes it doesn’t seem easy!) you into menopause, in some cases it arrives abruptly with few symptoms. Women who have had hysterectomies without hormone replacement therapy may suddenly enter menopause post-surgically, and may experience more drastic symptoms due to sudden changes in hormonal levels. All of the same symptoms that occur in perimenopause may also plague you after your period has ceased. Further, due the significant decrease in oestrogen occurring after menopause, women are more likely to develop osteoporosis and loss of bone density.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
For years, doctors used hormone replacement therapy to treat the symptoms of menopause; however, clinical trials in 2002 revealed risks associated with long-term use of HRT. Now, it is a personal decision women make with their physicians after evaluating the risks and drawbacks. Women choosing HRT should discuss risks and drawbacks associated with oestrogen-only replacement therapy, as well as combined oestrogen-progesterone replacement therapy. Risks and benefits may increase or decrease with the type of HRT, as well as whether the woman has had breast cancer, uterine cancer, or hysterectomy.
Increased risks associated with HRT include:
Controlling Symptoms of Menopause
1. Nip your symptoms in the bud with optimal nutrition
The most effective (and enjoyable!) medicine that exists, is in the food that you eat. You should strive to eat a balance of good fats, complex carbohydrates and protein. Also, make sure to have plenty of fruits and vegetables at every meal, including breakfast. It’s best to eat three meals a day and two or more snacks in order to keep your blood sugar stable. The most important thing to remember is to reduce carbohydrates especially refined carbohydrates and sugars.
Optimal nutrition is achieved by making sure that you are consuming enough vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients. There are natural supplements you can add to your daily regimen, which is especially important if you feel overwhelmed with your daily life and it is hard to eat in the healthy way that is recommended. Many women live a fast paced life and they find it hard to eat enough healthy foods in order to take in and absorb enough of the key B vitamin folate. If this is the case, this can be accomplished by supplementing with Metafolin (5-MTHF, or l-methylfolate), the biologically active form of folate that’s much easier for your body to process and use.
2. Use herbal remedies that act like our own hormones
Food is medicine and there is incredible strength in plants and herbal remedies that have been known to prevent menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms. It is amazing that many plants and herbs can adapt to the needs of your body. It is possible for them to do this because they share various molecular features with our own hormones, allowing them to support our hormone production, make it slower, or even mimic what our own hormones do depending on the body’s unique needs.
Some herbs that can help reduce menopause symptoms include black cohosh, passionflower, chasteberry, wild yam and ashwagandha.
3. Exercise to reduce the fat that can upset oestrogen and progesterone ratios
Most women tell me that they feel as if they are gaining weight steadily during peri-menopause and menopause, especially around their stomachs and abdomen. It is particularly frustrating for these women because the weight sticks to unusual places and their scales refuse to budge. One of the reasons that this is so common is because fluctuating oestrogen levels tend to cause your body to hold on to fat. On top of this, fat actually produces oestrogen, which can create even more fat. Therefore, the cycle continues.
Just as I am an advocate that food is medicine, I also believe that movement is medicine too. You can make such a positive impact on your health though, by walking, dancing, yoga, swimming, biking or whatever other form of exercise you enjoy. And you should enjoy it or you will not continue with the program you begin. Moving your body has a major impact on your weight, other menopausal symptoms and your overall health. Gentle exercise can be helpful too, especially if your adrenal glands are overworked and you constantly feel fatigued. Most importantly—do something you enjoy!
4. Restore yourself to decrease the stress that intensifies your symptoms
Many women are prescribed antidepressants for peri-menopausal and menopausal symptoms. Because of the Women’s Health Initiative, the answer to many symptoms are antidepressants. More and more women have a deep sense and feeling of being stressed, anxious or overwhelmed, and depressed during the menopause transition. We see this frequently, but in most cases we believe antidepressants are not the best answer for menopause symptom relief.
Stress can be the culprit behind additional imbalances in hormones and neurotransmitters that affect mood as well as mental function, thyroid function, digestive function, and especially blood sugar imbalances. Stress has also been linked to symptoms such as hot flashes and low libido.
The physical effects of stress make nurturing self-care especially important. One of the most effective, inexpensive and amazingly simple ways to reduce stress is deep breathing. Think how easy just taking a deep breath several times a day is.
5.Understand how emotional wellness plays a vital role in your overall physical health
Have you ever heard the term “As you think, so goes your life”? Well this is definitely a time that this term can ring true. Your thoughts and feelings have a dramatic impact on your health, so why not make it a positive effect? One method is to keep a journal to help you become aware of what you are feeling and to identify any patterns you are feelings. A journal can help with your individual emotional and physical health. There is a lot of negatively out there today, so it’s helpful to start the day with a positive affirmation. I find that listening to things like the news too often can have a negative impact on my thinking, so that is a choice that I make daily.
Find the natural and powerful combination that works best for you
For many women, perimenopause and menopause offer them the opportunity to change, to become a different person, one that is less interested in what people think of them, and one that is much more able to speak up for herself. Many women who are going through menopause and perimenopause may even discover a certain freedom and they find that their life is better in certain areas then they could of ever thought it would be.
I’ve always found that when women make natural adjustments to their lifestyles, not only do they feel much better but also feel in control of their menopause symptoms. I want you to feel inspired and encourage you to start to make these small yet important changes, as they can create some remarkable results. Add a morning veggie/fruit smoothie, start your day with a morning ritual, ensure that you remember to breathe each day (put up signs to remind yourself if needed) and make a commitment to take your supplements every day.
With a little bit of time and trial and error, you’ll discover the combination of natural steps that works relieves your symptoms!
Your guide to living whole and well. Emma Olliff is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, wellness expert, food lover, and advocate for healthy living!