Menopause is the end of one chapter in a woman’s life and the beginning of another. It can affect four main areas of a woman’s life: mood, body, comfort, and energy. Menopause can be challenging for many women.
Physiologically, menopause means the end of menstruation and fertility. It’s a result of the body producing much lower estrogen and progesterone hormones. A woman whose menstrual cycle has stopped for 12 months is in menopause. The average onset is around 51 years of age but can start in the 40s. Before menopause, there’s a transitional phase called perimenopause. During perimenopause, periods fluctuate and a woman can still become pregnant.
The transitioning, while not an illness, can be difficult. Moods can swing and include irritability, anxiety, and depression. The changes the body can undergo are weight gain, (especially around the middle), thinning hair, dry skin, frequent urination, breast changes, and vaginal dryness. Hot flashes and night sweats cause discomfort. In addition, there may be a decrease in sex drive. And if that’s not enough, fatigue and tiredness, which can be brought on by sleeplessness or insomnia, can affect the quality of life.
Yikes! While all of this sounds foreboding, all women will not have all the same symptoms or with the same intensity. Also, there are ways to mitigate the signs of menopause. Here are a few suggestions to help.
Foods that Can Help
Menopause can be an excellent time to reevaluate your diet. The diet of your 20s and 30s may no longer serve you or be healthy for you as you enter the next stage of your life. Your body is changing, and your diet may also need to change. Also, certain foods, such as spicy ones, may be symptom triggers.
The good news it’s an exciting time to reconsider your diet as healthy foods are now delicious, and choices are expanding. Also, there’s a proliferation of studies on how food can be medicine, such as functional foods or superfoods. Keeping a food journal can be insightful and helpful to identify which foods help and which ones don’t.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage contain the plant chemical indole-3-carbinol that has shown to balance estrogen levels.
Phytoestrogens are plant foods that naturally contain estrogen. Research shows that Asian women who regularly consume soy products report less hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms than women in other parts of the world. Organic fermented soy products, such as natto and miso have phytoestrogens.
Omega-3 foods have shown to help with the symptoms of menopause. Omega-3 is a necessary nutrient that the body does not produce and is lacking in most Western diets. Omega-3s are found in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and is also in flaxseeds.
Probiotic research on vaginal atrophy, the thinning and drying of the vaginal walls, shows promise to help improve this menopausal symptom. Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found low amounts of Lactobacillus were associated with the vaginal atrophy. These bacteria are found in fermented foods like yogurt.
Black Cohosh is known to help many women with hot flashes and night sweats. It’s also said to improve sleep and control hormone imbalances.
Chasteberry is another herb that has been studied with good results for reducing hot flashes. It also seems to help some women with sleep and regulate hormone levels. Studies on chasteberry also show that it increases certain hormones that help to balance the ratio of progesterone to estrogen.
Ginseng has shown to help with moods, depression, and insomnia related to menopause.
Many women have reported improvement in symptoms with a combination of herbs. A healthcare professional experience with herbs can help guide you as to which combination is best for you.
Mindfulness meditation in a study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reduced the occurrence of hot flashes, anxiety, and improved sleep. Mindful meditation teaches the practitioner to be present moment-to-moment. The focus is on what is happening at the moment and not “running away” from sensations.
Complementary or Alternative Medicine
Naturopathic doctors, Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors, Ayurvedic practitioners, and Herbalists are good sources to turn to when it comes to assisting you through menopause. The one thing they have in common is that they treat the person and not the condition. Menopause if nothing else is an individual experience; every woman who goes through menopause will have unique symptoms. So, it makes sense to get help based on what is right for your body.
Acupuncture in a study reported by the British Medical Journal – Acupuncture in Medicine – suggests it may help some women. Researchers measured levels of two hormones that generally decline as menopause begins. Estradiol levels increased as well as endorphins, which could help with hot flashes and mood swings.
While this period of a woman’s life can be challenging and the physical symptoms more than annoying, some things can be done to alleviate the symptoms and encourage a healthy transition mentally, physically, and emotionally to embrace this new chapter in your life.
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Burgess, Kelly. Probiotics for Down There (October 15, 2013). Retrieved from https://www.prevention.com/health/a20460893/probiotics-may-help-vaginal-atrophy-symptoms/.
Mayo Clinic. Hot Flashes. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hot-flashes/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352795.
Menopausal Symptoms: In Depth. Retrieved from www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hot-flashes/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352795
Natural Remedies for Hot Flashes. Retrieved from https://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopauseflashes/menopause-symptoms-and-treatments/natural-remedies-for-hot-flashes.
Office of Women’s Health. Menopause. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/menopause/.
Mosquera, Joseph, M.D. Acupuncture for menopause (March 14, 2011). Retrieved from https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2011/03/acupuncture-for-menopause/index.htm.
Traditional Chinese Medicine for Natural Menopause. Retrieved from https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2015/01/30/traditional-chinese-medicine-natural-menopause-relief.