Managing Your Menopause
If you ask any woman over the age of 50 about menopause, they’re most likely to share a not-so-pleasant experience. Menopause is a natural phase in a woman’s life. It is a natural biological process, and although it ends the fertility period, it doesn’t mean that a woman can’t stay healthy and active. Menopause can occur in your 40’s or 50’s, however the average age of menopause in the United States is 51.
What is Menopause?
Menopause means the end of your menstrual cycle. A woman’s body produces fewer eggs and soon none at all. The ovaries start aging. This is accompanied by a drop in estrogen levels, usually in a haphazard fashion. Expect changes like mood swings and hot flashes. These changes can be pronounced for some women, while a lucky few may notice nothing at all.
Stages of menopause
Changes in your body are noticeable before and after menopause. There are three stages to it – Perimenopause, Menopause, and Postmenopause.
Perimenopause: Symptoms start showing up several years before the actual menopause. There will be fluctuating levels of female hormones estrogen and progesterone, leading to symptoms that can be subtle or noticeable. During perimenopause you will still get your periods but in an irregular pattern. Symptoms include:
- Irregular periods: The length and frequency of periods start fluctuating. A persistent change of seven days or more in the length of your periods. Sixty days or more between periods could mean that you are in late perimenopause.
- Sleep problems: Falling asleep or staying asleep can be a problem.
- Hot flashes: Usually accompanies sleep issues. It causes night sweats which can disrupt sleep. The length and frequency varies per individual.
Menopause: This is characterized by the actual absence of periods for close to 12 months. A woman can no longer get pregnant once she is in menopause.
Postmenopause: This refers to the phase after the menopause. This lasts the rest of a woman’s life. Here are few characteristic symptoms of menopause:
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes / Night sweats
- Sleep issues
- Mood swings
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Emotional symptoms can include feelings of fatigue, anxiety, and unwanted stress.
Natural ways to manage your menopausal symptoms
Although it seems daunting, these symptoms are temporary. Here are some ways to help manage your menopause symptoms. With the following natural remedies and supplements, you can bypass artificial hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and avoid side effects. Also, when using supplements, always use the lowest effective dose to help you. This will keep you healthy and save money.
Exercise: Brisk walking, swimming, and cycling are helpful to keep your hormone levels at a balance. Follow an exercise routine that is practical for you and be physically active for at least 30 minutes, 3 times a week.
Avoid caffeine & other stimulants: Caffeine may mess with your already fluctuating hormone levels. Avoid too much caffeine and alcohol.
Rest well: Follow a nightly sleep routine. A warm bath or reading a relaxing book before bed will help. Avoid watching TV or using electronics at least 30 – 60 minutes before bed time.
Eat right: Choose healthy foods and avoid packaged and processed foods. Include plenty of plant foods, avoid antibiotic treated meats and animal products. Here are a few more to keep in my mind:
- Eat berries
- Cut back on carbohydrates
- Avoid processed foods
- Avoid soy-based foods – this includes soy milk, all soy-based products, supplements that use soy as filler or carrying agent. Soy contains phytoestrogen which can disrupt your hormone balance. Flax also contains phytoestrogens which may affect your estrogen levels.
Watch your body weight: If you eat right and exercise, your body weight should stay at the right scale. If you are overweight, lose weight with the help of a dietitian or a nutrition counselor.
Use breathable fabrics: Choose cotton clothes over synthetic ones. Dress in layers and stay in a cool room.
Choose proper bedding: Avoid polyurethane memory foam mattresses. Choose bedding sheets that are made of natural fabric like cotton that can keep you cool. Choose mattresses that support your body in a neutral position, with head in proper alignment with spine.
Supplements: There are some natural supplements like Lignan, DIM (from broccoli), Lycopene (a carotenoid from tomatoes) that help you sail through menopause.
- Lignans: These are a class of phytonutrients beneficial for human health. They come from seeds, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Once inside the body, the lignans are converted by the healthy bacteria in your gut to enterolactone (ENL) and enterodiol ( END). Studies show that the high levels of these two compounds in your body are beneficial for heart health, breast health, and also lower hot flashes in menopausal women. Lignans bind to estrogen receptors and show weak estrogen effects. This way it makes up for the low levels of estrogen and acts as a natural hormone replacement treatment that is safe.
- DIM: Diindolylmethane is a derived from indole 3- carbinol (I3C), the phytochemical found in broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, and cauliflower. Studies show that I3C and DIM help improve healthy estrogen levels in women. There is also evidence that it causes changes in estrogen metabolism in postmenopausal women with a previous history of early stage breast cancer.
- Lycopene: Lycopene is the red carotenoid from tomatoes and carrots. It is a powerful antioxidant. Lycopene supplementation may help lower menopausal symptoms such as stress, relieve hot flashes. Presence of the compound gamma aminobutyric acid in lycopene shows estrogen-like activity which helps lower menopausal symptoms.
- Eat right and exercise.
- Avoid soy and other phytoestrogen containing products like flax.
- Choose other sources of omega-3 fats like chia and krill instead of flax.
- Avoid hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It can be dangerous and has side effects.