Hot flashes, night sweats, hormone replacement therapy (HRT)… If that’s about as much as you know on the topic of menopause, here’s your chance to get to grips with this often-dreaded stage of life. Knowledge is power, after all.
What is menopause?
Sometimes referred to as ‘change of life’, menopause signals the end of a woman’s reproductive cycle and is diagnosed once a woman has not had a menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months – this change occurs as a result of the ovaries producing less of the hormone estrogen, and results in several menopause-related symptoms.
The process includes three well-defined stages:
- Perimenopause – this encompasses the period leading up to menopause as well as the 12 months following the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle.
- Menopause – this stage follows 12 months after a woman’s last period, whether this occurs naturally or as the result of the ovaries being removed.
- Postmenopause – this covers the period following menopause, but it can be tricky to determine exactly when it starts.
Here are five things you may not yet know about menopause – and which, if this phase of life still awaits you, should prove helpful when you get there.
- The symptoms of menopause are many and varied
While hot flashes and night sweats are undoubtedly the most well-known indicators of menopause, this stage of life comes with a laundry list of (not-so-lovely) symptoms, some of which can kick in as soon as your early forties. These include but are not limited to:
- Mood swings
- Debilitating fatigue
- Hair loss
- Memory issues
- Weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
- Increase in allergies
- Digestive problems
- Accelerated ageing
While we’re on the topic of symptoms, there are some foods and drinks that can aggravate the situation, so try to avoid them wherever possible.
- Very spicy food
- Sugar in any disguise (that includes fructose, agave etc.)
- Dairy products (with the exception of butter)
- Fizzy drinks
- Junk fats
- Your cholesterol levels can increase
Unfortunately, menopause can spell disaster for cholesterol levels – even if yours have always been normal. This has to do with the decrease in estrogen levels during menopause, which causes (?) a subsequent increase in levels of LDL (the ‘bad’ cholesterol) and a decrease in HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol). What’s important to remember here is to get your cholesterol checked regularly, regardless of whether you’ve done so in the past. That way you can take measures to address it should you find your levels rising.
- Weight gain is a problem for many
You’ve heard about the dreaded ‘middle age spread’ and sadly it’s a reality for many women during menopause, when hormonal changes can cause an associated change in your weight. So, what can you do about it?
While regular exercise alone won’t help you lose weight, it is vital for preventing muscle loss and helping to sensitise insulin (more on why the latter is important below). And you don’t have to run a marathon or spend all day at the gym to make it worth your while – going for a walk several times a week is enough.
Cut the carbs
This is good advice at any age, but as we get older our insulin becomes less sensitive, with the result that our bodies produce more of it. And the more insulin we produce, the more fat we end up storing around our bellies. So, if you’re a fan of carbohydrates, which automatically trigger insulin production, now is the time to part ways with them in favour of a slimmer, relatively symptom-free menopausal you.
Keep your digestive system in shape
Again, this is advice worth following throughout your life. Here are a few valuable tips to keep in mind when planning meals:
- Ditch the sugar, alcohol and junk – focus on fresh, healthy foods instead.
- Source organic vegetables, pasture-fed meat and chicken and eggs from pasture-fed chickens, whenever possible.
- Avoid genetically modified foods.
- Use healthy fats – animal fat, olive oil and butter.
- Avoid all seed oils – these are inflammatory and will result in weight gain.
- There are alternatives to HRT
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is very often recommended for woman experiencing menopause, but it’s vital that you think very carefully before embarking on this course of action as natural estrogen is very different to the synthetic estrogen we are given during menopause – synthetic hormones build fat and can predispose you to cancers. There are safe natural options you can try and seeking advice on what these are and which ones could work for you could be a huge help during the menopausal years.
- There are supplements that can help
In spite of the difficulties associated with menopause, there is good news in the shape of several fantastic supplements that can help your body navigate this challenging time.
- A menopause all-rounder
- Powerful anti-inflammatory agent
- Improves memory function
- Calms and improves mood levels
- Improves fat burning
- A natural progesterone – only suitable if you are not on HRT
- Addresses a multitude of menopausal symptoms including:
- Insomnia/restless sleep
- Brain fog
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Important for cardiovascular health
- Improves depression/anxiety
- Prevents fatigue
- Prevents bone and muscle pain
- Improves bone density – directs calcium to the bones, rather than, for example, the kidneys where it forms kidney stones
- Enhances remineralisation of bone, reducing osteoporosis
- Regulates the function of hormones
- Improves brain function
- Promotes healthy blood sugar levels
- Collagen is found in your bones, skin, ligaments and joints and literally holds everything together in the body
- Promotes healthy joints and rebuilds cartilage
- Prevents wrinkles and can smooth some of them out
- Improves arthritis
- Strengthens arteries
- Promotes weight loss through fat-burning
- Eliminates or significantly reduces cravings for sugar, alcohol and tobacco
- Improves blood sugar levels
- Helps burn fat
- As an essential transmitter, glutamine is wonderful for memory loss, focus and concentration
- Prevents muscle wasting
- Normalises blood sugar levels
There are also a number of targeted nutrients and specialised supplements that you can trial under the direction of a trained Functional Nutritional Therapist.