Menopause is a period in a woman’s life when she stops menstruating. This period usually signals the end of fertility for a woman, and she cannot conceive any children. Menopause occurs in women between the age of 45 – 55. The diagnosis for this is when a woman hasn’t had her period for 12 consecutive months. Menopause has three stages – perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.
To understand menopause and it’s symptoms in all three stages, it is equally important to understand that the transition for three stages can take around ten years. During these stages, the levels of hormones – estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone dropdown. Menopause can occur due to unnatural causes as well, such as hysterectomy or cancer treatments.
Symptoms of Menopause that May cause Discomfort
Because of the fluctuation and depletion of healthy hormones in the female body, the body can experience any or all of the following symptoms.
- Slow metabolism and weight gain
- Mood swings, anxiety, and depression
- Night sweats and sleeping problems
- Hair loss, dry eyes, brittle nails, skin and mouth problems
- Sexual issues like vaginal dryness, drop in libido, and pain during intercourse
- Cognitive and memory issues
There are various ways to diagnose menopause. A complete medical history is necessary, plus certain tests that can be prescribed by medical practitioners can determine menopause. The symptoms mentioned above are quite common determinants, but blood tests for the following can also be prescribed.
- FSH or the Follicle-stimulating hormone and estrogen because estrogen levels decrease and FSH levels increase in menopause.
- TSH or Thyroid-stimulating hormone as hypothyroidism can cause symptoms similar to menopause.
There are over the counter tests available for FSH levels. But because FSH levels change during menstrual cycles, it might be difficult for some tests to give the correct picture.
Ways to manage Menopause symptoms medically
Menopause can be medically managed in the following ways:
- Hormone therapy: One of the ways to relieve hot flashes during menopause is estrogen therapy. The doctor may recommend the dosage for estrogen for quickest relief depending on your medical and family history. This is a short therapy as there can be risks in the long term.
- Vaginal estrogen: Estrogen is administered directly to the vaginal through rings, creams, or tablets to treat vaginal dryness. The small dosage of estrogen is absorbed through the vaginal tissues to grant relief from dryness and pain during intercourse.
- Antidepressants: Antidepressants with SSRIs decrease hot flashes and even manage mood swings.
- Gabapentin or Clonidine: These two options can help in preventing hot flashes.
- Osteoporosis medication: Treatment for osteoporosis reduce the issues related to bone health.
Natural Remedies for Menopause
Menopause is a natural stage, and there are certain natural remedies that can be used to manage the symptoms that cause discomfort. Below are the natural remedies mentioned for each symptom.
A vegetarian and low-fat diet along with yoga or aerobics is suggested to those experiencing hot flashes. Black Cohosh is said to manage hot flashes. Studies indicate that it may help with hot flashes and night sweats that are mild in nature, for the short term. Walking and vigorous activities can also ease discomfort.
Dietary supplements such as Valerian roots, soy, black cohosh, and don quai are said to decrease the discomfort from hot flashes. Women can make a note of the triggers for hot flashes and avoid those. Triggers may include spicy food, coffee, or stress. Dress light and in layers if possible so it can be removed when you feel a hot flash episode coming.
Women experiencing menopause have found flaxseed and its oil to be helpful, especially if it’s to be used daily. Mindful eating, soluble fibers, and green tea are other ways to manage weight.
Dryness and vaginal problems
The vaginal blood flow reduces at menopause, and as a result, dryness, irritation, and bacterial infection can occur. Plant-derived estrogen such as through tofu, tempeh, and miso, all of which are soy products help natural compounds that can make the discomfort in the vagina more manageable.
Plant-based vaginal moisturizers and lubricants also help in managing dryness and discomfort. The wild yam cream has phytoestrogen that can reduce the impact of vaginal issues. A mix of flaxseed oil and vitamin E can also offer relief.
The thinning of the bone tissue or osteoporosis is a common side effect of menopause. The issue is rapid calcium loss which makes the bones weaker. Studies show five calcium wasters which, when consumed, can accelerate calcium loss. When a person consumes animal protein, the amino acid makes the blood acidic.
To neutralize acidity calcium is taken from bones and is lost in the urine. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that when research subjects removed, egg, cheese, and meat from their diet, the calcium was reduced by half. Salt, caffeine, and tobacco also have shown to aggravate calcium loss from the body.
Menopausal women must avoid ore significantly reduce the consumption of these items to retain calcium. Even a sedentary lifestyle affects bone health, and women must be physically active. Good sources of calcium are green vegetables and beans, along with milk. Legumes, beans, and lentils are loaded with calcium and is good for the bones.
Low progesterone levels may make it hard for women to fall asleep at night. Some may get night sweats, and some even have to get up multiple times to release urine. For sleeping issues, women can try lifestyle changes like regular physical activities. They must try to avoid large meals, alcohol, or smoking before going to sleep.
Training the brain and warm drinks can also help in sleeping sound. If they have other issues that keep them up like night sweats, hot flashes or urinary issues, then it’s better to talk to a doctor to manage them.
It is normal for women to develop urinary or bladder issues during menopause as low hormonal levels can make the urethra weak. Some may find it hard to hold urine until they get to the bathroom, and this is known as urinary urge incontinence.
Some may release urine while laughing or sneezing, which is known as urinary stress incontinence. To manage this, women can try limiting caffeine. Other options to manage this to use a pad, pessary, or a urethra cap. Some even suggest kegel exercises to manage this issue.
Mood changes, depression, and anxiety can occur in women during menopause. Because hormone levels are changing, it affects the mood. The general activities you can do to manage mood changes is to be active but without the stress. Stress can create problems.
Try to sleep well. Sound sleep immediately helps the mood. Meditation and yoga can help anxiety and irritation brought on by menopause. Ginseng, a popular medicinal herb, is known to have therapeutic benefits and can treat stress, depression, and anxiety as it’s considered as a “normalizer.” It helps in improving the mood and can be taken as a powder or tea.
As estrogen recedes in menopause cholesterol can climb up, making women susceptible to heart disease just like men. Consuming soy protein can reduce bad cholesterol while red clover is shown to lower triglycerides and increase the levels of good cholesterol.
Women can also try including whole grain oats which reduce cardiac risk and “bad” or LDL cholesterol levels. Melatonin can also help in raising the level of good cholesterol and protect women from increased heart risks.
Weight gain is a common symptom of menopause. Diet and lifestyle changes can help manage weight gain. Stress affects cortisol that helps in weight management. If you manage stress effectively, you can also manage weight.
Metabolism slows during this period, and bodies handle calories differently, so it may be a good time to relook at your diet. Exercise and sleep well, so you are generally healthy. People who sleep less can have high levels of ghrelin – a hunger hormone and low levels of leptin – a fullness hormone. Such people are prone to gaining weight.
Foods that boost estrogen
Estrogen is a crucial hormone that keeps women healthy. Although their levels fall during menopause, there are certain foods that can be consumed to maintain healthy levels of estrogen.
Phytoestrogens – How they work
Dietary estrogens, also known as phytoestrogens are compounds that occur naturally in plants. Phytoestrogens essentially imitate estrogen as their chemical structure is similar to estrogen made in the body. When phytoestrogens enter the body, then estrogen receptors treat them as estrogen. Also, they don’t bind to estrogen receptors, and as such, their effects on the body may be weaker than the estrogen made by the body.
- Phytoestrogens are beneficial for women who are looking to balance their hormonal levels as they approach menopause.
- Phytoestrogen can be a natural supplement for hormone replacement therapy that uses synthetic estrogen.
- Phytoestrogens have been shown to reduce the frequency of hot flashes in women — hot flashes are a common symptom of menopause.
- They also promote heart health in postmenopausal women.
Foods that are rich in Phytoestrogens
The following foods are rich in phytoestrogens and can help a woman during menopause.
- Fruits like apples, pomegranates, carrots, cranberries, grapes, and strawberries.
- Seeds and nuts like almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, and sesame seeds.
- Certain vegetables such as yams, mung beans, sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, and lentils are known to carry phytoestrogens.
- Soy products like tofu, tempeh, soybeans, miso soup, and miso paste.
- Herbs such as hops, red clover, and licorice root.
- Grains like oats, barley, and wheat germ.
Above we talked about food and lifestyle changes, including yoga, meditation, and exercise. But apart from the ways mentioned above, women can also try the following to manage the discomfort during menopause naturally.
Drink lots of water
Women must try to drink at least 8 to 12 glasses of water each day to battle dryness and bloating that can occur as a result of menopause. Water helps in managing weight gain and aids in weight loss by making the woman feel full. It increases metabolism and drinking water half an hour before meals will lead a person in consuming13% lesser calories.
Avoid processed foods and refined sugar
Sugar and carbs create sharp dips and rises in blood sugar, making a person irritable and tired. A study also found that a high refined carb diet increases the chance of depression in postmenopausal women. And finally processed food affects bone health and must be avoided.
Eat high protein food
Consuming food that is high in protein helps in managing muscle loss. Moreover, it helps in weight management as they increase the level of calories that are burnt with exercise.
Avoid skipping meals
Eating regular meals is important for general health. But skipping meals during menopause can make certain symptoms worse. For example, if you are trying to keep the weight off, skipping a meal isn’t a good idea.
Try natural supplements
Natural supplements such as kava, prebiotics, and probiotics are good for the body. Vitamin D promotes normal cell growth, hormone balance, and bone renewal. Only sunlight may not do the job, because with age, a woman may not be able to absorb enough vitamin D. as such, including it in diets becomes necessary.
Valerian root and hops act as natural sleep aids and is an effective treatment for insomnia. Milk thistles with isoflavones balance hormones and help in the prevention of osteoporosis. chaste tree berry is said to have hormone-balancing effects and can help during menopause when hormone levels are changing. Omega – 3, which is found in oily fish, lubricates the body and is said to reduce the dryness in the vagina.
Although not backed by science, acupuncture may help women in managing discomfort. Skeptics say that this is a placebo effect, but the jury is still out on this one. Acupuncture and some insurance plans can treat hot flashes have it covered under alternative treatments.
Menopause is a natural phase, and nothing can stop it. It will appear as women age and will bring discomfort. However, if we cannot stop the change, we can definitely make it more comfortable. Women can either try the natural remedies and lifestyle changes to achieve the comfort level or speak to medical practitioners to manage the discomfort as well as possible. Speak to a Menopause Specialist to bring in the required changes to make this transition smooth for yourself and your wellbeing.